Detroit-area sheet metal contractor dives into spiral duct fabrication
MELVINDALE, Mich. — It’s not easy to spot Elite Air Products from the street.
The building, which formerly contained a food service equipment storage business, doesn’t have any signs denoting that it’s now home to a spiral duct fabricator.
The only hint of what’s behind the walls of the 20,000-square-foot industrial building is the large picture window that faces the street, filled with spiral ductwork and HVAC accessories.
But in the nine months since Elite opened its doors, it has had steady work thanks to a busy metro Detroit construction market buoyed by the region’s automakers and new stadiums being built downtown.
“We’ve been blessed with business,” says Rich Styles, the 31-year-old general manager of the fabrication-only facility.
Elite has a close relationship — but not too close, company officials say — with nearby Ventcon Inc., a 47-year-old sheet metal contractor located a few miles away in Allen Park, Michigan. Elite was established by Ventcon officials in October 2016 to manufacture spiral duct for Ventcon projects as well as sell it to other sheet metal contractors in the region without spiral duct fabrication machinery.
Despite the hit that the state’s economy took during the Great Recession, southeastern Michigan remains a hub of manufacturing, which means a steady demand for spiral ductwork in the HVAC systems that service the region’s many factories.
Elite counts automakers General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler among its client list. Its ductwork is also going into the Little Caesars Arena now under construction in Detroit’s downtown entertainment district. Scheduled to open in September, it will be the home of the NBA basketball team the Detroit Pistons, Red Wings hockey and large-scale concerts.
Projects of all sizes
But Elite’s spiral also goes into less high-profile structures.
“We do a lot of hospital work,” adds Dennis Monaghan, a vice president and general manager at Elite Air.
While there are a small number of other contractors in the region that make spiral duct, starting up a related company to make its own spiral was appealing, says Todd Hill, president of Ventcon, who holds the same position with Elite Air.
“I think everybody uses spiral as much as they can,” Hill says, adding that making it themselves allows Elite to “control the quality and the quantity.”
Another advantage, Styles points out, is that by having their own company, he’s able to ensure the spiral manufacturing process is “lean and mean.”
“I’m big on streamlining,” he says. “I’m big on doing more with less.”
Relying on an outside supplier carries risks, Styles adds. You don’t always know if you’re going to have enough duct for a project or end up with more than you need.
Styles says his lean-and-mean philosophy carries into the 17,000-square-foot sheet metal shop, where equipment, much of it from Spiral-Helix Inc., is placed so that steps are minimized for the five Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 members Elite currently employs. An overhead crane makes loading and unloading easier. In an adjacent area, stacks of spiral duct are marked for delivery by project and client. The company aims for a three-day turnaround in most cases, with ductwork that’s ready to hang.
Ready to go
“Everyone wants things to be preassembled,” Monaghan says. “Our duct can go right from the truck right into the air.”
Styles and other company officials are proud to point out how clean the facility is. This isn’t the kind of shop where visitors have to watch their step to avoid tripping over tools or stray pieces of ductwork.
In addition to spiral, Elite Air also provides commercial duct-cleaning services and manufactures phenolic ductwork from Kingspan and Thermaduct.
Styles says he’s always trying to boost Elite’s exposure on social media. He regularly posts pictures on Facebook of ductwork manufactured at the facility, along with a few more personal ones, like a poster from his grandfather’s 1966 campaign to be re-elected Sheet Metal Workers union Local 80’s business agent.
“I’m big on marketing through online,” he says. “I’m a big fan of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.”
And perhaps due to Styles’ work on Facebook as well as the display window in the front of the facility — installed at the urging of city officials looking to boost the appearance of a mostly industrial area — Elite occasionally gets walk-in customers looking to buy fittings or place an order for spiral duct. Who knew you could window shop for ductwork?
For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.