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Grinnell Locker stands test of time

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GRINNELL — Some professions might change through the decades.

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GRINNELL — Some professions might change through the decades.

And Brian Beckman has seen his fair share of changes.

But what it still boils down to is some old-fashioned hard work, and that’s a big reason his business — Grinnell Locker — has been so successful.

Beckman took over the business from his father, Dorven, in 1990. Now at age 52, Beckman is seeing different generations of customers come through his doors on the main street in tiny Grinnell in Gove County.

“I watched that, and we’re on at least some fourth- and fifth-generations,” Beckman said. “That’s kind of humbling.”

While the times and technology might have changed, the quality and customer service Grinnell Locker provides hasn’t.

That began back in 1959, when Dorven bought the meat business.

“My dad was renting a farm north of town, and the guy that he was renting from, his son was coming home from college,” Beckman said. “So he really didn’t know what he was going to do. The bank had taken the locker back, and they were at a dance here in town and someone said he should buy the locker. By the end of the week, he had the locker.”

Beckman said his father, who died in 2009, was told he’d still have time for other ventures, including farming, after taking over the locker.

That never panned out, and his father was busy from the beginning providing quality cuts of meat.

“I would say that’s one of the things that got us through most of the times,” Beckman said. “We stand behind everything that we do, the products that we sell.”

That aspect of the business has helped it thrive, and it’s one of the biggest selling points to customers.

“It is the best advertisement,” Beckman said. “You can advertise all you want on paper in on the radio or on TV or whatever. But if you’re not putting out a good product, at some point you’re starting to spin your wheels. Word of mouth spreads. That’s what people base their decisions on, at least their buying decisions.”

The business has grown through the years, and multiple additions to the building were erected.

Now, on most days, Beckman’s wife, Dawn, can be seen working side-by-side in the business.

“Actually when I was in high school, I worked at the Culligan plant for his sister,” Dawn Beckman said. “And they had a meat case in there at the plant. I didn’t know him at that time, but he would bring meat over for the case (to sell). We actually didn’t meet until we were in college.”

Dawn Beckman taught in area schools for several years, but now works in the locker.

“I think this is big, almost the heart of this town,” said Dawn Beckman, who grew up in Oberlin. “A lot of traffic comes through here, and they stop and get meat.”

Indeed, traffic is steady at the plant, and the customer base is loyal.

“We’ve been here for 56 years, so we’re pretty well-established,” Brian Beckman said. “We’ve got signs on interstate, so we have regular customers from Colorado, Denver, Kansas City. And then word of mouth helps. People that grew up here and moved away, their friends and neighbors like what they get here so they come. And we’re close to interstate, so anybody that travels knows and they come by and stop and shop.”

The locker employs eight to 10 people, but Beckman said he could add more to the workforce if he found the right people. Some days, he said, it’s hard to keep up with the demand.

“I thought that if I just did the best that I can, I’ll let the chips fall where they may and see,” Beckman said about taking over the business in 1990. “I had kind of set a goal to do $1 million worth of volume. When I got there, I decided that was probably way more than I could do. Even now, it’s even more than I can manage. That’s a challenge too.”

The locker processes all types of meat, from beef to pigs to wild game at times. But Beckman said the main products to sell from the store are hamburger and his special jerky.

“It’s tough. It’s hard work, back-breaking work,” Dawn Beckman said. “But you get fulfillment from it too.”

The Beckman children also have been known to help at the business.

That gives hope for the future, the husband and wife said, that the family business will remain strong for several more decades.

“When you sit at home and think about it, it’s an achievement,” Brian Beckman said. “You can take pride in that.”

Nick Schwien has worked at The Hays Daily News since 1997. He's married to Jessica and has two children, Brenna and Kale.