Astro Sheet Metal Co.
John Paxton founded Astro Sheet Metal Co. (Astro) in 1967, alongside business partner James Mizell. The pair worked out of a small shop with a dirt floor and no electricity early on, eventually expanding operations and moving to larger facilities. John bought out his partner in 1970, eventually passing his business along to his sons.
Now, after 48 years in business, Astro is entering its third generation of family ownership and operation. A long history of controlled growth and carefully managed relationships has culminated in a strong position in the Texas construction market.
Warren Hankammer currently serves as interim president as the company shifts generational leadership. He is running day-to-day operations, overseeing a staff of 25, while training the next generation of Paxton family members. “The idea is that within a few years, I will work myself out of a job,” he laughs. “At that point, I will likely step back and act as more of a consultant as the business grows. Our company owners and stockholders want our transition to be as seamless as possible so we can keep going for another 48 years.”
Warren started working with the business in September 2013. He has a background in heavy fabrication and he has done everything from training welders to managing finances. He is a former business owner himself and a trusted resource for the Paxton family.
Diverse fabrication capabilities
Astro serves primarily the commercial market with a few exceptions for high-end residential work. An estimated 40 percent of volume comes through contracts with glazing contractors and the team is frequently involved with unique architectural fabrication work. The company’s capabilities include: platforms, handrails, cladding, industrial covers, countertops, light structural metals, gutters, guards and other custom components for contractors throughout Texas and in bordering regions.
The fabrication business has worked on a wide range of projects, including hospitals, banks and auto dealerships, to name a few. The contractors working on these facilities rely on Astro for a dedication to meeting deadlines and performing durable, aesthetic components for a variety of applications.
“There is an old saying that as a business, you can pick two of the following: quality, speed or price,” Warren elaborates. “We have chosen to do quality and speed. We serve a sector of the construction industry where frequently our part comes in at the last minute, but has to look really good. We do about 80 percent repeat business and we have built great relationships with our customers and vendors.”
Over the years, Astro has been involved with a range of diverse projects. The team works with several different metals, including stainless steel, aluminum and copper. A recent project involved the fabrication of 400 aluminum panels for the siding of a parking garage. “We formed, welded and polished the panels,” Warren explains. “Our customer will take them and hang them on the structure to achieve the architectural design they are looking for.”
The crew has also performed two projects in 2014 for projects requiring standing seam metal roofing. “When an architect wants to put a roof arc on a curved portion of building, you have to take those standard standing seam panels and taper them,” Warren elaborates. “When you slit them into a taper, you then have to reform whatever you slit off. On both of these projects, we had to take 40-foot roof panels, slit each one, take a press brake and form a new edge on that taper. One of the jobs involved around 350 individual panels. We are one of only a few companies in our industry with the capabilities to do that.”
Currently, the Astro team is in the middle of a job creating column covers for a large building in Austin. “We are creating the architectural panels that fit over the building columns,” Warren says. “These are cylindrical column covers that are 16 feet tall with a mirror finish to hide the columns. We are designing the mounting, engineering the diameters and creating these components to interconnect so the parts are hidden. All in all, I believe there are around 70 columns we will be fabricating covers for.”
While the recent recession presented a bit of a slump for the team, Astro is back in growth mode. “We recovered fully in mid-2012,” Warren notes. “We tightened our belts and focused on our existing relationships to see ourselves through. Now, our focus is on transitioning into the third generation. We are financially strong and our owners are committed to growth in a rational and sustainable way.”
Right now, the business has four third-generation leaders coming up through the ranks. As the up and comers begin to find their places in the business, Astro is also broadening its market.
“Right now we consider ourselves regional, but we are looking forward to making the jump to a national footprint,” Warren says. “We are looking at new technologies to help us make that jump, modernizing our systems and equipment. We have a new integrated inventory, time and finance management system that we are just implementing.”
Astro has strong resources, longstanding relationships and a dedicated team: factors that will make growth manageable in the coming years. The Texas market is in a good place and Warren sees many opportunities for growth coming down the pipeline. In the coming years, Astro Sheet Metal Co. will continue to grow, providing high-quality products and memorable services to a growing customer base.
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