We’re so grateful to have been a part of Madison, and the surrounding Wisconsin and Illinois business communities for the past 70 years!
A bit of history:
Rowley & Schlimgen was launched by Fritz Schlimgen and Joe Rowley in 1949 on State Street in Madison, selling office supplies and business machines. Fritz Schlimgen had returned from the Navy in the late 1940s, married his sweetheart Fran, and settled in to living above the Ohio Tavern on Madison’s east side. Joining his brother-in-law, Joe Rowley, at Jones Inc., he repaired typewriters and watched the office supply business grow.
“Old Man Jones” was a cantankerous manager, and Fritz and Joe decided to quit. Their wives supported them while they played euchre and developed a strategy. Eventually, the idea for a new business bubbled up, and Rowley & Schlimgen was born. American Family Insurance was their very first customer. Based on Fritz’s affable personality and business acumen, the company grew and relocated to East Wilson Street and later to East Washington Avenue.
In the 1970s, the company had multiple strong business divisions, allowing Rowley to service all of their customers’ business needs. This included successful operations in supplies, machines, retail, furniture, flooring and demountable walls. The wall business was particularly interesting because Fritz knew he could design and source a better product than what was available on the market. “Selectra” became a subsidiary, run by Fritz’s brother Maurice (Moe), one of several union carpenters. Large buildings were full of the premium Selectra Wall, including Oscar Mayer’s tower and American Family Insurance, who continued to be a strong partner after that first sale in 1949.
Company growth in the late 1970s was accelerated when Fritz acquired the Jones dealership to add the Steelcase product line. “Old Man Jones” was long gone, but the circle was complete. The company was briefly branded Rowley Schlimgen and Jones, or RSJ.
The 1980s was a time of growth and expansion as systems furniture came into its own. Rowley Schlimgen grew exponentially, acquiring other businesses in the region including DBI in Rockford, Prange Business Interiors in Green Bay and Wausau, and Blieds in Madison. Embracing Fritz’s mindset of “Sure, we can do that!”, Rowley Schlimgen developed new revenue strategies such as sourcing all the FF&E for the new Kohl Center and the Madison Civic Center, and built important client relationships that are still strong today.
At its peak, Rowley Schlimgen had nearly 200 employees with locations in Madison, Rockford, Green Bay, Wausau and four retail stores. The industry experienced change and mergers in the 1980s, leading Rowley Schlimgen to brand itself as an interiors provider. The supply and machine divisions were sold, retail was closed, and Fritz eventually sold the company to his old friend, Don Anderson. Don, a local entrepreneur and philanthropist, owned Rowley Schlimgen for many years before he sold it to Target / Dayton’s Commercial Interiors in 2000. Renamed Target Commercial Interiors in 2004, the company was sold by Target Corporation to Omni Workspace Company in 2015, and the business was renamed Atmosphere Commercial Interiors.
Fritz Schlimgen led by demonstrating his love of community and camaraderie. He taught his employees life lessons such as “If your customers become your friends you will never feel like you are working.” To know Fritz was to love him, and he loved his customers and his employees in return. We like to think that devotion to customers – and to each other – started with Fritz and lives on in our culture today.