Plowing a New Field of Opportunities
Hixwood Metal Inc., in Stanley, Wisconsin, has found multiple market niches by simply listening to its customers’ wants and needs and moving nimbly to make it happen. Today, it operates a panel and trim roll-forming business; offers its own brand of post-frame packages; has a shed-building business; and, growing by leaps and bounds, a booming coil sales business with distribution throughout the U.S.
How did it happen?
Original owner Harvey Zimmerman looks back in amazement. It was never his plan to have such a business. He started as a post-frame builder in his home state of Pennsylvania because “I wasn’t much of a farmer,” he said jokingly.
He eventually made his way to Wisconsin to be a dealer for a post-frame building manufacturer. It was 1998 and business was good. The post-frame business was located on Hixwood Rd., leading to the company’s name.
By 2005 Harvey’s business had grown to the point that he needed more help and received it from his brother-in-law, Paul Zimmerman, Jr. and Paul’s father, Paul Sr.
“They decided to come over and help me with the business,” Harvey recalled of the father-and-son team. “In 2005 we bought the first roll former, a Hayes.” That same year, they added a Bradbury folder.
It was early in the regional roll-forming business boom, when metal building contractors were looking for more regionalized service for fulfilling their metal roof and wall panel needs. Gradually, the post-frame business began to be surpassed by the roll-forming business. They ended the dealership, deciding to brand their own post-frame packages in a 4-hour radius of their Stanley location.
In the meantime, the roll-forming business doubled over the course of the next three years, not losing momentum until the October 2008 market collapse. By then they had added lumber sales to the post-frame business and the growing agricultural market helped Hixwood tread water until the market began to regain its foothold in 2010. Also a factor was the re-roofing market. As Paul said, tongue-in-cheek, “Of the recession, we say we chose not to participate.”
Paul Sr. is no longer with them, but the team of Harvey and Paul Jr. is stronger than ever, their complimentary strengths and mutual respect obvious. Now co-owners, Harvey is president with the primary functions of advertising and day-to-day decision making, while Paul, vice president, is in charge of purchasing. Their work is something they enjoy, and it shows. “They say if you love your work, you never work a day in your life,” Paul said.
Today, the residential metal reroofing market remains strong for Hixwood. “More and more people are choosing metal roofs over asphalt,” Paul said. Standing seam with hidden fasteners is the most popular. The company offers its customers (mostly builders and metal roofers), 24-, 26- and 28-gauge, but by far sells more 26 and 28. They offer a snap-loc 16-inch profile and two exposed-fastener profiles: one 9-inch and one 6-inch.
Textured finishes are very popular in their geographic area, including those mimicking stone, wood, and brick. They recall one particular Wisconsin lakeside community that has codes requiring all new buildings have a stone exterior — waterfront and sides — either stone wainscoting or metal facade. Many homeowners are opting for metal for speed of construction. “Contractors love it because it’s so easy to install,” Paul said.
Coming on strong is the use of seamless steel siding in 15 profiles, available in all colors, for jobsite roll forming.
Perhaps one of the most surprising developments at Hixwood is their growing sales of painted coil, some of it even going to local roll-forming competitors. They started in 2010 and today have customers in 24 states stretching east to west from New York to Montana, north and south from Michigan to Kentucky.
While not divulging their mill source, they do note that they sell only domestic coil painted with Beckers coil coatings in 20 smooth and 12 textured finishes. Because they ship out of multiple locations, wherever the steel source dictates, they can typically provide delivery in two days to a week, sooner with customer pick up. Slitting coils for snap-loc and seamless siding is available.
Their choice of using Beckers is not without thorough research. In fact, Hixwood has Beckers BeckryTech panels on a paint farm in Florida they monitor every three years for fade and corrosion. They proudly display the results of their last visit as compared to competing finishes, and were looking forward to a return trip in February for more results.
The importance of quality
The issue of quality is never far from the conversation. If Harvey and Paul share one concern it’s that increased competition among roll formers, both big and small, tempt some companies to sell lesser-quality substrates and paint systems to compete. Such practices threaten the entire metal industry. “People are not sold on price, they are sold on expectations,” Paul said. In essence, customers are being sold a once-in-a-lifetime roof and don’t want to discover much less than a lifetime later that their roof needs to be replaced.
“We, as manufacturers, as providers of metal roofing—given some of these extreme long-term warranties available —need to be careful that we are indeed giving the market what they expect or we will have a problem in 20 years. People will say: I don’t want metal roofing because it fades. That will create problems for the industry,” Paul continued.
And while regional roll formers have received the brunt of criticism, that isn’t justified, he added. “We are seeing some lesser grade substrates and/or paint systems used by some of the major roll formers to compete better with regionals,” consequently “dumbing down” the entire industry and threatening its future.
While customers are sometimes reluctant to pay the price for the very best quality, it’s bad for business to promise more than what is delivered. As Paul noted, “a new roof, whether it’s a 10-year warranty or a 40-year legitimate warranty, looks the same on Day One.”
It’s what happens before the warranty expiration that can ruin reputations.
As Harvey added, “what it all boils down to is, does the consumer know what he is getting?”
Vowing to practice what they preach, Hixwood continues going down the road with their philosophy for quality serving them well. By simply following market demands, they have needed multiple building and equipment expansions in the business’ 22 years. What began only with Harvey now employs 26 more.
There have been several additions to the building housing the roll formers on Copenhaver Ave. The Hayes roll former and Bradbury roll former have been joined by two, 21-foot Thalmann long folders, and a Krasser Centurio slitter. The building also houses the shed building operation.
There have been five additions to their original building on Hixwood Rd. for the post-frame business. Post-frame garages and “toy boxes” have been particularly popular. Even amid Coronvirus, the market mood in their area was trending towards cautious optimism.
The two bothers-in-law look outside over the nearby fields and wonder where they will expand next. Although Harvey isn’t a farmer of corns and beans, it’s all family-owned land, with plenty of ground just waiting for a new seed to keep growing a business that continues to meet customer expectations.