Joel Lederhause is a mechanic who became a West Bend firefighter and then an entrepreneur.
Lederhause began working for the West Bend Fire Department in 1990. Shortly thereafter, he started an automotive service business on the side.
"You work 24-hour shifts, so you work a minimum amount of days (as a firefighter)," he said.
In the mid-1990s, Lederhause bought ramps and looked for a market to sell them in. Locally, his prospects weren't great.
It was then that Lederhause decided to jump on the would-be Internet sales bandwagon, building a Web site to move his product. But when prospective buyers began visiting his site, they were seeking specified ramps he didn't yet carry.
So, Lederhause launched Discount Ramps.com LLC in the basement of his home in March 2001. Lederhause's company began as a wholesale distributor of vehicle ramps for trucks and cars to businesses and loading docks. It now moves products in the transportation, military, pet, medical and motorcycle industries.
Discount Ramps will undergo a name change soon to better reflect the diversity of the 3,500 products the business offers, Lederhause said.
What started as a part-time operation became a multi-million dollar, full-time business for Lederhause and his family.
Today, he operates out of two large warehouses in West Bend, 40,000 square feet and 25,000 square feet respectively, with a third location in Missouri. Discount Ramps also rents an additional 10,000-square-foot space to store his products.
Since 2001, Lederhause's company has seen 48- to 50-percent revenue growth and doubled its employees each year. In April 2006, he was able to leave his firefighting post to focus on the business full-time.
Today, Discount Ramps is the U.S. military's largest ramp provider.
"Joel's business model allows him to compete with large retailers such as Wal-Mart, yet at more competitive prices and at higher profit margins," said Joseph Fazio, chief executive officer of West Bend-based Commerce State Bank.
About 75 percent of Lederhause's business is done using a patchwork of 140 Web domains which redirect consumers to 20 Web sites that are actively managed to move Lederhause's products. Another 10 percent moves other people's products on E-bay for a nominal fee, and 15 percent of his business is done on-site.
Address: 760 S. Indiana Ave., West Bend
Web Site: www.discountramps.com
Industry: Wholesale distribution of ramps
Revenues: $10 million
Employees: 21 full-time, 11 part-time