February 24, 2014
From 2010 through early 2013, thefabricator.com profiled various metal fabricating shops in “The Fabricator Spotlight.” How have these businesses fared since their profiles were published? Here’s a look at two profiled at the beginning of 2010: Barnes Metalcrafters and Brown Dog Welding.
Weary of the corporate world and wanting to own his own business, Tim Martin purchased Barnes Metalcrafters Inc., Wilson, N.C., (see Figure 1) in August 1997. At that time, much of the shop’s machinery and equipment was “very old and worn.” Martin put a lot of money and time back in the business, buying new machinery and expanding its capabilities.
Barnes Metalcrafters’ product mix was and is diverse and somewhat eclectic. Among the most unusual and memorable projects reported in 2010 were an embalming table and a stainless steel medical table for breast cancer research. The latter, which had to be built to allow a camera to rotate 360 degrees below it, had a cameo in a story on “Good Morning America.”
When asked in 2010 to look ahead, Martin said he was looking forward to finding a niche market and developing a product—something they could make consistently to fill in gaps between production runs.
When asked in 2013 how their business has changed, Martin’s son, Nick, who works for the company, said, “In 2010 the Internet was a small part of the business, but today, about 80 percent or more of our projects are done via the Internet. Quote requests, drawings, and proposals can be done in minutes.”
Equipment purchases have continued. Nick Martin reported that because of the opportunity to fabricate high-end department store fixturing, Barnes MetalCrafters bought a three-headed belt sander that is used to finish HRPO tubing to a 220 RMS surface, preparing parts for satin-nickel plating, as well as a second machine was added to prepare DOM tubing for the same plating requirement.
“These two pieces of equipment required us to install a dust collector to remove the fine metal particles and steel wool that is produced from the sanders. This led us to tying the complete shop into the system, improving the overall air quality.”
The shop recently began hiring new employees and has found that it sometimes must provide its own training, at least in Autodesk Inventor® software. “We have tried the local community college and high schools for employees, but they are focusing more on 2D AutoCAD®.”
When asked whether social media has had an effect on business, Nick Martin said, “Yes. We have generated several new customers from it. People see pictures that we post on Twitter and Flickr and often can relate to a need they have with their business. They see some of our capabilities, and we build from that, eventually forming a relationship.”
Barnes Metalcrafters’ biggest challenge at this time? “It never goes away—finding work for this facility and seeking the right employees to assist with new opportunities.”
Looking ahead, the company has achieved some of its goals but still is working to develop its own product line “to fill the gaps when production may be slow. We have the capabilities to do a lot with metal fabrications; we just have to utilize them and grow,” said Nick Martin.
What do the Martins most want people to know about Barnes Metalcrafters? “That we have the capabilities to do some very intricate and complex parts and assemblies.”
Josh Welton (see Figure 2) and his wife, Darla, started Brown Dog Welding, Mt. Clemens, Mich., in spring 2008. In his job as a millwright at Chrysler, Welton said he “worked with some extremely talented welders, plus Chrysler and the UAW had an amazing technical training center. I’d find myself there as often as they let me, doing pipe welding, aluminum TIG welding, and testing for certifications.
“Welding became more than part of the job, it was my hobby too. So I began putting together a ‘shop’ out in my garage.”
Welton took the initial steps to beginning his own business by making Christmas gifts for family and friends in 2007. He posted some pictures online that generated a lot of interest. Keeping his Chrysler job, he moonlighted and put the money earned into building a website to showcase his sculptures and other metal items, such as GTAW stainless steel belt buckles, keychains, dog tags, pendants, and aluminum vases.
The shop also does fabrication and welding repair.
When asked how his business has changed since it was profiled on thefabricator.com in 2010, Welton said, “It has shifted even more toward my creative work, and I feel I’ve evolved a lot as an artist over the last few years. I’ve always been a Miller welding equipment guy, and one thing that has been exciting for me is developing a professional relationship with the folks from Appleton, Wis. Last summer, we partnered on a few projects and put together a series of YouTube videos , and more are in the works.”
Social media has had a significant impact on Welton’s business. He is on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Flickr. He also blogs occasionally as watchtheprettylight.kinja.com on a subforum (oppositelock.jalopnik.com) of the popular car culture site Jalopnik.com, which has led to a few pretty popular "weldporn" posts, such as this one.
Why all the social media? Welton said, “It’s about brand recognition and spreading the gospel of welding. Social media is the best tool available for me to do that.”
In 2010, one of Brown Dog Welding’s greatest challenges was the business end, which Welton described as “a pain.” He said, “Darla handles most of the paperwork, the bills, the packaging, and so on. I wouldn’t have a clue.”
Another challenge was standing out from the crowd, “especially with the sculptures.” Welton said, “I try to put a unique spin on what I do; I try to market it in a different way, and I like to think my pieces have a look to them that stands out. Everything I do is a one-off. No two pieces are the same, and I pride myself in that.” (See slideshow below.)
Today, Welton’s biggest challenge is his health. “I’ve been on medical leave since last June due to a series of surgeries on my ECU tendons/sheaths. The ulna bone on both sides is supposed to have a groove for the tendon and its sheath to rest in, but my grooves are too shallow. This results in the tendons not staying in place, stretching, and the sheaths tearing. I just underwent operation number three. I’m hoping to be back at it by May.”
Looking ahead in 2010, Welton said, “I’m hoping that at some point in the future, I can sustain my family on the day-to-day operations of this business alone. I can’t say that two years ago I thought I’d be working on the projects I currently have, so I’m not really sure what to imagine I might be doing in another two years! Hopefully the good word will continue to spread.”
When asked if he had achieved this goal, Welton said, “I’m close. The hardest part of working for yourself, quite honestly, is affording health care. I’ve been lucky enough to work for large companies (Chrysler, General Dynamics) with excellent benefits in the past. My wife and I both have medical issues that require it. Going forward on my own, that’s the biggest hurdle. Not to get too political, but the new laws making health care ‘affordable’ really only make monthly premiums affordable. A $10,000 deductible isn’t going to do me any good.”
What does Welton want people to know most about his business? “I put my heart and soul into every project.”