Monona business saves grandma’s old mixer, lamp, or clock the old-fashioned way. It repairs them!
At Kiefer Appliance on Monona Drive, semi-retired Wayne Kiefer, right, has turned the repair business over to his son, Kip. At one point in time, the shop employed four employees and the mail slots behind them were bursting with repaired shavers ready for pickup. Wayne comes in twice a week now to repair clocks, while Kip handles most other mechanical repairs, including lamps, shavers, small antique appliances, and blade sharpening.
Photographs by M.O.D. Media Productions
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From the pages of In Business magazine.
Kiefer Appliance, formerly named Kiefer’s Small Appliance Repair Center, operates in a world much different than when it first began. On a daily basis, Wayne Kiefer and his son, Kip, fix items mostly from a pre-digital era, when metal was more common than plastic, repair centers were plentiful, and parts were kept on-hand.
Historically, the business is nearly 75-years-old. It opened in 1945 on State Street to repair fountain pens and shavers. In 1982, Wayne Kiefer, an employee at the time, purchased the business.
Eventually he’d move it to Monona where it just celebrated 30 years at 4511 Monona Drive. For years, repair shop employees sharpened blades on hair clippers (human and animal) and repaired a host of appliances, from shavers to antique small appliances, lamps, clocks, and even Power Wheels electric cars.
Semi-retired now, Wayne reflects on the once-bustling business, pointing to dozens of wooden cubbyholes behind the retail counter. “Years ago we repaired Norelco, Remington, and Braun brands, and every one of those little boxes would be filled with shavers waiting for pickup.”
On this day, just a few slots are filled.
Top: Kip Kiefer works on a KitchenAid mixer in the store’s workshop. Bottom: Around the corner, small repair parts are categorized and stored in tiny drawers on a wall.
At one point, in fact, repair requests were brisk enough to support four employees.
While the shop has never repaired vacuum cleaners or large appliances like stoves or refrigerators, people still call every day to ask.
Through the years Kiefer grew his business either by acquiring or simply outlasting other small businesses. When Park Street’s Light House Lamp Repair closed in 2014, its clientele migrated to Monona, as well. “We’re the only company doing lamp repair now,” Wayne states. “In fact, pick any state around us and there’s nobody left to handle small appliance repair. We get calls from all over the country.”
Our disposable society may be to blame for repairs falling off. The business doesn’t make a profit anymore, but it is breaking even and provides a unique and important service for people looking to keep older, mechanical items in tip-top shape.
“One guy from New York called the other day looking for a metal nut that holds the cutters onto a pre-1970 meat grinder. Nobody’s got that part anymore,” Wayne relates. “They’re all plastic, but I looked around and, lo and behold, I found one!” he laughs.
The business has survived technological advances and a Monona Drive reconstruction project that eliminated some of its parking spots and made the small strip mall accessible only from one direction. “But we now have trees!” Kip laughs, facetiously.
Another challenge looms, as well. “The city of Monona has blighted this whole block,” Wayne states, putting businesses on notice that one day soon it will likely replace the old structures with new development. It’s understandable, he notes, since Monona is landlocked, but until that curtain falls, repairs will continue. “Antique dealers love shops like this,” he adds.
Meanwhile, the business baton has been passed to Kip, 48, who has been involved in his dad’s shop more than half his life and now runs the entire operation. His dad drops in on Tuesdays and Thursdays to repair clocks — but not watches, he clarifies.
The repair shop is cluttered with appliances and lamps both old and new, including KitchenAid mixers, which often have a stripped gear or oil leak, according to Kip. KitchenAid and Sunbeam are two of only a few companies still manufacturing appliance parts, Wayne explains.
Mixer parts are especially in demand. Kiefer Appliance fields calls every day from people looking for replacement beaters, dough hooks, and bowls.
Kip, who at one point attended UW–Platteville thinking he wanted to be a teacher, now spends much of his time cleaning and sharpening blades of all sizes, from clippers used by hairstylists and pet groomers to electric shavers, old-fashioned soda fountain malt-mixers, and Black & Decker electric mower blades (only). “I’m just a mechanical guy,” he says.
Back in the Kiefer workshop, old appliance repair manuals, each several inches thick, boast brand names from the past.
“Yes, we have a computer,” Wayne smiles, “but if you want to find something old, you have to refer to the books.”