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Published December 21 2012

Fargo metal crafters capitalize on demand

WEST FARGO – It was two weeks before Christmas Eve, and Robert Schobinger said they were all “a little sore” and “groggy-eyed.”

The day before, the family-owned SWEN Products Inc. metal crafts company had seen its busiest shipping day ever. The company processed 540 orders, including shipments to Australia and the United Kingdom.

“It was a crazy day,” said Schobinger, who lives in Fargo and owns the business with his wife, Kim.

What started as a small operation in the garage of a Gardner home, has grown into a business that ships across the U.S. and internationally. Earlier this year, the Schobingers opened their first SWEN retail location at 619 Main Ave. E. in West Fargo.

SWEN makes a variety of steel ornamental products, including wall art, yard art, weather vanes, hanging ornaments called swirligigs and more.

The Schobinger family has been selling metal craft since the 1990s. Their creations became so popular, people used to stop by and purchase things at their manufacturing facility in Gardner, or at the warehouse they used to have in south Fargo.

“We saw a demand, and we wanted to capitalize on it,” Robert Schobinger said.

The business has changed since Gene and Kathie Schobinger started creating metal crafts. In the beginning, they only produced weather vanes and they used plasma cutters. Since then, the product line has expanded significantly and they’re using laser cutters.

Their reach has also expanded.

“This year we’ve shipped to all 50 states,” plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, Robert Schobinger.

They also ship internationally.

“The Internet makes the world small,” he said.

The business’s name comes from a joke someone told them at a show in St. Cloud.

“This lady come up to us and she goes, ‘Well you know who invented the weather vane don’t you?’ We thought she was serious. She’s like, ‘Well, he put his name on each and every one. It was SWEN (south, west, east, north).’

“So it fit for a company, and we were SWEN Weathervanes for many, many years,” Robert Schobinger said. The company now goes by SWEN Products Inc.

Gene and Kathie Schobinger said they never imagined the business would grow as large or as quickly as it has.

They just thought it would supplement their income, Kathie Schobinger said.

She pointed to all the things that fell into place with the business and believes it was “a gift from the good Lord.”

SWEN is “very much a family business,” Robert Schobinger said.

Of course, as with any line of work, there are difficulties. Working with family can present challenges.

“If (I) need somebody to vent to, it’s him,” Kim Schobinger said of her husband.

“And he may be the problem,” she said with a laugh.

Being in the business also means being on the road to sell the products at various shows.

For example, Robert Schobinger said he was home for five days during October.

He says the business “can be lonely.”

“It’s hard to keep up to date with your friends,” he said.

As Gene Schobinger always says, “It’s a monster because the monster is hungry for your time.”

Despite the challenges the business presents, Kim Schobinger enjoys being at the shows, visiting with people and working with the new retail space.

Robert Schobinger enjoys being his own boss.

“If I work for somebody and I bust my butt, I’m just making somebody else rich,” he said.

And when he sees the product at someone’s home, “that’s my trophy.”

“You drive through Fargo, you don’t see too many of our competitors’ items; you see ours,” he said. “You can see them everywhere. And you go into south Fargo, and (on almost every city block), you will see at least one piece of ours. … And that’s my gratification. That’s what I enjoy about the business.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734