A Wide-Open Door
When opportunity knocked… American Overhead Door and Dock answered
What do warehouses, manufacturing plants, golf courses, animal hospitals, restaurants, fire stations, cold storage facilities and banks all have in common? At first glance, this list may seem like a random grouping of unrelated things, covering a broad range of industries, but there is much more than meets the eye.
In fact, they are all locations where American Overhead Door and Dock, Inc. (AODD) has completed projects. The expansive and diverse range of places speaks to the depth of knowledge of the AODD team and its ability to get the job done, no matter the scenario.
“We do specialty construction on commercial and industrial overhead doors, loading dock equipment and material handling supplies,” says Joey Swope, Vice President of Sales and Marketing. The company is headquartered in Levittown, Pennsylvania, with customers throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York.
Joe Swope Jr., President, had no idea when he started the business back in 1989 that it would evolve to today’s level. He did know, however, that he was laying a firm foundation for the future. Joe was the only employee when he launched his electrical contracting firm more than 30 years ago. Today, the organization comprises two divisions—Peak Electric, Inc. and AODD—and has more than 50 employees.
Joe had not planned to go into the overhead door business, but as fortune would have it, the opportunity came when a large door manufacturer was having electrical issues that required Joe’s expertise, which led to him establishing himself in the niche market.
“As my father’s name grew in the door industry, the company’s business started to grow with it. Within a few years of him traveling along the East Coast installing and troubleshooting high-speed doors, he was able to train a couple of lead guys and get more trucks on the road,” says Devon Swope, Vice President and Field Operations Manager.
In 2003, the overhead door division opened and now has over 30 service and project management vehicles in its fleet. Even though Joe’s road to success was not always smooth, he knew that the long hours he put in, while also raising three young boys, would pay off.
He also believed that his dream of building a company he could pass down to his sons would come to fruition. That dream is now reality, as his sons Joey and Devon are part of the organization’s leadership team. Joey is responsible for the marketing and sales force, while Devon handles field operations and a lot of the custom applications.
“I always wanted to be a part of what my dad was building,” Joey recalls. “I’ve worked for him on and off since I was probably about 15 years old. Then I came on full time in 2003 when he gave me the opportunity to start the sales division.”
Working together has made the Swope family closer. Even though there have been stressful times, they know that they are all working toward a common goal. “At the end of the day, we all have the company’s best interest in mind, and we all have each other’s back. If you can’t make it somewhere, you know you’ve got somebody who’s going to take care of you and pick up the slack and make sure that the job gets done,” Joey says.
Recently, Joe’s brother, Thomas “Tom” Swope, joined the organization as Director of Operations of the Lehigh Valley division. In the early ’80s, Tom and Joe went through an electrical apprenticeship program together in Texas. However, the brothers went on to work in different fields. Tom worked many years in the industrial bottling industry, rising from a maintenance electrician to Vice President, and was also a private consultant in the industry for years. His experience in manufacturing and business management is invaluable to AODD and its customers.
Even though this is a family company, for the Swopes, the definition of family is not limited by blood. They have created a culture within their organization that emphasizes the importance of family and treating each customer and employee as one of their own.
Evidence of the company’s commitment to deepening relationships with customers can be seen through its efforts to establish personal connections. “If our customers need something, we are always available—24 hours a day, seven days a week. We’ll always be there for them, just like family,” Joey says.
Multiple channels of communication are available to provide reliable access to team members who can address customers’ needs right away. This, in turn, gives customers a sense of stability and peace of mind because the company serves as a one-stop shop to address questions that would otherwise require input from multiple subcontractors.
“Our in-house workforce is constructed of over 30 individuals in positions ranging from electricians and welders to millwrights and masons. This gives us the ability to go into an existing facility and complete smaller jobs, like floor patching in a dry or cold storage facility. Or we can do larger, more complex jobs, like cutting in 50 new loading dock positions turnkey—from wall sawing, pit excavation and supplying miscellaneous metals to forming and pouring the loading dock pits,” Joey explains.
“If our customers need something, we are always available—24 hours a day, seven days a week. We’ll always be there for them, just like family.” Joey Swope, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, American Overhead Door and Dock, Inc.
An AODD project manager is always on-site to ensure that each project runs smoothly. “Being able to supply a turnkey installation like this makes it easier on our general contractors since they only have to write one contract and do not have to deal with overseeing and organizing work that would otherwise be spread out between four to five other trades,” Joey says.
