By Herb Moering
The lumber and hardware business legacy the Kautsch family created in Alamo is living on through new owner Lance Gilivancz. And it is a legacy that most Winter Texans apparently have appreciated over the decades by remaining returning customers.
While the ownership of Kautsch’s True Value may have changed, it is hard to tell at the store on Business 83 and 7th Street. The service in supplying building materials is still essentially the same, and most of the clerks’ faces remain familiar since John Kautsch sold the three-generation family business on June 1 of last year. The new owner is like part of the family, having worked at Kautsch’s off and on since he was age 18, spending the last six years as the company’s business manager.
To make the transition even smoother, “Mr. John,” as Lance refers to Kautsch, remains available for advice. Sometimes he will pop in two or three times a week at the store to discuss business matters in what has been trying times in this past year.
The business had been in the Kautsch family for nearly 90 years after the lumber yard of L.E. Humphries was purchased by John’s grandfather Arthur in 1932, who had been an employee there. Arthur and his wife had come down from Missouri in 1926 on one of the popular land excursion trips. Arthur started out renting land and farmed for several years.
John’s father, Marvin, was a young and only child when he came with his parents to the Valley. He joined his father in the business in 1945 after a World War II military stint in the U.S. Air Force. Marvin’s wife, Dorothy also came to the Valley as a young child in a farming family. The couple were quoted as having watched the Valley change strikingly over the years as Alamo grew from just one main street to what it is today.
John carried on the family focus of providing supplies and helped to create maintenance-free exteriors with one of the largest selections of vinyl siding and cut-to-fill replacement windows. Those have been popular with Winter Texans for decades. The Winter Texan business niche also has materials for constructing carports, decks, vinyl railing, metal roofing, patio covers, screen rooms, awnings, shutters and mobile home supplies.
The winter visitors make up a large segment of customers. In fact, Gilivancz said they are what makes Kautsch’s a viable business. And he appreciates that. There was a small concern after a study showed that between 2010 and 2018, there was a 14 to 15 percent decrease in the number of Winter Texans coming to the Valley. But numbers had been on the rise again last year. Canadians represent about 15 percent of winter visitors, with very few able to come during the virus pandemic.
Gilivancz’s involvement in this business field includes a family history with his grandfather, Mike, having owned a lumberyard and hardware store at one time in Weslaco. His mother, Kookii Crerar has been an employee at Kautsch’s for 35 years, including some 20 years as business manager, a position she currently holds for her son.
Gilivancz noted his father, Charlie, is a master plumber, and some of that experience led to Lance taking over that department in Kautsch’s for a time. He attended college in Sweetwater, Texas and spent five years working in Austin. Meeting his wife, Claire, now a nurse practitioner, brought him back to the Valley. The couple have two children, including a three-year-old who already loves tools and building materials.
“I didn’t want to change anything,” the new owner said. That includes the name, “The name is important from a business standpoint, but also to the legacy and respect for the Kautsch family,” he added.
“Besides the cliental are used to the way the business has been run,” Lance said. “The emphasis in running the business should be on integrity.”
Lance emphasized wanting to give back to the community much like “Mr. John” had done over the years. Kautsch has been involved in many Alamo Chamber of Commerce activities, especially being supportive of events connected to Winter Texans. He not only provided prizes for events, but gave of his time during those events, such as the Winter Texan Appreciation evening, golf tournaments, Fire and Police Appreciation Night, network nights and Christmas toy drives.
Lance hopes in the future to be part of local activities. He figures that’s part of the Kautsch family legacy as well as the long business history. He looks forward to continuing the legacy of the business and service that Arthur, Marvin and John Kautsch have strived to keep for so many years.
A Note From Herb Moering
This writer can attest to John Kautsch’s business help and kindness. I and my wife were one of John’s customers. Our largest purchase was vinyl siding, shutters and 10 window replacements 10 years ago.
When John learned about four windows failing last year and showing deterioration, he took the time to personally come to our residence to see what had happened. He informed us the windows were still under warranty, just barely. John arranged for the window company’s salesman to look into the matter, which led to ordering replacements. It took a couple times to finally get the right size windows, but we are looking through clear glass these days.
Kautsch has often provided that kind of service in taking care of Winter Texans over the years. It is what has kept the winter visitors returning when they need supplies or advice.
The fist bump means the deal's done as John Kautsch (right) sells his lumber and hardware business in Alamo to his business manager and close friend, Lance Givilancz.