All in the Family

In the yard outside of Mersberger Financial Group in Sheboygan Falls, a white picket fence serves as a boundary for a rumbling backhoe, its giant claw sinking into the earth, as it lifts dirt to prepare for a new addition.

Co-founders Peter and Marilyn Mersberger are not only adding 2,700 square- feet of space, they're also celebrating 15 years in business and adding two new employees, sons Joshua and Zach.

The fresh space will contain offices, conference rooms and a reception area, spread out over three floors, to give the growing firm more room for its four full-time employees and three advisers.

You won't see bright lights or futuristic furniture here, the Mersbergers and their architect, Jennifer Lehrke, a senior architect and historic preservation consultant of LJM Architects, Inc., in Sheboygan deliberately chose to stay with the crown molding, dark-stained doors, and the even, white lines of the clapboard siding on the current building.

"Everything has to go back to the 1840s," Marilyn Mersberger said. "We wanted it to look like nothing was added on."

Lehrke said that while the addition didn't necessarily have to reflect the architecture of neighboring buildings, she did work within the Historic Preservation Ordinance of Sheboygan Falls, passed in 2001, that was set up, among other things, to protect historic buildings, stimulate business and industry, and visually enhance the area.

Lehrke created the addition to respect those goals, scaling it to reflect the character of the original building, and designing it in a way so there was the least possible loss of historic materials.

"With those major decisions made, we could proceed with the details," Lehrke said. That included following the same roof pitch and height, installing double-hung windows, similar to the ones already in place, and keeping the overall scale of the addition consistent with the original building.

Marilyn said they wouldn't dream of changing the decor of the rooms, which put their clients at ease with an Old World charm.

"Sometimes the first meeting can be intimidating," she said. "The comfort level increases once they're here. Most clients say it's like coming to grandma's house or home. They love the feel."
The reason for the addition is fairly simple, according to Peter, they just outgrew the current space and didn't want to move.

"We had a choice to relocate, but really felt we wanted to stay here and be a part of the area," he said.

Both Mersbergers are lifelong residents of Sheboygan Falls, and both started their careers as teachers. Peter said they're still using skills learned then.

"Every day, we work with clients, educating and serving them," he said. "It's a soft-touch, people business."

They regularly hold seminars and workshops on a variety of topics, from Roth IRA conversions to estate planning, and twice a year, they host Town Hall meetings, which allow clients to discuss any financial issue on their minds. "It's like being back in the classroom," Peter said.
The Mersbergers are also getting the chance to teach their sons the ropes, too. Joshua, 23, recently joined the firm, while Zachary, 20, serves as an intern.

"I'm advising clients daily, helping them with decisions," Joshua Mersberger said. It's important that I'm on top of my game to do the best I can for them."

While college honed his money management skills, Joshua Mersberger said people skills have been polished by meeting with clients and listening to advice from his father. He spends hours each day, researching not only global marketing trends, but also using in-house models to improve the performance of clients' portfolios.

"You learn something new every day -- if you don't, then you're behind the ball," Joshua said.
The father-and-son team review portfolios, and "consult, think, plan and advise," Peter said. "When it comes to global economy and money management, (Joshua) brings in a breath of fresh air."

Zach, a student at UW-Oshkosh, not only enjoys his studies there, but appreciates the opportunity to "apply what I've learned as an intern with the family firm."

Longtime client Gin Kestell of Waldo views the succession as a carrying-on of qualities firmly established by the senior Mersbergers.

"They've always been there to support and encourage us," she said. "They have an unbelievable level of professionalism. Those boys have trained with their parents for a long time, and have been exposed to the qualities of their parents."

Peter Mersberger said the employees play a key role in daily operations.
"Our clients have said our staff is excellent and they take good care of (the clients)," he said. "We work as a team and a family. It's a scary time, but that's when you're there for your clients."

Diane Zinkgraf, executive assistant, said the company understands the importance of client relationships.

"We pride ourselves...on client service. I really try to listen to the clients' concerns, reassure them that we will research and get back to quickly as possible," she said. "It's amazing and wonderful to be a part of Mersberger Financial Group."

The Mersbergers have fielded plenty of questions from anxious clients during the recession, and Peter said their job is to listen and educate.

"We reach out and do educational seminars, because everyone was nervous and concerned about the economy," he said. "We keep in touch."

Judy and John Stoneman of Cascade recently turned to Peter for important advice about their retirement savings.

Schultz, Deanne. “All in the Family.” The Sheboygan Press. March 7, 2010, page D1.