Heritage Fence Company builds far more than fences
When a Philadelphia-area hospital needed a security fence installed, it wasn’t a simple project. Three companies put in bids and two were eliminated because of the complex nature of the project. That’s when Heritage Fence Company stepped up its efforts to help hospital leaders.
“What they wanted was a 12-foot anti-climb fence to keep patient populations contained and separated. We were able to sit at the table with hospital leadership and come up with better ideas. Using value engineering to help meet their end use, we changed the design and created just what they needed,” says Heritage Fence President Christopher Caruso.
The company completed its work without interfering with hospital staff and patients or interrupting facility operations, he says.
“One of our biggest growth areas focuses on high-security applications in fencing,” Caruso explains. “That includes a whole list of things, from access control in high-security operations to temporary and permanent fence installations.”
“We are seeing people move to different styles of fencing, such as moving away from chain-link fences to steel. We are also seeing more demand for anti-climb systems,” he says. “More entities that manage infrastructure are putting greater emphasis on security—from water towers, electrical substations and communication structures to water treatment plants.”
Security efforts include more access-controlled entries and exits, using Wi-Fi-enabled cameras at gates and creating more high-tech temporary security fencing around construction sites, Caruso says. “These organizations’ leaders are making those changes to protect their infrastructure,” he adds.
Event areas also provide a growing demand for temporary security fencing. “We’re not just putting up an 8-foot-tall fence on stands with sandbags, now; there is a rise in building frames with anti-climbing fencing that is 10-feet high and panels are inserted, as well, for crowd control,” he says.
Heritage Fence does more than security projects, Caruso says. The bread and butter jobs really focus on the value engineering the firm provides for its clients. “We are working with one right now where we are trying to help envision a design that will be cost efficient and meet their needs. What we have are clients coming to us for advice. The solutions we create are priced competitively for the market,” he adds.
A Changing Market
As Heritage Fence continues to grow, the team is working to expand its relationships as well as its reputation. “We have some clients that will call us for a project in Albany or Alexandria. Those kinds of clients are few and far between, but we take good care of them,” Caruso says.
The company has slowly transitioned from all residential to a mix of residential and commercial. Services include installing decks, dumpster enclosures, wooden and steel guardrails, chain-link fences, PVC, wood and aluminum fences, aluminum railing, custom fabrications, access control and much more.
Team Dynamics Improve Efficiency
Heritage Fence is located in Skippack, Pennsylvania, and serves Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Philadelphia, Berks and Montgomery counties. It was established in 1971. Caruso bought the company in 2017 and assumed the role of president. He explains that the firm already had a great reputation and work history but lacked the leadership to take it to the next level. Caruso brought his more than 20 years of commercial heavy civil experience and management to grow the company in different ways.
“My background in heavy civil construction is really helpful to what I do here. I started my career as an entry-level estimator at 21 and didn’t even know how to read a set of plans or use an engineer scale; six months later, I was running a multimillion-dollar sitework housing project. I’m not the norm in the fence industry because I came from something else. So, I can bring my management style, background and ideas to help Heritage Fence succeed,” Caruso explains.
His leadership style focuses on team dynamics. “We work collectively as a team on every project and for every client we serve,” he says. “We engage with our employees and ask for their input. We listen to them and their ideas on how to do a job or a particular task more efficiently.”
Synergy Helps Build Brand
When the company recently updated its logo and redesigned its website to more accurately reflect the commercial side of the business, Caruso and the leadership team reached out to employees for their input.
“We sought from senior management to the laborers as we selected a logo,” he says. “We engaged with them because that is the kind of atmosphere we want; a place where everyone feels included and critical to the company. When you get input from all facets of the organization, it makes the company operate better.”
Caruso says it just makes sense that the employees who are working on the ground level may know how to do things more effectively or faster than the people in the office who are doing the day-to-day operations or bidding the jobs.
“All of our people are reliable, honest, highly skilled and dedicated to quality. This is why our employees are our most valuable asset. For example, our talented craftsmen fabricate wood fences here in Skippack, so most wooden fences are custom made-to-order,” he adds.
“Without them the company isn’t an organization that flows,” he says. “It is easy for employees to pick up and walk away, but if you engage them and help them feel appreciated and valued, they are more likely to stay. For instance, on a really cold day, we may reward employees with gift cards for sticking with us. We’ve got to be positive, and part of that is motivating the troops. I try to be encouraging and set a good example.”
Some of the ways Heritage Fence leaders show their appreciation is through team events, such as offering tickets to the Philadelphia Phillies baseball games, group bowling events, employee of the month recognitions as well as helping them get training to improve their knowledge and skills, he says.
“Engaging them with learning opportunities is a great way to show the employees how important they are to the team, especially when they share what they learned with their colleagues. That helps everyone get better,” Caruso says.
Caruso says safety is an important element of employee training, too.
“When a new employee comes on board, we spend time going over the safety manual and beyond that, we do weekly toolbox talks in which we’ll discuss topics ranging from the weather to chain saw use, equipment use, backing up trailers, loading trailers, operating forklifts and more. We also do monthly safety training. This year our goal is to begin getting everyone Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certified in either a 10-hour or 30-hour training program,” he says.
The company employs around 15 people, with seasonal employees added as needed. The company has been fortunate to have long-term employees, including the residential sales manager who has been on the team for 32 years. One field foreman has been on board for six years, he adds.
Vision Beyond 2020
In 2019, the company’s commercial line grew by 30%, Caruso says. His goal for 2020 is to reach an even mix of both commercial and residential projects.
“With what we have under contract and what is going out to bid, I expect our commercial business to significantly surpass our residential business in the long term. We expect our residential volume to remain the same while growing the commercial side tremendously,” Caruso says.
Caruso is growing the commercial business by tapping into his contacts from his last 20 years. “These guys know me, so we may do a lunch and learn if they’d like and talk about who we are and what we do. Basically, the goal is to demonstrate our capabilities and build on those contacts,” he says.
The Heritage Fence team is also big on supporting the community. The employees on the residential side of the business actively support several local animal shelters as well as sponsoring the annual WMGK John DeBella Dog Walk. Heritage Fence also sponsors local home shows.
“It is important for us to demonstrate our value and commitment to our projects,” Caruso says. “We are a partner with our clients from the bid to completion. We are professional and safe and coordinate with other contractors and work around the landscapers. It’s critical that we have symmetry and coordination. But, more than that, we are there after the job if something needs attention.
“We stand behind what we do, and we’ll take care of it,” Caruso adds. “We do follow ups, which not a lot of companies do very well. We track those analytics on a spreadsheet to evaluate how we did, and we ask our customers if they would use us again or recommend us to others. That, in the end, is what it is all about.”