Ames Chamber of Commerce

Local Ames Business has Sealed the Deal for Success

November 17, 2021

Selling and distributing seals goes back a long way in the Van Bergen family. Owner of VB Seals, Jim Van Bergen, says that his grandfather and father started a seals business together in 1948, selling to automotive jobbers in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Over the years, the business grew, and Jim’s dad approached him about opening his own territory in Iowa.

“They gave me a car and catalogs and pointed me toward Iowa. I developed and grew the territory for several years, but decided I wanted to do something different. I went to work for a competitor for a while before I broke out on my own,” Van Bergen notes.

Breaking out on his own was a smart move. The business Van Bergen started from his basement in 1990 has grown and evolved to include a large global footprint with a team of very knowledgeable employees that serves key Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) customers. “We work with our customers’ engineers so that we can get in on the ground floor of what they are doing. And we serve all segments of the OEM industry, everything from medical to agriculture,” says Van Bergen.

Getting to where they are today has been a family effort. Van Bergen’s wife, Alicia, has always been very involved in the business and today oversees payroll, while son-in-law, Rusty Cooper, serves as General Manager. The eldest Van Bergen son, Fred Van Bergen, is the President of VB Seals. While the youngest son, Jon Van Bergen, works as a schoolteacher, and is still involved with shareholder activities.

“Growing up around the business, I didn’t really understand what seals were until I was much older,” Fred Van Bergen remarks. “After my first unofficial job bagging seals in the basement, I eventually moved on to the warehouse where I helped with bagging, boxing, and shipping. There was even a period of time when I left to explore other interests, but the opportunity at the family business ultimately brought me back.”

Aside from working with family, Jim Van Bergen has always placed an emphasis on creating a close-knit environment for his employees. It’s the reason you will be hard-pressed to find a VB Seals staff member who has been there less than 10 years. “During my stint working for other businesses, I noticed that they didn’t treat their associates the way I thought they should be treated. It’s about more than salary,” Van Bergen says. “I want people to feel comfortable when they come to work, and we have always tried to foster a close-knit atmosphere here.”

Not only has Van Bergen always deeply cared for his employees, but he is continually motivated by his customers. “Being in the seals business hasn’t always been easy, but the thing that gets me out of bed each morning is the desire to take care of our customers. If we don’t deliver for them, then they can’t do what they need to do.” In an industry that is largely relational, Van Bergen and his team work hard to grow connections with their customers and provide stability in a business world where it’s normal to see a high rate of staff turnover.

Now Van Bergen is looking forward to retiring in December. He and Alicia plan to travel, enjoy their small farm, and take advantage of time with their grandkids. That’s why Van Bergen chose to sell his business to Trelleborg Sealing Solutions, a world leading developer, manufacturer and supplier of precision seals, bearings, and custom-molded polymer components.

“Trelleborg doesn’t want to come in and tell us how to run our business. They want us to keep doing the things that have gotten us to where we are today,” says Jim. “It gives me peace of mind knowing that there will be stability for the employees after the transition and that Trelleborg will stay in the neighborhood.”

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