Ralph Korte and Joe Glik, stewards of their own construction and retail legacies respectively, first crossed paths in the early 1970s. Strip malls were still a new venture and a young Todd Korte only came up as high as a groundbreaking shovel on that first project together in Highland, Illinois.
Today, The Korte Company is well into its second generation, and Glik’s is bringing in the fifth. Most family-owned businesses struggle to survive beyond a single generation.
Yet, here they both are.
With all the grit and commitment that takes, it’s no wonder they found each other.
After building Glik’s retail locations in Missouri and Illinois across four decades, The Korte Company took on an even bigger venture for this century-old retailer: A new 50,000-square-foot headquarters.
The facility is brimming with open office space and e-commerce capabilities light years beyond what they could accomplish before. And it wouldn’t be complete without a few traditional Glik family touches (ask them why there’s a buckeye tree on site).
Together, The Korte Company helped planted the seeds for the next generation of Glik’s family retail — unfavorable odds be damned.
Outgrowing their space
Glik’s is one of the oldest names in American retail. Their first store dates back to 1897, when Joseph Glik transitioned from selling clothing and dry goods out of a horse-drawn wagon to opening a successful menswear store in downtown St. Louis.
A full-line, 10,000-square-foot department store in Madison, Illinois soon followed; the retailer carried on operating through the Depression. National retailers dominated metropolitan malls in the second half of the century; Glik’s stayed ahead of the curve with strip centers and a focus on suburban small towns.
Today, they’re in 11 states with over 65 stores — and did it all while keeping the business in the family. But for all they’ve accomplished over 120 years in business, their headquarters hadn’t yet caught up with them.
Cut to the back of an old shopping center in Granite City, Illinois, 2019. There, you would have found the offices of Jeff and Jim Glik, great-grandsons of founder Joseph. Jeff is CEO, President and head of women’s merchandising; younger brother Jim is Vice President and in charge of men’s merchandising. Both made do at this improvised headquarters for over 30 years.
“We just kept shifting and moving and making things work,” Jim said. “It wasn’t the most beautiful environment. It didn’t have windows. We eventually just got maxed out at our space.”
Beyond the makeshift office, Glik’s Distribution Center and the E-Commerce Fulfillment Center operated out of this building, too. This would have been tough if it was business as usual, but with online sales now in the millions since the web store opened in 2007, their web fulfillment team didn’t have the space to work efficiently.
The Glik’s web fulfillment team stepped up and worked through it as long as possible — but Jeff and Jim, along with CFO/CIO Darryl Gerstenecker, knew a change needed to be made.
“I’m not going to call you for a screen door. But we’ll call you for our headquarters.”
About 80 years into the Glik legacy, Ralph Korte enters the picture. Joe Glik (yes, same name as founder and grandfather) had been poking around Highland, Illinois to consider adding a location there. Within a few days of his fact-finding mission, a call came in from Ralph.
His pitch went something like this:
“Joe, you don’t know me, but I’m building hog houses, and I can do a lot more with my life and with my business if you’ll help catapult my dreams — and my dream is to build a shopping center. I know that you work downtown, but you really should build a shopping center in Highland, Illinois.'”
It would be a big step for Joe, who leaned conservatively with his business decisions. But Ralph convinced him to meet. He shared guidance on where to put the strip center in town and offered his construction expertise.
Nerves aside, Joe took the leap.
“I’ll never forget, he came home one day, and my dad said, ‘I’ve made a decision, and it’s probably the most nervous I’ve ever been,’” Jeff recalls.
Joe soon invited Ralph and his wife Donna over for dinner to meet the family. Joe’s wife, Gussie, served lemonade (regular for the kids, spiked for the adults) and cooked a ribeye on their rotisserie indoor grill.
“And all of a sudden, that ribeye caught fire,” Jeff remembers. “We had the biggest fire in this room, and Ralph helped put the flames out.”
In the fires of a charred ribeye dinner, a partnership was born.
The Korte Company broke ground on the Glik’s Highland location August 9th, 1972; young Todd Korte on one side of the groundbreaking shovel, and Judy Glik (Jeff and Jim’s younger sister) on the other side.