There are eight project managers who collectively have over 135 years of experience in the overhead door and material handling industry. The average longevity of the company’s lead technicians is eight years, while the average length of employment among office staff is over 10 years.
AODD’s leadership recognizes that the dedicated field staff and office personnel are more than the face of the organization—they are essentially part of their bloodline. According to Devon and Joey, they want employees to feel like they are part of the family and understand that this is not a job, but a career.
To help staff members advance their careers, AODD provides several opportunities for professional growth. “We send our technicians and salesforce to all the trainings offered by the manufacturers we represent to make sure they are up to date on the latest trends and equipment,” Joey says. Additionally, the company offers convenient on-site training at its headquarters, where it has dedicated thousands of square feet for a state-of-the-art training facility.
AODD is also constructing a multipurpose indoor showroom that will have an active loading dock. This space will allow not only technicians and sales staff a place to hone their skills, but also give customers the opportunity to interact with equipment.
The leadership at AODD believes in education above all else and is dedicated to hiring and keeping the best employees in the industry, illustrated by efforts to establish a government-recognized apprenticeship program. “Our senior technicians are mentors and teachers, helping us develop the next generation of mechanics,” Joe says. “This is why we do not hire ‘helpers’—we hire apprentices.” AODD is working to get its program approved by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The company also strives to find distinct ways to let employees know how much they are valued.
“On top of our extremely aggressive benefits package and profit sharing, we do a variety of other things to make sure our employees know how much they are valued,” Joey says. Tokens of appreciation may include smaller things such as gift cards to local restaurants or bigger, more memorable gestures—like giving top performers and their families the opportunity to enjoy one of the corporate vacation homes in North Myrtle Beach, the Pocono Mountains or on the Jersey Shore.
The company leaders appreciate the time that their workforce spends on the job, which may involve long hours. So, every year they gather employees and their families for a Christmas celebration.
“We understand the hard work and dedication our employees put in throughout the year, and this is our one big way to say, ‘Thank you,’ “ Joey says. “We have numerous different giveaways like tickets to sporting events, big-screen LED TVs, PlayStations, Xboxes, designer purses, welding helmets, tools and weekends or weeks at the vacation homes.”
The event is a night for everyone to have fun and share laughter and stories. Slideshow presentations allow staff members to reflect on work completed throughout the year and give family members an opportunity to see the results of their loved ones’ late hours and exhausting days.
No Challenge Too Big
AODD takes pride in working hard and digging deep into a tough problem. In fact, the organization seeks out challenging construction projects that keep employees working at the top of their game.
For example, in 2019, the company completed a large turnkey project that required modification of an existing new construction building leased to a large worldwide specialty chocolate manufacturer.
“This project consisted of taking the existing mechanical dock levelers that were brand-new and converting them all over to hydraulic units with TPR-brand rotating hook vehicle restraints and state-of-the-art iDock Controls panels. A task like this was not an easy one, especially with the time crunch that we were under so that the facility could start storing and distributing its products in a timely manner,” Joey says.
While the company’s in-house millwrights, welders and electricians were converting the existing mechanical equipment to hydraulic/electric operation, another crew followed behind, installing specialty under-leveler dock seals, rain shrouds and food-grade seals around the bottom and perimeter of the door and dock openings, plus hundreds of feet of safety guardrail.
“This project consisted of fitting out 100 dock positions and provided work for six men for roughly two months and carried a contract value in excess of $1 million,” Joey says. “Our project management team out of our Lehigh Valley division did an excellent job of coordinating with the general contractor, end user and other trades. AODD not only met the deadline but finished well before expected. This project was a button in our cap and ended up being one of the most profitable of the 2019 year.”
AODD not only did all that work—it also supplied all the material handling and loading dock equipment. With AODD completing all the work under one contract, the customer had peace of mind that it was saving time and energy that would otherwise have been spent coordinating multiple contractors and suppliers. After wrapping up a large and complicated project like this, the whole AODD family had something to be proud of.
No matter what projects come along, AODD employees never let a challenge stop them from moving forward and getting the job done. This mindset is applied not only on the work site, but it’s also the leadership’s perspective when looking to the company’s future. “As we continue to grow, we understand there are going to be little bumps in the road along the way, but as long as we remain on track with our foot on the pedal, the sky is the limit,” Devon says.