Case Studies

Midwest Sprinkler Corporation

A Leader in Fire Safety
  • Written by: Midwest Sprinkler Corporation
  • Produced by: Midwest Sprinkler Corporation
  • Estimated reading time: 5 mins

Midwest Sprinkler Corporation (Midwest) is a Kentucky-based company that specializes in fire safety and prevention through heat-sensitive and highly effective sprinkler systems. Midwest was founded in 1990 by the father and son team of Jack Canady Sr. and Jack Canady Jr. The duo then brought on Herschel Lawson as a sprinkler fitter in 1994 and promoted him to project manager and estimator in 1999. Over two decades later Midwest has held steadfast.

“I’ve been in this business since about 1985,” says Lawson. “I had a friend whose uncle was in the fire protection trade and the company he worked for needed some help, so I applied for the job.”

The company’s level of expertise doesn’t stop there. Canady Jr. holds a NICET level four certificate – required by the state of Kentucky for the design and installation of fire protection systems – but his original trade was as a pipefitter before he and his father formed Midwest. Since his father’s retirement in 2000, Canady Jr. has led Midwest to become one of the largest fire protection contractors in the state.

Canady Jr. believes in promoting within the company, resulting in very little employee turnover. Lawson says that Canady Jr.’s easy-going approach in managing his employees makes for an enjoyable work environment.

Both Canady Jr. and Lawson are involved in nearly every aspect of the business, from design and fabrication to networking and establishing contracts with clients. Midwest is entirely self-performing, which is impressive considering the corporation not only manufactures the systems, but customizes and installs sprinklers with a staff of roughly 30.

Midwest’s projects are no small-time installations, either. Many of Midwest’s clients are large corporations in need of fire safety systems in warehouses, including the well-known Internet shopping website Zappos, which is one of the numerous large square footage, tilt-up warehouses projects the company has completed. Other notable projects include the military’s Fort Knox and Churchill Downs, a world-renowned horse racing facility. Churchill Downs is the annual host of the Kentucky Derby in Midwest’s hometown of Louisville, and Herschel recalls the Churchill Downs project as being highly complex.

“It was over a million-dollar project,” he says of the systems Midwest had installed. “There were a lot of specialty systems and a fire pump running off of an underground water tank. It’s a historic site, so you can’t just stick a big tank somewhere.” Fort Knox was another enormous project, and Lawson says, “We’ve done numerous projects over the last couple years totaling several million dollars.”

One of Midwest’s largest and most interesting projects is ongoing underground. The Louisville Mega Cavern is a series of man-made caverns and tunnels beneath the city. A former limestone quarry, the cave was started as a mining effort to supply paving companies during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kentucky state officials devised a plan to house up to 50,000 people there in case of a nuclear attack. Private investors acquired what was essentially the world’s biggest natural fall-out shelter in 1989, as they saw the potential in the site for a high-security, subterranean storage facility. The 4 million-square foot facility currently holds boats, recreational vehicles, large POD storage containers and a vast collection of public and private records. Midwest installed thousands of automatic sprinklers in the cavern as well as numerous wet-type fire protection systems.

Continued Protection

Due to the economic recession it is no surprise that, like many businesses, the company had to make some sacrifices. Between design and product development, the manufacturing process, installing the systems and ensuring continued functionality and safety, Midwest relies heavily on manpower.

“Our costs to install a project is 80-percent labor, from design, fabrication and field labor to installation, and 20-percent material,” says Lawson.  When it came down to it, Midwest needed to downsize somewhere. “In order for Midwest to stay competitive, we’ve had to streamline our office personnel to a minimum, down to bare bones.”

There is not an abundance of work in the area, and Lawson has found that the company has had to pursue contracts more aggressively. Once a job is secured, the Midwest team’s focus is on effective project management. Even if Midwest does everything right up to that point, the company faces escalating materials prices and customers who don’t pay on time. Regardless, Lawson says, “Every effort is made beginning at the design, fabrication and into the field to improve upon estimates and schedules to meet owner’s expectations.

“We have already seen evidence of a turnaround and are seeing small improvements,” continues Lawson. “With industries making a turnaround and growth returning to the U.S. economy, parts of the expansion process are likely to be passed along to contractors.” The services that Midwest designs and implements are in high demand, especially amongst businesses eager to protect physical assets and products. The future of Midwest is hopeful, although Lawson admits, “Rising fuel costs have us a little worried.”

The Sprinklers

Design and development has broadened the line of products that Midwest offers clients. The line includes at least nine different systems suitable for use in almost any industry. Midwest’s chemical/foam systems are designed to contain blazes in environments where substances are combustible or immune to standard water extinguishing systems. Many businesses are well-suited for a less complicated fire protection system, but in locations housing valuable or fragile inventory, Midwest offers the clean agent gas system, which utilizes a noncorrosive gas to expel oxygen and put out flames. The system is commonly used in warehouses or offices where technical equipment and computer systems are housed.

Lawson knows that Midwest’s greatest asset is the company’s team. Midwest’s staff is small, but it makes up for the company’s size in innovation, speed and dedication to quality products. “This is a fast-paced industry, but we always hit our deadlines,” says Lawson.

What Lawson loves most about his work is that every day is different from the one before and will be from the day ahead. The industry is always changing and he is proud to keep up with it. “At the end of the day, with all the daily challenges, I feel like I have done the best I could with what I had to work with,” he says with a smile. “I always feel self-satisfied that I have made a difference in the outcome of the project.”

With Canady Jr., Lawson and a team of dedicated, experienced professionals, Midwest Sprinkler Corporation will continue to prevent disaster through innovative sprinkler systems.

Published on: July 22, 2013

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