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The marketing executive works in overalls

Redwood Gazette, 1989
Marcia Hailing, Staff Writer

Sanborn, MN – There probably aren’t’ many manufacturing company marketing executives who go to work clad in bib overalls.  

But then, there are not a lot of companies like Bruce “Swede” Benson’s business, Swede’s Surplus.
While the surplus title may keep customers wondering what the business is all about, the name is an appropriate way to lump together the many facets the business has undertaken.

“We used to sell appliances, furniture, carpeting…Now between the buildings and picnic tables, we keep busy, ” Swede says.

Though the combination may sound a bit odd, Swede explains the one business he’s been developing for years, while the other evolved rather accidentally.  “I had a great big pile of (tables) outside the door and a guy asked if he could rent a few…A while later, another guy asked about renting some,” he says.

In the years since, picnic table sales or rental, mostly the latter, has been a booming business during outdoor events season.  Some dates are booked a year in advance for Swede to deliver tables to communities in a wide radius, for use at wedding and anniversary receptions and dances, business gatherings, town celebrations; anything that brings a lot of people together.

“You know that picnic tables thing just ballooned,” Swede says.  this year he will need to add a number of tables to the inventory of 100, to have enough for the season, which takes off around Memorial Day. Swede admits the picnic table rentals require a lot of work, much of his evening and weekend time in busy seasons, aren’t a big money maker.  But hauling them through towns in vehicles splashed with painted advertisements, and mingling with people at the various events is good public relations and something he enjoys.

Likewise, his personality delivering each factory-direct portable building he sells. Throughout a conversation, he pulls from a pile on his desk and a dusty photo album of photographs of buildings

With each he has a little tidbit of information about the purchaser and the building’s use.
“That’s the fun part of it, the people you meet,’ Swede says.

The buildings are anything from small playhouses, which double as storage sheds, to patio houses for backyards and at the lake; structures to house hobby workshops or raise animals.

“You never know why someone wants a building,” he says admitting he is never surprised by the ideas people have for their buildings.  A 18×36 portable hog farrowing barn is the largest Swede’s has built and delivered.

Swede hauled one building all the way to Frederic, Wis., and delivered five gazebos, which are used as classroom, to a bible camp at Park Rapids.  During 1986-87, the business built bunkers to store surplus grain.

“We built anything where there’s a need,” Swede says.

He laughs as he thinks back on failed career plans, made in high school, to study sales and marketing.  Finances kept him from following that path.  Then, after being drafted and working with the Army’s military police, he shifted his direction to law enforcement.  When those plans didn’t pan out, he began working at Schult Mobile Home Factory, Redwood Falls, until the building business, a sideline, first in his backyard, then in the back room of the store where he sold appliances, furniture, building supplies and other items, flourished.

What was once Swede’s Salvage could very well go from Swede’s Surplus to Manufacturing.  The cycle has taken Swede back to his original niche, as he is in charge of sales and marketing.
“I’ve always done this and done that, but always came back to portable buildings,” he says.  “You know, you’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing; no two days are the same.”

Though he enjoys what he is doing, Swede relishes what he terms “my time” away from work at the horse barn.

Mixed in with business photos of buildings are those of horses, carts to drive the animals and people gathered around horse-drawn vehicles before Christmas caroling on a winter afternoon.

His idea of a family getaway is taking his wife Pat, and children Jason, 14, and Heidi, 13, to a big horse sale or on a trail ride.  Usually, one of the family members accompany Swede on deliveries of buildings and picnic tables.

To sort of tie the hobby and business calendars, with the pictures of a different horse each month, made each year.  At the bottom, the Swede’s Surplus name keeps the business in people’s mind 365 days a year, he says.

He wishes now he’d have kept better track of the number of buildings the business, in all its forms and at all locations, has manufactured since its beginnings in the early 1970’s.

The son of a Swedish emigrant, to explain the nickname he’s had since childhood, now has a business that builds and markets as many as 150 portable buildings in a year.

“You never know what tomorrow’s going to be…It’s crazy, you never know.”

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