Ralph shared early on the importance of being involved in the Highland community. First up: Oktoberfest. He loaned Joe a flatbed to pull a Northtown float; Jeff Glik remembers dressing up in an Easter bunny costume to throw out candy.
Afterward, the Glik family hung around and met the locals.
“Everyone went back to the square, and my father said, ‘Okay, I’m buying all the Kortes a beer,’” Jeff said. “Well, there’s a lot of Kortes in Highland. So it turned out to be a lot of people, and then the Kortes are reciprocal. If you buy them a beer, they’re gonna buy you a beer.”
Beyond grabbing Oktoberfest tabs, Joe Glik also gave back to Highland in bigger ways.
The land he purchased for the shopping center was larger than they needed to develop. Ralph shared that the city was looking for space to put athletic fields, so Joe decided to donate part of the land to the local cause, no strings attached.
“Glik’s isn’t just retail,” said Jeremy Reynolds, superintendent on the headquarters project. “If you go into Highland, you’ll see the name everywhere. As a kid they provided us with Glik Park, which is still one of the nicest baseball and sports areas around. There’s walking paths, playgrounds for kids and concessions, too. If you grow up in Highland, you learn the names Korte and Glik very quickly. To say they give back to the community is an understatement.”
The two families and businesses stayed in touch and came together for other retail projects over the years; the lines of communication were always open.
“I’ll never forget there was one year that The Korte Company was a little light on work and Ralph called Jim and I and said, ‘If you need someone to hang a screen door, just call Korte’” Jeff said. “I’ll never forget he called and said that. I was like, ‘I’m not going to call you for a screen door. But we will call you for our headquarters.’”
“They were just two handshake guys.”
When it came time for Jeff and Jim to figure out who they’d partner with for this major project, they naturally started with a call to Todd Korte, son of Ralph Korte and President and CEO of The Korte Company.
Right away, Todd and Jay Korte (Ralph’s nephew and Director of Client Relations) started to learn about what the Glik brothers envisioned for their new headquarters.
“Jay and I met with their crew, and just talked through what they’re trying to do,” Todd said.
Jay also saw this as a chance not only to build upon a longstanding family relationship, but to build upon economic growth for the region he’s so proud of.
“This is still our home, even though The Korte Company has expanded and worked all over the nation,” Jay said. “This is still where a lot of our families live, where our ancestors have come from. It’s great to see local businesses grow and continue to their success, whether or not Korte’s involved in a project.”
Todd, Jay and Jeremy (the superintendent) remained an open book throughout the process, laying out how projects of this size and scope worked, sharing timeline and budget projections and adding in their expertise when questions naturally came up. After all, it’s not every day you build a new headquarters from the ground up.
When it came down to decision time, Jeff and Jim made the call to put their trust in Korte, following in the footsteps of previous Glik’s leadership.
“It goes back to our father and Ralph,” Jim said. “They were just two handshake guys. Their deal was a good deal. The handshake was their word. And we knew that Todd would make it happen. We knew that Jay would make it happen.”
Ironed-out details and crystal-clear communication
And they did, right from the start.
Todd and Jay helped with early stage details like verifying two of the potential sites for the necessary truck access and parking space — tasks that are helpful to have a longtime family friend and construction partner get their eyes on.
As the design started to come to fruition, they talked Jeff, Jim and Darryl through details of the office flow. (How many people does the break room need to service at one? How many conference rooms will you need?) The final layout came to 50,000 square feet, with 20,000 of it for office space and 30,000 for distribution and web fulfillment.
“It was a matter of making sure that they’re getting the best use of their space,” Todd said.
And because this was a Design-Build project, collaborative problem solving found its way into all aspects of planning.
Office layouts became more open to reflect the realities of a COVID-19 workspace. Green features such as electric car charging stations, a bike rack and daylighting (no more windowless offices for Jeff and Jim) were added, too.
And some forward thinking on light fixtures and sprinkler line locations in the warehouse meant that when it finally came time to add the racking, it would already line up with the lighting. This early coordination meant no late-in-game costs to account for layout changes.
