Great Recession forces Detroit sheet metal contractor to expand services
DETROIT —The Great Recession hit a lot of
construction companies very hard. Workers were laid off and projects were left half-finished and out of money. Glenn Parvin, owner and president of
Detroit-based Custom Architectural Sheetmetal Specialists Inc., knows all about it.
“In 2008 we unfortunately were tied into a very big project that went south and shut down, (owing) us a tremendous amount of money that we never got,” said Parvin, who established the company with former partner Chet Klos in 1990.
With the automotive and banking industries in freefall, Michigan’s economy was in a tailspin. Parvin’s company, which typically goes by CASS Sheet Metal, decided it had to react.
“In the summer of 2010, we were rotating our foremen on layoffs,” Parvin said. “We generally were carrying nine foreman trucks on the road and the work just wasn’t there.”
The company did secure work on several new Detroit schools, which Parvin credits on CASS’ reputation and the fact the company is based in the Motor City.
“You never know where your next job is coming from in a down industry, and sometimes having a positive, ethical reputation goes a long way with somebody calling you and giving you the heads up on a nice job,” he said.
The school projects weren’t enough, however. Parvin had to figure out a way to keep his business afloat in a drowning economy.
“The days where everything was really, really swamped and busy, and the backlog was two years… are gone,” he said. “The biggest hurdle in today’s marketplace for not only CASS Sheet Metal, but many other contractors, is developing that consistent flow of backlog and then juggling it.”
For his company, Parvin decided that the key to staying in business was to expand CASS Sheet Metal beyond the metal roofing and architectural work that previously made up the bulk of its revenue.
“We were a metal roofing contractor first… and a historical restoration contractor, but we’re also a siding contractor,” he said. “We also do slate and tile, and we also do a few small, single-ply projects. The things that we are willing to do to try to fill those gaps and keep people working are part of why we are still here.”
Becoming involved with the foam wall-panel business is one route CASS took to diversify its brand. The contractor started selling Centria’s architectural and siding products, residential metal roofing, metal screens for parking decks and consulting on sheet metal restoration projects. Currently, CASS is working on a large Centria-using job at a Detroit Medical Center facility. The portion of the project CASS is working on involves installing the profile siding with miters that are custom-built by CASS craftsmen.
Remembering its past
CASS hasn’t forgotten about its architectural sheet metal background, however. It still actively pursues such projects. Just a few blocks from the hospital, the company is doing renovation work for a Catholic church in Detroit’s old Greektown neighborhood. A team of employees is working at heights between 65 and 85 feet to restore the gutter and cornice work around the historic church. A huge part of the job involves rebuilding the cornice to match the church’s existing profile.
Another recent prominent project was the restoration of a copper dome atop an observatory tower at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
The major challenge Parvin and his team faced during the process of designing, fabricating and installing the observatory’s new dome was figuring out a way to complete the entire project in just two months.
“We basically came up with a plan to build the entire dome, clad the entire dome on the ground, lift the dome in one piece and set it on the platform after the (old) dome was taken down,” Parvin explained.
CASS has also been doing some major renovation work for the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich. The contractor was initially hired to take on the project back in 2001, but the job was shelved immediately after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. CASS was again called out to Lansing in 2006 to move forward with the Capitol project. The company hired Bloom Roofing Co. to take over the single-ply portion of the project while CASS handled the copper.
CASS eventually secured more Capitol contracts. But state funding eventually ran out, causing the restoration work to be put on hold for a second time. It wasn’t until May that CASS was asked to resume work.
Maintaining long-term relationships with fellow contractors, diversifying beyond the scope of metal roofing and remaining committed to delivering high-quality work were key factors in CASS Sheet Metal’s survival and success, company officials said. The dedication of its employees, including senior estimator and project manager Greg Gietek, Keith Klos and Terry Fisher, are also a big part of its success.
“I believe that we’ve always carried a high degree of integrity with the people that we are dealing with and, above that, our craftsmen make it happen and are the reason for the success of CASS Sheet Metal,” Parvin said.
For reprints of this article, contact Renee Schuett at (248) 786-1661 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.