This Detroit sheet metal works contractor says community involvement is part of its plan
DETROIT — Intervale Street is not a part of Detroit that is being included in the stories about the Motor City’s revival.
Many of the 70- and 80-year-old brick bungalows and two-story flats on the street are crumbling, their red bricks stained from long-ago house fires.
But in the middle of this struggling neighborhood is a playground — its grass mowed, the blue benches around its baseball diamond intact.
A black-and-silver sign lets you know who’s responsible: SET Enterprises Inc., a metal processing company with operations in five states.
Officials with offshoot SET Duct Manufacturing, whose sheet metal shop sits in a 32,000-square-foot building across the street from the park, say the spruced-up playground is just one example of the company’s commitment to the community.
SET Duct opened here six years ago, when company officials decided it would be a good idea to diversify beyond the Detroit Three automakers and suppliers who purchased much of SET’s metal products. They decided on HVAC ductwork fabrication.
But unlike many sheet metal forming contractors, who install what they manufacture, SET decided they would be a fabrication-only firm — still a relative rarity in the world of HVAC construction.
“It was a good fit,” said Jerry Liddell, SET Duct’s general manager and former president of Foremost Duct, a longtime sheet metal manufacturer in metro Detroit. “We didn’t want to compete with our customers.”
A 2002 study by FMI Corp. for the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association estimated that fab-only shops were responsible for about 28 percent of the ductwork made in the U.S. each year.
Lots of experience
Experienced staff like Liddell is part of the reason SET boasts on its website that it has hundreds of years of duct manufacturing experience.
At one point, we tallied up all of our combined experience and it was over 400 years,” said Robert Burnham, sales manager at SET Duct and another former Foremost Duct employee. “So even though we’re a new company, we’re not exactly brand new.”
The average employee has more than 15 years of sheet metal forming experience, Liddell added.
Concentrating on ductwork fabrication while leaving the installation to somebody else allows SET to offer quick turnaround times on orders — from as little as two hours to a couple weeks, depending on the size of the order and the sheet metal products required.
It has its own semitrailers to deliver duct to contractors and worksites in the region.
Besides manufacturing ductwork — round, rectangular and oval makes up the core of SET’s business — it also offers a wide assortment of sheet metal accessories from companies such as Snappy Co., Elgen Manufacturing, J.P. Lamborn Co. and Gripple.
“We are a custom shop, so pretty much we have value-added services such as putting as many items on ductwork as possible to make it quicker to install,” Liddell said. He added that SET is one of the few companies in the region that supplies spiral duct and the area’s only local maker of oval ductwork.
The company is a member of the Spiral Duct Manufacturers Association and the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association.
Although SET Duct was established to move SET Enterprises away from overreliance on the region’s large automakers, Burnham said General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler have been among the company’s best customers.
“There’s been an awful lot of Big Three work lately,” he said.
The company recently supplied eight miles worth of round and rectangular ductwork for a Ford Motor Co. plant project in the Detroit suburb of Livonia, Michigan. Officials said SET is also in talks to be a supplier for the new Detroit Red Wings hockey arena in downtown Detroit. In the past, it has supplied duct for Ford Field — home of the Detroit Lions — and the Palace of Auburn Hills, where the Detroit Pistons play.
The company has worked hard to foster a good reputation in the region, Burnham said.
“(Our customers) certainly trust us,” Burnham said. “When there’s a complicated project, they seem to always call us and depend on us for our quotes and expertise.”
SET wants that reputation to extend beyond the walls of the company’s offices. SET President and CEO Victor Edozien has worked hard to ensure the company is an active member of the community, Liddell and Burnham said. SET Enterprises’ website lists the company’s involvement in charities such as Toys for Tots and its participation in food and clothing drives as proof of its commitment.
Edozien is a board member of the Real Life 101 scholarship program, which tries to improve the education opportunities of at-risk African American males. It was started by Sid Edward Taylor, the retired founder of SET Enterprises, and is now nationwide.
“It’s pretty much embedded in us that we do have a responsibility to give back to the community,” Liddell said. “I think the whole motto is ‘Team work by everybody.’ We could talk about assets all day long, but probably our best asset is the employees that work here and that is by far more valuable than any item on the floor.”
The floor of SET’s sheet metal shop, staffed with members of Sheet Metal Workers Local 80, is large — and clean. Duct and accessories are piled high in neat stacks, and signs with SET’s colors and logo let workers and visitors know where everything should go. The shop’s coil line is from Mestek Machinery’s Engel brand, its plasma machine is a Lockformer. An Iowa Precision Cornermatic is near a Whisper-Loc.
The signs let even a sheet metal novice know what the equipment does: “26 gauge to 18 gauge,” “minimizes scrap,” “Pittsburgh and snap lock.”
Also around the shop are signs that stress safety. Liddell is quick to point out the company has not had a reportable accident in a long time.
While Liddell and Burnham declined to discuss revenue, Burnham said they consider SET a medium-sized contractor, and added that he believes the company is among the largest in metro Detroit.
“We think we’re doing the most volume in this area,” he said.
For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or email email@example.com.