The vision for the finishes, colors and interior design for the office came from Arcturis, a St. Louis-based architecture and design firm, with Korte Interiors providing the final furnishings for the individual workstations, lobby and conference rooms. Once again, it was a family affair; Judy Glik (seen above on the other side of the groundbreaking shovel) is the Director of Brand Experience at Arcturis.
Community relationships even played a part in the financing of the headquarters. Glik’s was still in negotiations with Scott Credit Union when the COVID hit. Amidst all the uncertainties (like so many other businesses, every Glik’s store closed for a time during the early days of the pandemic), Scott Credit Union stuck to the plan.
“The Glik’s family has a long history of success and Scott Credit Union appreciated the opportunity to work with them as they built their new home office in Collinsville,” said Frank Padak, President and CEO of Scott Credit Union. “It has been a great project and will undoubtedly serve them well into the future. Local businesses like Glik’s truly are the backbone of our country and we are fortunate to have them in our communities.”
Despite all the involved parties, all the visions, all the small-but-important details, crystal clear communication ruled the day.
“The project took on a special significance knowing that there’s a family relationship behind the business relationship,” Jeremy Reynolds, superintendent, said. “Being that we have a good relationship with the Glik’s team, it made it very easy to communicate.”
Touches of tradition
So, why is a buckeye tree planted on site at this new Glik’s headquarters? To answer that, first, some etymology.
“The name ‘Glik’ means ‘luck’ in German, and buckeyes are supposedly good luck if you carry one,” Jim said. “And our great-grandfather [Joseph] always carried a buckeye in his pocket, and our grandfather carried a buckeye in his pocket. It really never reached our father, but when we all bought our first home, he went out and bought us all a buckeye tree to put in our backyard.”
Naturally, the new home of the company needed a buckeye sapling, and everyone in the office got a shiny, smooth buckeye when they moved into their new offices as a token of good luck.
Other touches at the facility have more recent origins. When Jeff’s son, Jeremy checked out the plans for the new facility, he asked about the 60-year-old steel “G” sign at the original headquarters in Granite City.
Jim confessed that they hadn’t given much thought to it, but Jeremy threw out his idea: Incorporate it into the interior at the new headquarters.
Nothing like an outsider’s perspective.
The “G” not only moved from the old to new headquarters but became the cornerstone of the interior design: Arcturis built the color scheme around the antique sign (denim blue and exposed neon orange). And superintendent Jeremy Reynolds made the ambitious move a reality.
“We had to add an extreme amount of backing and supports, including welding clips and studs to the mezzanine,” Reynolds said. “The sign was close to 300lbs on a suspended wall — we couldn’t take a risk so really over did it. It took 2 lifts and 6 guys to set the sign in place.”
The final touch of tradition comes in the form of a named conference room: The Elsie Room, located on the second floor of the office space.
Elsie married Morris Glik, Joseph’s son and head of the second generation of the growing retail business (his investing prowess made it possible to offer customers credit during the Depression). But after his death in 1945, his son Joe was still fighting in World War II — leaving no interim successor. The management team sat down with Elsie to convince her to step in and run the business.
She said yes. And held the reins until after Joe returned home from the war, took classes at Washington University on the GI Bill and graduated five years later.
And that’s why her namesake, in addition to Joseph and Morris, hangs on the entrance to the Glik’s three conference rooms.
“We have the Elsie Room honoring our grandmother,” Jeff said. “If she had not jumped in and run the company for five years, none of us would be here.”
A future poised for growth
From a humble storefront on Second Street to a multi-state retail footprint, Glik’s has made impressive strides. For The Korte Company, working with such a longstanding player was nothing short of humbling.
“You think of all the changes that they’ve seen,” Jay said. “Obviously, we’ve seen changes in the last 60 plus years in the construction industry, but you think of the changes that they’ve seen in the retail business and their industry in the last 120 years — you know the adversity that they must have faced in the retail business. It makes you proud that they put their trust in you to help continue their dreams and be a part of their growth plan going forward.”
And what do all these details, bright office spaces and the ability to ship 25,000 web orders per month, heritage trees and neon signs and unwritten family histories, culminate in for owners like Jim and Jeff?
“As a company, we kind of pinch ourselves every day as we look out the window.”