Written by Delta Publications, July, 2017
What began as a side business for Angela and Jim Schumacher has quickly evolved into a successful company that supports nine full time employees.
Smoky Lake Maple Products began in 2010 in the Schumacher’s garage. It has since grown to a full manufacturing facility located in the TIF district in Hilbert. “We started out in this business by making maple syrup ourselves. Each year we would upgrade and refine our equipment to make the process of making maple syrup easier and more efficient. Soon we started helping friends upgrade their maple equipment and everything took off from there.”
“It started out as a side business but it was such an instant success that we soon discontinued our full time jobs to pursue this instead,” Angela explained. “There are currently nine of us working full time and we are looking to hire more fabricators, welders and office help as soon as possible.”
“Our industrial park is in a TIF district,” Angela said when asked why they chose Hilbert for their business. “This is a government program that offers a financial incentive to help grow businesses. The TIF money enabled us to build a much larger shop and add more amenities like in floor heat. Also, Hilbert’s central location enables us to draw talented workers from Manitowoc, Green Bay, Appleton and Plymouth.”
Smoky Lake Maple Products manufactures stainless steel equipment that is used in the maple syrup industry. “These items include evaporators with many different accessories as well as filtering and bottling units,” Angela said. “We currently have an online store and we have a beautiful showroom where folks can come and see our equipment in person.”
The company offers products that cater to large commercial maple producers as well as the backyard hobbyist. “We have had many customers who started out as hobbyists but worked with us each year to expand into a larger business,” she said.
Owning our own business has given Jim and I the freedom to make decisions that will move the company forward and create opportunities for ourselves,” Angela shared. “We enjoy implementing our ideas and moving our industry forward. This has been very rewarding.”
Switching from a side business to a full time company can be challenging. “When you own a small business, you must take on a much wider array of tasks than you would if you were working for a large corporation,” Angela explained. “Originally my background had been in design and marketing. However, since owning this business, it has been necessary to teach myself accounting, human resources, and other tasks that I had not originally envisioned myself doing. Sometimes there are steep learning curves but I have identified a lot of excellent resources in the community that have helped. The SCORE mentorship program for example has helped us make smart business decisions which add efficiencies and improve our bottom line.”
“Our goal is to craft premium stainless steel equipment for the maple industry,” Angela added. “We have built a name for ourselves for high craftsmanship and ingenuity. We work to move the maple industry forward.”
“We offer several innovative products that are not produced by any other maple manufacturer. One example is the Murphy Compensation Cup, which makes density testing with a hydrometer easier and faster. Another product exclusive to Smoky Lake is the stainless steel filter press. Competor filter presses are made from plastic or aluminum, which is a dirtier, less desirable metal.”
All of the company’s pans, bottlers, and evaporators are handcrafted on site in Hilbert. “Most of our competitors are importing these items from Canada,” Angela said. “Purchasing from Smoky Lake helps support American jobs and keeps money in the community.”
The Smoky Lake facility is open year round. “We receive a lot of custom orders during the summer,” Angela said. “Equipment demonstrations are offered during the maple syrup season.”
“We really love the maple community. Our client base is made up of a lot of really hard-working, creative, down-to-earth individuals and it has been very rewarding to give our all for them.”
“We are Wisconsin’s maple syrup headquarters. Whatever you need for making maple syrup can be found right here in Hilbert, Wisconsin.”
Smoky Lake Maple Products is located at 208 N. 12th St., in Hilbert, and can be reached at (920) 202-4500. Additional information can be found by visiting their website at smokylakemaple.com.