You Don’t Need to Build a Billion Dollar Social Network to Be a Successful Entrepreneur

by Greg Prestemon

What do you think of when you think of a business built in a garage? Is it Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak creating Apple in their garage in California? Is it Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, stockpiling Pez Dispensers for auction on his way to building an empire?

Whatever your vision of the company founded in the garage is, chances are it’s a vision of success built in part on a story like the ones mentioned above.

If that’s the case, you would be wrong.

Most companies founded in garages don’t become corporate titans.

However, one company founded in a garage right here in St. Charles County has become an important player in an industry you probably never think of.

National Cart, a designer, manufacturer, and distributer of material handling products, food service products, and store fixtures, is a family-owned business that has been in St. Charles for nearly 40 years.

Current CEO Rob Unnerstall’s father started National Cart in his garage in 1979, and together the Unnerstall family grew a small business repairing shopping carts into a company serving accounts throughout North America, including relationships with some of the nation’s largest retailers.

The company currently has roughly 230 employees, making National Cart one of the county’s largest job creators.

Even with its success, National Cart continues to be a family business.

In addition to CEO Rob, family members working in leadership positions at the company include Rob’s brother John, the company’s executive vice president, and his daughter Jenna Deutsch, National Cart’s marketing manager. Rob’s sons work for the company as well: Nick Unnerstall is an account manager, and Robbie Unnerstall III is an operations coordinator.

St. Charles County’s strategic location has also helped the company thrive. Known as one of the nation’s logistical hubs, the county’s central spot on the map makes national distribution easier and cheaper for many manufacturers.

Further, a well-educated labor force and low cost of living make the county a great place to locate a manufacturing business that requires a relatively large base of employees.

And that large base of employees is important, in part because manufacturing businesses like National Cart are significant creators of high-skill jobs. For example, National Cart uses advanced technology and machinery to manufacture carts, shelving, and fixtures for a wide variety of companies.

“We need educated, skilled, creative employees,” said Rob Unnerstall. “We work with a lot of our customers to design custom solutions that fit their needs, and problem-solving and employee development are two cornerstones of our culture. That’s because we need those two ingredients to give our customers the best product possible.”

National Cart clearly contributes skilled jobs to the St. Charles County economy.

However, the company makes another important contribution to our region.

The story of the entrepreneur who builds a successful business that employs hundreds of people and multiple generations of one family out of his or her garage is rare, but it does happen.

And when it happens it’s important to recognize and celebrate people like the Unnerstall family, and the company they built.

That recognition helps inspire other entrepreneurs, and tells those dreamers that the risk they are taking is a bet worth placing.

It also tells those dreamers that you don’t need to invent a billion-dollar social network to become a successful entrepreneur. In fact, most successful companies—including the ones located in the EDC Incubator and at OPO Startups—were founded by people who learned a skill and figured out how to turn that skill into a company.

If you’re a dreamer with a skill, follow the lead of the Unnerstall family.

National Cart might not be eBay or Apple, but it is creating jobs and bright futures for a lot of people right here in our community.

And that’s an achievement worth celebrating.

Greg Prestemon is President and CEO of the St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners.