How fabricators are faring this summer

July 12, 2012
By: Vicki Bell

It’s summer, a time when some companies (not ice cream and sno-cone vendors) experience a lull in business. Although a summer lull most often is a temporary situation, businesses worldwide fear any slowdown as being an indicator of a possible move back into a recession.

On its website and through its July “Fabricating Update,” has been asking fabricators how their businesses are faring this summer. It appears it’s a mixed bag out there with little cause for alarm, just yet.

As of this writing, 55 percent of those who have responded to an informal survey on have reported that their business is “off a little.” Twenty-seven percent say their business is “steady” with little change from the preceding months; 9 percent reported business is “way down,” and 9 percent said it’s “on an uptick.”

Of course, the website survey is available to a wide audience, and respondents don’t necessarily have to be in metal fabricating. That’s why responses to the July “Fabricating Update” are a much better indicator. For the most part, these responses show that the metal fabricating sector is humming along nicely. In fact, almost 67 percent said their businesses are on an uptick, with several noting that business is way up.

On an Uptick

Jeff Z. from Nebraska said, “Our business is on the uptick. We have spent a lot of time and money on marketing and website improvements. We push the fact that our products are built here in the heartland of the U.S., by hard working, conscientious, Midwestern citizens. We build quality products that perform well and have a very competitive cost of ownership.”

Steve H., who works for a custom metal fabrication shop in Kansas, said, “[We’re experiencing] an uptick of around 10 percent over last year’s record sales.  Our customer base is diversified and not tied to a particular industry.”

Several subscribers said they are so busy that they are hiring.

A custom metal fabricator in Wisconsin said, “We are on a big upswing—record months of shipments, yet we are still over capacity. We are in the process of hiring people to increase our work force and also buying additional machinery to help close our capacity gap. We must be able to deliver quickly and meet the demands of our customers, if this is going to continue. We really don’t see any slowdown for the rest of the year.”

Steve R. from an Iowa-based company said, “We are very busy; we are trying to hire general and skilled labor as are other manufacturers in our area.”  

Subscriber James J. raised an interesting point about the question being posed to fabricators: “Compared to what?  Compared to 2008-2009—fabulous!  The only people who aren't satisfied with a slow, steady increase are the stock-brokers.”

Shop owner Ron M. agrees with James: Very busy; 2 to 3 months’ work ahead of me. Much better than ’09 … came very close to closing the doors!”

Off a Little

Twenty-seven percent of subscribers reported that business is “off a little.” Among them is George S., who said, “We jokingly refer to it as the "Summer Slowstice," since we historically see [business slowing] some of the summer months. We are hoping it is indeed just a speed bump.”

Jerry L., who works for a company involved in automation and robotics, said, “Right now it is off a little. This is not unusual as June and July are traditionally slower months for us. Our overall business is still running way ahead of last year.”

Way Down

This brings us to the final choice submitted (no one reported steady, unless you count James J.)—way down. One reader, Jim O., shared his small business’s story and his thoughts on what's ahead:

“We are down significantly. Our primary customers are very sensitive to global-U.S. economic conditions. The consensus is that these customers will not make significant investments toward the future until the political and economic news changes. Our customers are drawing down inventories (that we built for them) because their business forecasts were off toward the negative side. Most of this has to do with the economic news from Europe.

“This leads me to believe that business leaders are focused on the political issues leading to the November elections. The unknowns, such as mandated health-care costs, tax-structure changes, and access to capital are forcing businesses to become very hesitant about long-term commitments. These same issues are driving the stubborn unemployment numbers that we are seeing. The Supreme Court rulings on the health-care issue have sharply focused much more attention on the coming elections. Political fundraising definitely has tilted in favor of the Republican side the last couple months. This is being driven by the aforementioned issues.

“I see the slowdown lasting until October, November. By then, the country will have a clearer picture of the future.”

Do any of these responses resonate with you? How is your business faring this summer compared to the preceding months? Compared to 2009? Your comments are always welcome.

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Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209