EXPERT’S OPINION: Focus on the basics for exponential growth

By C.A. Lawton | February 2, 2022
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The C.A. Lawton Co. periodically publishes input from professionals within the foundry industry and outside the casting world. These Expert Opinions may be casting-related, Continuous Improvement (CI / LEAN), Operational Excellence (Op-Ex), or just working through the challenges of today’s business environment. The goal is to present you with differing viewpoints on how our guests adapt, adopt, and improve. Today’s expert is Jesse Kleiman, of JR Metal Works. Jesse reminds us of the importance of hard work, caring, and accountability.

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Jesse, please tell us what you do, about your company, and how you got started.

I own a custom metal fabrication shop. Like all remarkable stories, we got started in a garage.

It was always a goal to have my own business. I was the guy turning hobbies into businesses. I had a boat detailing business. I had my side welding business, and I always tried to make inventions.

At one point, I had an opportunity to do subcontracting work and travel all over the country, building stainless pools. That went on for about a year. That work got slow at the same time as I had an opportunity to get some of my own work I could do out of the garage.

Soon, I was taking over my dad’s garage. I had to find somewhere else to go! I looked into getting various buildings. I tried to buy three different ones, and they all fell through. But it was good in the end because we wound up with all the space we needed in the best location.

Once we had the building set up, I stopped doing the traveling pool work. I got some help from a couple of friends. We fixed up the shop, we started building a team, and getting more work.

Once you got into JR Metalworks you multiplied. Your sales doubled the first few years?

Yeah, sales doubled every year. I knew sales had to double proportionately to the number of employees. But for me, being able to offer the number of jobs that we’ve provided over the last couple of years is significant. Two years ago, two people came into the new building. Today, we have ten times that many employees. Watching the growth brings me so much satisfaction.

What education or experiences helped you the most?

OJT! On-the-job training. I did go to college for manufacturing engineering, but really where the rubber meets the road is doing the work. When I was 10, my dad bought a boat repair business. That was the beginning of learning entrepreneurship. It was the incubator for me. I had the opportunity to learn how to work hard and talk to people. Just doing those two things will take you a long way.

How did you promote your business?

Mostly word of mouth. We make good products and deliver them on time. If you can pull that off, word spreads.

Please tell me how you encourage word of mouth.

Do what you say you’re going to do. Have integrity. When you fall short, be square about it. Tell them what happened. If you’re open and doing what you say you’re going to do, a lot of stuff figures itself out.

How do you encourage that culture in your organization?

Lead from the front. Be upright and take others with you. It’s our job to set the tone. If you show up to work every day and do that, other people will follow suit.

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Hiring people fast enough.

What do you think that you, as a first-generation company, can teach a fifth-generation company like Lawton?

I don’t know that we’re trying to teach anybody anything. C.A. Lawton has obviously done a lot of stuff right because they’ve been around for a long time, which is all the evidence you need.

We know what works for us. It boils down to caring. Our team cares about our customers. If we build a spectacular employee environment where they look forward to coming in each day, then they’re going to take care of our customers.

Where do you expect to see the most growth in the future?

We work with a wide variety of industries, but I don’t think we’re going to see anything but growth, especially in the areas of automation and medical. For example, we do many sheet metal components for robots.

What would you say to someone who’s graduating from high school who’s interested in welding, machining, or metal works?

If you want to get results? If you want to be a machinist, welder, or any trade – take the initiative to get an education from YouTube university or that on-the-job training. Get a job in the summer or whatever time you have available. When people are looking for answers, and you know the answer, people will notice that. You’re going to jump three rungs on the ladder. If you get involved with a company like ours that is growing so crazy fast, there are many more doors that open quicker. Just because we don’t have enough people, you get to try more things.