Professionals at Shannon’s Inc. (Shannon’s) provide an entirely different level of plumbing, mechanical and HVAC contracting services than others do. The Minnesota-based family business is located in International Falls, a place that’s more commonly referred to as the Icebox of the Nation. Residents of the area grapple with temperatures dipping 40 or even 50 degrees below zero.
Though the town lies just across the Rainy River from Canada, International Falls lies some 160 miles north from the nearest distribution centers in Duluth, Minn., and roughly 300 miles from Minneapolis. Nevertheless, the Shannon’s team supports customers with an extensive inventory of parts and pieces to keep systems functioning in even the most extreme weather events.
“It’s not like we suffer during the winter time, though,” clarifies Alton (Al) Shannon, president of Shannon’s. “We just dress warmer and stock up on all the parts we need because we can’t exactly run down the street to get a new furnace part.” The Shannon’s team believes every project provides an opportunity to make a difference for clients and the communities across northern Minnesota.
Len and Kay Shannon established Shannon’s as a small sheet metal shop, gradually evolving into a full-service provider of HVAC, plumbing and excavating services. Al officially took over the business in 1971, having already worked at the company since childhood. They may not all be related by blood, but Al considers every member of the Shannon’s team to be a part of the family. “We have many employees here who have been with us for 20 years or more, so when we have any kind of issue, we worry about one another just like family,” asserts Al.
Setting the Pace
Over 40 years have passed since Al took the reins from his parents, and Shannon’s continues to maintain a healthy and growing client base in both residential and commercial market sectors. No job is ever too big or too small and the team fields emergency service calls from residential clients just as easily as it does requests from some of its clients in the healthcare sector.
As new construction slowed down in the wake of the economic downturn, the team never missed a beat. Shannon’s switched gears seamlessly to focus on the retrofit and renovation market. “I really believe that in the long-term, tough times are good for a company,” opines Al.
The Shannon’s team set to work sharpening pencils and shoring up its design-build capabilities to take care of the many longtime clients it serves. “Design-build is becoming more common for us and we like it because it allows us to partner up with certain subcontractors and present a jointly developed package to the owner,” adds Al.
Shannon’s has worked with its fair share of subcontractors from across the state. The team remains equipped to perform virtually every component of its specialties with in-house labor form design to installation, but regularly subcontracted components include temperature controls and insulation, especially on larger projects requiring highly sophisticated and customized mechanical systems.
Ready for Anything
Such was the case when the University of Minnesota enlisted the Shannon’s team to install a complete HVAC system at its Soudan Underground Mine Laboratory in Soudan, Minn. “We basically installed an air conditioning system half a mile underground so naturally that presented some pretty unique challenges,” chuckles Al. The Soudan lab research programs focus on the poorly understood neutrino, a subatomic particle, and dark matter, a type of hypothesized matter that cannot be seen, but exerts a gravitational force.
The types of equipment needed to study such things are incredibly sensitive so researchers built the lab at such a great depth to provide the equipment with a quiet, controlled and stable environment needed to produce reliable results. Thanks to the team, researchers also have the ability to conduct these experiments in a comfortably cool setting as well.
In 1999 Shannon’s lent its expertise to the mechanical, HVAC and piping components at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, Minn. The Great Lakes Aquarium numbers amongst only a handful of aquariums focusing primarily on freshwater aquatic life and especially on animals and habitats found in the Great Lakes region.
“It was definitely one of the more interesting projects we have ever been a part of but it was also one of our largest projects ever,” adds Al. The aquarium required the company’s expertise for the heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems, as well as for much of the facility’s piping.
More recently, though, Shannon’s shifted gears to focus on projects in the public sector as the amount of available work declined in the wake of the economic downturn. Nevertheless, the team took the opportunity to invest internally and maintain an active position in the industry through its membership with various industry organizations. Al himself has served on several organizations’ board of directors over the years, including the Sheet Metal, Air Conditioning, and Roofing Contractors Association and the Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association.
“I’m a firm believer in trade associations and just getting to know your competitors,” admits Al. “Many of us struggle with the same issues and the trade associations provide a way for us to solve them together.”
In the next few years, Shannon’s will continue to focus on serving both residential and commercial clients in northern Minnesota, giving Al some time to begin preparing for an eventual, if partial, retirement.
“I have a really great team and I plan on sticking around for several more years just because I enjoy my work,” adds Al. “I just want to make sure everything is in place for my team to continue running the business.”
However Al’s retirement plans pan out, the company’s long history of supporting clients and making an active contribution to the construction community will stand true. The team’s level of dedication will position Shannon’s Inc. to make the most of the available opportunities.
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