A new generation upholds old-fashioned values

July 27, 2000
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David Kirkpatrick carries on the family name and commitment to quality craftsmanship in his “old-fashioned” shop.
Unlike some family businesses that pass down because the owner wants to retire or move on to other projects, Dave Kirkpatrick took over his family business after the death of his father three-and-a-half years ago.

His father, G. Leroy Kirkpatrick, had started Industrial Sheet Metal, Inc., in 1979, and the younger Kirkpatrick was just beginning to learn the “business” side of the business when his father died.

Kirkpatrick went through apprenticeship school for five years and was a foreman with the company prior to learning the business side.

He described the business as 95% commercial and the other 5% as a “mixed bag of everything.” The company is into new construction, remodeling, and retrofit. Industrial Sheet Metal lists the western half of Oklahoma as its customer base.

One of the more high-profile projects the company is working on is the new Metro Area Projects (MAPS) Arena.

“Oklahoma City is building a big sports arena for their Arena Football team and to attract a National Hockey League team to the area,” he said. “We’ve also got a new minor league baseball park that we did the ductwork for.”

Like fellow union contractor Air Engineering, Industrial Sheet Metal doesn’t have a big problem hiring experienced people and keeping them. The company employs between five and 35 people.

“We have a pretty good rapport with our workers,” Kirkpatrick added. “When they leave and work for someone else, they tend to come back to us eventually.

“I try to make sure the people are always working by placing them in another shop when it’s slow. We let people know about changes ahead of time — no surprises.”

The issue of utility and consolidator competition hasn’t raised the ire of Kirkpatrick yet, but he is concerned with some of the things that manufacturers have done lately.

“A lot of the contracts we bid on are with a mechanical contractor,” he said. “We get the ductwork and ventilation, which includes exhaust fans, air distribution, VAVs, etc.

“Trane is into VAVs now and rumored to be selling exhaust fans. Some of their products are specified on a project for installation only by Trane — which are bolted together in one package. That cuts us out because we can’t sell any ventilation products as a result.

“Manufacturers such as Trane, Lennox, Ruud, Carrier, etc. also sell directly to national accounts like Home Depot and Wal-Mart. I see that as a conflict because they all are selling equipment to people who should have a mechanical contractor’s permit to purchase the equipment — and they don’t.

“It can destroy our type of company.”

The last thing Kirkpatrick wants to do is to see the demise of the company his father started. He prides himself in maintaining a good relationship with his employees, which is a big key to the company’s success.

“Our people like it here,” he said. “They want to make money for the company.”

Like Oklahoma City, which Kirkpatrick describes as “laid back” and a “nice place to live,” Industrial Sheet Metal retains some of its typical small-town flavor.

“We are probably the largest old-fashioned shop in the area,” he said. “In fact, we still hand-cut our own ductwork.”

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