Dennis Steel Inc.
David Dennis established Dennis Steel Inc. (DSI) in 1980, working alongside his brother. With little more than a truck, a portable welder and a few friends, the small business started out in a small shop in Austin, Texas.
More than 30 years later, the company has grown significantly. DSI moved from Austin to Leander, Texas, in 1998, opening an office and a yard in the city suburb, meanwhile maintaining the old property for continued use. Over time, the company has diversified, moving into industrial, commercial and residential markets throughout central Texas and even over state lines.
David still owns the company, although he passed the reins to his son, Michael, in April 2013. Michael has been involved in the family business since 1997 and now serves as company president. “I always had a feeling I would end up here,” Michael explains. “We have a solid reputation and a great team of people.”
DSI currently employs more than 70 people who specialize in steel fabrication and construction. The business is AIS C-certified and utilizes state-of-the-art equipment to create high-quality, precise materials for a range of building projects. The company’s core business is in central Texas, although fabrication and delivery work takes the team all over the western United States.
A broad portfolio
The crew recently performed work at Fort Hood at the base’s Operational Readiness Training Center (ORTC). The company completed structural steel fabrication for two, four-story barracks buildings, a two-story officers’ quarters, as well as a one-story battalion quarters.
While military contracts do not make up a major percentage of DSI’s revenue, relationships with contractors bring about a range of opportunities in diverse markets. For the ORTC project, Michael says the greatest challenge was getting production done quickly for the 1,458 beams and 275 columns the job required.
On the construction end of the business, DSI has performed structural steel work for several churches. “This is a very strong section of our work,” Michael explains. “We probably end up doing one or two per year. There aren’t a whole lot of them going up, but they tend to have a lot of steel. By nature, this is a more challenging type of work, because inevitably they are lots of sloped roofs with hips and valleys as opposed to commercial buildings, where there are just a lot of rectangles. Churches generally require a higher revenue cost per pound. Fortunately, we are proficient at it.”
One of the most memorable projects for Michael and his team has been the crew’s work on the Oasis expansion overlooking Travis Lake in 2011. “We had five buildings to complete and the main one was a three-story restaurant on top of a bluff overlooking Lake Travis,” he says. “This was a very tight job site. We had to set all five buildings from one crane location and there were trades tripping over each other throughout whole project. The cantilevered balconies on the main building were very challenging, because we had these really tall columns and then nothing at the outer edge. We had to do a lot of temporary shoring.”
One of the company’s largest and growing markets is in residential construction. With a strong residential market in west Austin, the team has been working on several very high-end projects in the hills.
“The only remaining property is on the top or sides of hills,” Michael notes. “And there is a lot of steel in these houses. The one we are working on now is probably the most impressive. The cost of steel alone for the project is just under $500,000. This is an incredible residence.”
He says the main challenge with the residential market is that site access is inevitably a challenge. Most of these projects are additions to existing homes, so maneuvering and positioning cranes can be difficult. Often, his team has to carry steel through the gates alongside a house and downhill, a hill, in the backyard to access a site. To ease some of the pain in these projects, DSI sometimes makes use of a mini crane, which has a 30-foot working radius. The specialty piece of equipment can lift several thousand pounds and sits on small tracks that help to access tight sites, either rolling through someone’s backyard or even working indoors.
The mini crane is not the only specialized equipment in the fleet, either. “We have a new six-axis robot with a plasma torch on the end of it,” Michael adds. “We bought it about a year ago and it was the first in the United States from a company called Prodevco in Quebec. This machinery allows us to import shop drawings into a computer module, then the robot feeds beams, channels, tubes and cuts steel to length. It even burns holes and does piece marking, all in a very expeditious manner.”
These high-tech capabilities have helped the business stay ahead in recent years. On top of that, Michael says the local market has been steady. In the coming years, he and his team plan to continue focusing on central Texas. While there are some growth opportunities elsewhere, the crew is busy enough for now. With experience, expertise and a good sense of adventure, Dennis Steel Inc. continues to grow, providing efficient and high-quality steel services in the Southwest.
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