Before selling Kenco Industrial Equipment Inc and retiring from the sheet metal industry, Thomas C. Kuschel, who passed away last year at age 85, taught his employees the value of a firm handshake and honest eye contact. 

“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” are words Thomas C. Kuschel lived by in life and in business. “This is such a simple saying but it means so much,” says Scott (Kuschel), one of Kuschel’s four sons, who learned the value of those words through his father’s career in the sheet metal industry. “Nothing is impossible as long as you want it and give it your best effort.”      

Born and raised in St. Joseph, Michigan, Kuschel graduated high school and spent two years at Valparaiso University before enlisting in the U.S. Army. Stationed at Fort Lee Virginia, he started a family with his wife, Carol, and soon entered the sheet metal business in the mid- to late 1960s.

In 1972, Kuschel was division manager at Teledyne Peer, a resistance (spot) welding machinery maker in Benton Township, Michigan, when he agreed to purchase Kenco Industrial Equipment Inc in South Florida. A new and used metal fabrication machinery distributor, Kuschel knew Kenco was one of Teledyne Peer’s clients.

Thomas Kuschel

“My family would come to South Florida for spring break vacations in the late ’60s and early ’70s,” says Scott, so they were familiar with the area. To move there was another thing. “My dad asked my mother, ‘What do you think about moving to Florida?’” he remembers. “My mother quickly responded, ‘No way! Our whole family is here in the St. Joe Michigan.’ My dad’s reply was, ‘Well, we’re going. I just bought a business down there.’”

That fall, Kuschel and his wife moved their family of four boys, Scott, Cary, Eric and Chad, to Coral Springs, Florida.

A member of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association, Kenco’s customer base included Florida, Puerto Rico, Central and South America, and kept around 12 employees. “I remember my dad working long hard hours with a lot of travel and overnight trips,” says Scott.

Kenco’s first location on North Andrews Avenue in Fort Lauderdale was a small office and warehouse of about 1500 square-feet. With growth, Kuschel moved the company to a 5000 square-feet facility where it stayed until N.B. Handy Co took over and moved operations to Deerfield Beach in the mid-90s. Negotiating a deal to buy him out of the company, Kuschel stayed on to oversee Kenco’s transition for a few years before deciding to retire after 30 years in the sheet metal industry.

Scott started working at Kenco in the early ’80s with his older brother, Eric. “My older brother Eric preceded me at Kenco by four or five years,” he says. “We both worked with our father until he sold the company to N.B. Handy Co.”

Eric left to start Calidad Machinery, a sales and service company. Meanwhile, Scott stayed on at Kenco through several transitions before joining Miami Tech Inc., a former customer of Kenco.

“I have been working for Miami Tech Inc. for over 16 years now,” he says. “Little did my brother and I know joining my father’s business would lead us to our future career paths.” It also influenced their belief that persistence in business pays off. 

Thomas Kuschel

“Both my father and my grandfather would always tell us it doesn’t matter if they tell you no, go back again and again and you will win them over eventually,” says Scott. “The machinery business is totally different these days compared to when my Dad was involved. The two biggest reasons are the evolution of the internet and imports.”

Still, a firm handshake and honest eye contact go a long way. 

“My father taught me how important it is to look someone in the eye, give a firm handshake, and say thank you after doing business,” Scott says. “That’s a lot different than key stroking an email or text and writing a thank you. I believe many men and women in the sheet metal business today would agree with my father on the importance of this gesture. I know my brothers and I are proud to carry on my father’s idea of what doing business should be into our current careers.”

This story originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of SNIPS magazine.