Derek and Stacy Lee, owners of Lee Plumbing and Heating in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, recently nominated for a 2019 Minnesota Family Business Award by Advance Thief River.
Lee Plumbing and Heating is a fourth-generation family owned business, located in Thief River Falls, a remote, rural Minnesota town. While many main street businesses struggle to remain viable, this business has not only managed to survive—it has managed to thrive under the ownership of four generations of the Lee family.
The business serves northwestern Minnesota’s residential and commercial plumbing and heating needs, ranging from small plumbing repair jobs to large commercial installations.
The business was launched in 1905 by Norwegian immigrant, Edward Lee. Edward’s son Carl purchased the business in 1952. Carl’s son Larry purchased the business in 1982, and Derek, Larry’s son, purchased the business in 2016.
Derek laughingly says he has “been in the business since he was born.” Like three generations of Lee children before him, Derek hand-delivered bill payments around town, bicycling from one business to the next. His payment was equivalent to the amount of postage the business saved by not having to mail the checks.
After finishing high school and college, Derek worked in the cities for a few years, before coming back to Thief River Falls to work in the family business. Derek’s wife, Stacy, manages the books. Like the four generations preceding them, Derek and Stacy’s three children (fifth generation) have had opportunity to work in the family business over the years.
Employees have longevity in the company, with most having been employed 15-40 years or more. The Lees have partnered with the local high school to provide internships for high school students. “We want to promote the trades as a valid profession and help kids see the opportunities that are available to them,” said Stacy Lee.