As obvious as that might sound, it was advice that has helped Maxey and his progeny to land business in the beet, snow sport and pizza industries, among others.
Maxey puts his own additional twist on the point: “You’ve got to look for problems that you can help somebody solve,” he says.
That approach has helped Maxey Cos., a Fort Collins-based custom manufacturing company, grow into a 45-person outfit that designs trailers and truck bodies.
Maxey, an Illinois farm boy who became an agricultural engineer, bought Maxey Manufacturing in 1969. At that point, it had five employees and a contract to build center pivot sprinklers. Less than a year later, the company that contracted him to build the sprinklers went bankrupt.
Anxious to find work, Maxey turned another company’s problem into an income source. At the time, a railroad company needed help converting a Fort Collins sugar factory into a modular home factory. Maxey offered to oversee the structural steel work, creating a paycheck for himself and his employees.
The trailer business, a core component of Maxey Cos., came about when Maxey was asked to build a trailer that could haul a small loader.
“Our trailers division continues to grow because we can bring different styles of trailers from different manufacturers,” Maxey said. “There’s probably more than 100 different trailers on our lot – trailers for snowmobiles, ATVs, horses – you name it we have it.”
Although patents are uncommon among small-equipment manufacturers, Maxey has three.
The first allowed Maxey to innovate in the beet-bed industry, which Maxey entered after a farm equipment contact told them beet-bed manufacturers were overwhelmed with work. And when the beet industry slowed, Maxey moved into the snow-sport industry.
Using what eventually became a second patent, Maxey helped the ski industry – specifically Winter Park Ski Area – develop a small earthmover that carried snow from the tops of trees and sides of the mountain to the runs.
“For 15 years we sold these across the country,” Maxey said. “Vail had four snow movers at one time, which allowed them to stay open one year through Easter. They did well enough to pay for the equipment in one year.”
As ski slopes exchanged snow movers for snow-making machines, the need for Maxey’s product disappeared. Using technology similar to that developed for the ski industry, Maxey started producing groomers for snowmobiles.
Maxey’s son Carl, who started managing the business in 1987 and became president of Maxey Cos. last year, has used his father’s motto of finding and fixing problems as a guidepost and now has Maxey Cos. making trailers for pizza ovens.
“I think our largest customer is in Boulder,” Maxey said. “That’s worth a separate article.”
Carl Maxey started taking over for his father when Maxey was elected to the Fort Collins City Council in 1987, a tenure that lasted until 1993 but has extended into a laundry list of community involvement.
Maxey has served as a volunteer or board member with Elco Water, the Landmark Preservation Commission, the Larimer County Red Cross and the North Poudre Irrigation Board and Roundtable. In 2012, Maxey became the longest-serving member of the Larimer County Fair Board, which he joined in 1990. He also often serves as an elder in his church and had a significant role in preserving the old Fort Collins Water Works facility.
“I felt Fort Collins was a place I wanted to stay and I wanted to influence how it evolved,” Maxey said of his civic commitments. “These different involvements were a way to participate and give back.”
Maxey remains involved in Maxey Cos., though he’s whittled his hours down to half a day a week, and keeps himself busy with a 200-acre cattle and hay business near the old downtown airpark.
Oh, and he builds fences as a hobby.
“It’s given me a lot of opportunity for exercise,” he said. “It gives me excellent energy.”