- Associated Press - Friday, October 7, 2016

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - The showroom at JDL Lighting & Electric features rows of fans and fixtures hanging at eye-level from adjustable ceiling rails and new slat walls to display vertical lights, a sea change from the clutter of years past.

Beyond the main floor, the vast warehouse of the building at 4800 W. Farmington Road no longer harbors identical hardware in scattershot locations, and the computer system has finally emerged from the Apple IIe era.

It took six months to clean, reorganize and restart the business. And it took the largest rounds of layoffs in living memory from the business most identified with Peoria around the world to even start those renovations.

Jay Haller and Robert Ziemba clocked in for the first time at JDL in November 2015 after being laid off from a combined four decades of employment at Caterpillar Inc. - Haller from maintenance and facilities engineering, Ziemba from project management with previous experience in information technology.

Their positions at Caterpillar were among thousands cut as part of a massive restructuring announced in September 2015 that continues and has expanded to counter diminishing heavy equipment sales.

Earlier this year, Tim Eisfelder, who worked on a Caterpillar production line assembling engines and transmissions, joined JDL after he, too, was laid off.

Together the men have put skills learned in their previous positions to work with knowledge gained on the fly as part of a small team running an entirely different type of business. The result, they say, is a modernized business that retains its family-owned values for customers and contractors.

“We’re all like a family, and we all like to help people,” Eisfelder said. “It just feels like home.”

Moreover, running the day-to-day operations of a small business requires a willingness to engage in a wide variety of activities, compared to the more compartmentalized culture of a large corporation.

“When something needs to get done, we don’t have to have meetings for two months,” said Ziemba, who wears the hats of a bookkeeper, IT specialist, warehouse organizer, general laborer and, as Haller pointed out, “moral support.”

“It’s not a bad thing, it’s just different.”

Haller, operations manager, sees the do-it-yourself nature of the job this way: “When someone sees something broken, they fix it.”

Customers who come into the business now notice the change. Ziemba said repeat clients often remark on how clean and well structured the new storefront area appears.

But the staff tries to maintain a demeanor and level of knowledge that has separated JDL from big-box competitors, whether it is through a specialty service such as restoring an antique or salvaged light fixture or a wholesale order for a contractor.

“We want everybody to be satisfied, even if they don’t buy anything,” Haller said.

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Source: (Peoria) Journal Star, https://bit.ly/2dNI4bq

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Information from: Journal Star, https://pjstar.com

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