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Small Town Minnesota Door Business Goes Galactic

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A small Minnesota business is doing big things for the New York Yankees, NASCAR drivers and NASA.

Mike Schweiss's story is proof that when one door closes, another one opens.

"I had no idea what I was doing, but I wasn't a quitter," Schweiss said.

Years ago, he was a dairy farmer by trade, but also tinkering around with other "projects."

"Pretty soon I started making hog crates, Bobcat trailers and lawnmowers and different things," Schweiss said.

Mike Schweiss Finding Minnesota
Mike Schweiss (credit: CBS)

But one night, way back in 1980, a friend told him while at a wedding that he should get into the bifold door business.

"It was just a brief conversation we had, and I said, 'I'll get a hold of you next week.' And off to the dance floor he went," he said.

An hour-and-a-half later, that friend had a heart attack and died on the dance floor.

For Schweiss, the brief conversation was fate, and what happened next was a way to honor his buddy.

He didn't know a bifold door from a swinging gate -- but he took that final conversation to heart.

"Just the fact that he died gave me and inspiration that he was telling me something," Schweiss said. "My first door went to Franklin, Minnesota. I made it wrong every which way, height and width."

Schweiss Doors Finding Minnesota
(credit: CBS)

But Schweiss knew things could only go up from there. Slowly, but surely, he began to get it right, and his business grew. He started hiring employees, a lot of them farmers like he was.

Jerry Hagen has been with Schweiss Doors through the ups and downs.

"It makes us country people proud," Hagen said. "It's endless possibilities. We've done a lot in the last 10 years."

Hagen says he remembers the turning point, when Schweiss patented the bifold strap in the late 90s.

Its unique design caught the attention of businesses around the world. And big-name customers, like the NBA's Sacramento Kings, were lining up at the front door.

"I saw the first game on TV when they were opening, and I built them, so that was kind of unique," Hagen said. "That was special."

From a farm site between Hector and Fairfax, to the bright lights of Yankee Stadium. And in some ways, Schweiss Doors has gone from global to galactic. They now protect rockets that launch satellites into space.

Working manufactures a Schweiss bifold strap Finding Minnesota
Working manufactures a Schweiss bifold strap (credit: CBS)

"It's hard for them to comprehend until we can show the photos, and then they go, 'Wow,'" Schweiss said.

Even NASCAR drivers like Mark Martin and Bill Elliot Jr. have bought in. Schweiss has made doors as tall as 61 feet and as wide as 134 feet.

They now have more than 8,000 customers -- and Schweiss owes it all to the final words from a friend.

"He inspired me that night," he said. "I never let go of it and just kept driving forward."

Schweiss Doors have even appeared in movies, most recently in "Sully," about American pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.

Depending on their size, Schweiss Doors cost anywhere between $6,000 to more than $100,000.

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