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Home | HOUSTON | Spotlight | Spotlight - Allen Klappenbach, Katy Welding & Fabrication, Katy, TX

Spotlight - Allen Klappenbach, Katy Welding & Fabrication, Katy, TX

image Allen Klappenbach, Owner, Katy Welding & Fabrication, Katy, TX

HOUSTON - Like welding, business is a careful process refined through successes and mishaps. For Katy Welding & Fabrication owner Allen Klappenbach, it’s the lessons learned that made his business successful, even in recent adversity.

 

 

 

 

 

Share about your background and interest in welding.
    I was born in Webster and grew up in Katy. I used to ride bicycles a lot and obviously, like any other child, nothing jumps out at me as leading to having a welding business. My interest in welding came later. After I graduated from Central Christian Academy in Houston, I got regular fast-food jobs and worked at Home Depot for three years.
    I ended up working for a roofing company, and with a partner I ended up starting a roofing company, which I had for about 10 years. We used to follow hailstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes and repair the roofs, but I got tired of being constantly away from home.
    We ended up shutting that down and I came back to Houston and worked for my friend who owns American Mobile Welding. He had just graduated from Tulsa Welding School and I was a helper for him while I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I learned a lot on the job and picked up most of my small business experience working with the roofing company. So, after working for him for almost a year, I started my own welding company, Katy Welding and Fabrication, in 2010.

Did welding come naturally to you?

    It’s actually a little nerve-wracking learning it at first. If you watch videos or your friends welding, they kind of make it seem easy. Once you get under the hood, you find that it requires more than you thought. There is a lot more detail and a lot more knowledge. You need to identify what type of metal it is, what the best approach is, what machine to use, how much amperage and all of these different things that play into it that you don’t see when you see someone welding. I’ve done woodworking before, but it’s a different ballgame. When you nail or screw wood together, it doesn’t really shift or move, but when you weld two pieces of metal together, as it cools it starts to contract, bend and move around. You really have to take a lot of things into account that you wouldn’t have to do otherwise.

How was business initially?

    The first year was great. A lot of it is going out and finding your own work; it was all commission so there was no guarantee of anything. Working for a roofing company before under the same conditions, I got over the fear of talking to people initially; a lot of it was door-to-door sales and nerve-wracking as you might imagine. I understood a lot of what needs to go into an estimate, what you need to take into account for it.
    Initially, we were doing a lot of residential projects because I had no credibility in the industry, so there was nothing for me to lean on with new prospective clients.  Most of the projects were small scale, fixing fences, repairing bicycles and anything that came in the door. At one point, someone trusted me enough to build him a specific type of trailer. I remember spending 12 to 13 hours a day on it, almost sleeping in the shop and constantly working on it.
    Over the course of a year, we got more equipment, I hired my first guy, and we started to get small-scale production work and had to get insurance to obtain those types of jobs. Once you get those types of insurance, it opens up the doors to other types of jobs. It’s been a slow process but extremely steady.

How much has the company grown?

    I currently have four employees: Stephen Robb, Mike Guignard, Paul Massari and my mother, Patricia Reynolds, who helps me in the office. I certainly would like to grow, but I do like the small atmosphere. To be perfectly honest, it feels more like a family here. I’ve had the same guys here for years; my turnover rate is extremely low. I enjoy that; we all know each other and know each others’ families. We have cookouts, and we’ll go to the river once a year for the week; everybody cuts off their cell phones, and we just float around and barbecue. I enjoy that. I imagine if the business got bigger it would be more financially lucrative but might not be as personally enjoyable.

You recently experienced a traumatic event. Can you share what occurred?
    My business is tucked back in a cul-de-sac off a main road that backs up to a wooded area so there’s almost no traffic.
    On Feb. 5, I got a call from a neigh-boring business about 50 feet from our building. They get here earlier than we do and noticed our doors were open and all of the lights were on. I immediately hopped in my truck and when I pulled up, I saw that the Coke machines had been ripped off the wall and strewn out into the parking lot. It’s devastating; it’s a gut punch when you walk into the build-ing and immediately start scanning to see what functionality you do have left at the moment.
     Some generator welding machines, welding machines, plasma cutters and hand tools – things that we use daily, with some of it portable and some of it shop driven – were immediately noticed to be missing. Even some of the employees’ personal equipment such as pressure washers was stolen. I had a couple of safes and tools and the thieves didn’t get into any of those. It wasn’t because they didn’t try, it was because they didn’t have the ability or may not have had the time. It looks like they were in the shop for about an hour.
    The thieves caused damage to all of the doors as they ripped things off and used a forklift to open cages. They were bouncing off tables bolted to the ground, creating damage as they moved around the shop and loaded everything.
   
Describe the recovery process.
    At first, I thought it was going to be okay because I have insurance. Then I realized the insurance was to protect our clients and the people that work for us. I never included contents because, when I bought the insurance, I didn’t have anything to protect; the deductible alone would have been more than I had to lose. As that changed – my mistake ­– I didn’t go back to my insurance, review and change it. We had several renewals, but I never took that into account.
    It was a total loss. It was just punch after punch.
    My girlfriend Monica has been a big help; she set up a GoFundMe and has been reaching out to the police. As recently as a week ago, the police have made arrests. We recovered some of the stuff, including a customer’s trailer that the thieves stole and used to load up my equipment. The Katy Police Department has come through with their diligence and I can’t say enough about them.
    It definitely changed our perception of what kind of security we needed. I got a monitored alarm system that connects directly with the police department. We built barriers to slow thieves down; every door you walk through there is another steel door in front of it. Of course, it takes longer to lock everything up and every-thing goes in cages.
    It’s certainly changed a lot and likely for the better. It may have been some-thing we overlooked the need for initially but it wasn’t on our mind. We were trying to get our business going. After all that has happened, it changes how diligent we are on everything.

What advice would you give others starting a business?

    If you accept that you are going to constantly run up against failure, that you will fail early and often, hopefully you will pull something out of it that in itself promotes whatever growth is necessary. To be legitimately successful, you have to know what not to do and how not to respond to something. For instance, the issue with my insurance for the things I worked so hard for is my latest lesson on what not to do.

How do you spend your free time?

    I live in old Katy, about a mile from the shop. Monica and I have been together 16 months and that has been perfect. We’re happy-go-lucky people who both love our work; she’s a bus driver for the Independent School District. We have wonderful evenings followed by wonderful days. We have two kids and great family around us.
    As for hobbies, we like to cook together, go to the movies and do target practice. The kids are involved in band, football and basketball, so we’re constantly at games and practices. I would assume that it would be typical in that regard, but what may not be typical is how much we enjoy doing it.

What professional and personal goals do you hope to achieve?

    From a company perspective, we would like to get more into the machining and metal working, more precision-type processes. Personally, we would like to get more into camping and getting out of the house with the kids. We like to go to the river and barbecue. Wherever we do that, I don’t think it really matters. Just being in a new place is always fun.

Do you think you’ll change careers?

    It hasn’t crossed my mind, but I do think about what is going to happen in the future, whether it is a year or five years out. It revolves around the size of my shop, possibly having more people and better equipment. I don’t anticipate leaving the field, and I don’t really want to. I enjoy what I do, I enjoy the guys, I enjoy the small community we’re in and working with the same people over and over again. It’s a much different than roofing; every customer was kind of new, in a new city with new regulations and new codes. Here, it’s much more comfortable and I really enjoy it.
    Katy Welding & Fabrication offers commercial, residential and industrial steel fabrication and welding. –mjm


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Melissa Jones-Meyer dfweditor@constructionnews.net