Garage Band: Putting up walls, building a business

Kathy Kyle was waiting for a child to be seen by a doctor in an emergency room when she started thinking about, of all things, the walls.

“They had these temporary walls while there was some renovation going on, and it was quite noisy,” Kyle said. “We had to return a couple of weeks later for something else and I noticed that the walls were gone.

“I asked what had happened to them and was told they probably had been thrown away. I thought that waste could have been avoided with the use of a reusable wall.”

Kyle, with a background in marketing and trade shows, was an unemployed widow with 10 children when she built her first mobile wall for a client in South Carolina. When she needed to provide the name of her business for the buyer to make out a check, Pareti Mobile Walls was born.

“Pareti is the Italian word for ‘wall,’” Kyle said. “I contracted with a shop in Dyersville that builds furniture forms to cut out the parts for the interior supports for our walls.”

When it came time to assemble the next set of walls for a client in New York, Kyle was offered the use of a garage at the home of friends — and future employees — Kathy Raue and Jay Mathews in Walker.

“It was sort of a man cave, and they offered to push a pool table out of the way and make room to assemble the walls and get them ready to ship on a truck,” Kyle said. “While we had been able to load our first order into a U-Haul trailer, this order involved a number of walls inside of a six-foot-high, 10-foot-wide, 2,000-pound crate that needed to be loaded into a semi trailer with a forklift.”

One of Kyle’s neighbors agreed to drive a forklift several blocks to load the crate. The business eventually moved to a building at 259 Iehl St. in Central City where it occupies two bays of a leased building.

In 2015, its first year of operation, Pareti Mobile Walls had sales of $75,000. That grew to $300,000 in 2016, and sales exceeded that amount in January 2017, Kyle said.

Raue is now the lead carpenter at Pareti, and Mathews handles crating and a variety of other tasks. Pareti Mobile Walls employs about 10 people with a mixture of full and part time.

Kyle moved the fabrication of interior supports in-house with the purchase of equipment to create a computer-numerial-controlled cutting table. The kit arrived in a box with a photo of the finished unit and hundreds of parts, but no assembly instructions.

“I was out of town at the time, but Kathy and Jay worked on it several days and figured out how to get it going,” Kyle recalled.

The interior wall supports are cut from cabinet-grade plywood and enable Pareti to offer custom walls.

“Each wall has levelers on the bottom to account for uneven floors,” Kyle said. “Our initial walls, including some used by the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, had wood shims to level them, but we shifted to permanent levelers for easier and more accurate set up.”

Pareti Mobile Walls also manufactures and sells custom pedestals. Kyle said customers learn about the company through inquiries on the internet, typically from younger employees or interns.

“They are so much more resourceful,” she said. “They typically search for ‘portable walls’ and there we are.”