Last year ended on a high note for Tom Martin, president of T.H. Martin Inc. in Cleveland, Ohio, after he was awarded Contractor of the Year at the annual Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s (SMACNA) Convention. Martin has been president of SMACNA’s Cleveland branch since 2014. In addition to being involved with various initiatives at a local level, he has nationally championed the sheet metal industry involved in the areas of education, training and recruitment.

“It ultimately it all helps our business,” says Martin. Here, he talks about navigating the ups and downs of the sheet metal industry and shares why he’s still a team player.

Your grandfather was a sheet metal worker and your father started T.H. Martin in 1985. Was the sheet metal industry always your career plan?

I actually majored in health and human services, so I was planning on looking at other options.

My dad winded up securing a major job at the Cleveland Hopkins airport and needed a project manager. The fact that I’ve been around a sheet metal shop all my life, I knew a lot of the key people; I knew a lot of our employees. I drove the truck. I swept the shop. So at that time when I graduated, he was really looking for some help on the project manager side, so I got into a project management role as soon as I graduated.

Your business evolved from strictly sheet metal to being a full-service mechanical contractor. How did relationships play a role in this?

I think our business is still relationship driven, relationships with your vendors, your reps, your employees, other trades, construction managers, general contractors — it’s just a relationship business. To get the jobs done in a timely fashion and meet schedules, you have to collaborate, you have to work together. 

You mentioned that you went to Ohio University on a football scholarship as a free safety. Is this a football metaphor?

It reminded me of sports. You may not like everybody on your team, you may not get along with everyone on your team, but you got to find a way to work together to make the project be successful. So I like that aspect of it.

Considering everything you are involved with in the industry, it sounds like you are still a team player.

Absolutely. I am heavily engaged with SMACNA — especially when it comes to the resources that SMACNA provides in the areas of safety, business management, technical resources like how to fabricate, lean principles, those types of things. I can implement those resources back in our business. So, I am helping writing these manuals. So I do take pieces and parts back to our company and implement them where we see fit.

How have rising steel prices affected your industry?

With regards to tariffs, yes we see price upticks throughout this past year. As a contractor, you just have to make sure you are getting information about where prices are going to forecast and make sure you have your estimates covered. .

So, it goes back to your point of having good relationships. 

Whoever you are buying your steel from, you have to make sure you are communicating and getting updates from them so you kind of know where the pricing is going for future bids and proposals.

What does T.H. Martin strive to communicate to its customer?  

That we can offer a bunch of options in regards to pricing and designing, energy efficiency and equipment, if needed. We’re the experts on construction and how to build it. We can offer our contractors multiple ways of building it and with price points associated. And if you want to get into lean lead credits, energy efficiency, we can get into that, too.