Stepping Up for Houston
A B Ladder Company goes to great heights for its city and state
A B Ladder Company began in 1950 as a Louisville Ladder, Inc. warehouse for the state of Texas—the only one in Texas at that time. Today the Houston firm, still at the same location, has expanded to stock four more American brands of ladders—Bauer Corporation, Werner, Green Bull and Little Giant Ladder Systems. “As a stocking distributor, we carry a complete inventory of parts and accessories for everyone’s climbing needs,” says Suzy Voss, President.
For 35 years, A B Ladder has manufactured related accessories, including guardrails, handrails, custom security covers for air conditioning units, stairway systems, platforms and landings. Because safety is the top priority, everything is designed to meet or exceed OSHA standards. But the largest portion of its business is still ladders. “We don’t fabricate everything we sell—just the projects that people bring us their drawings of and ask us to make,” Suzy says.
A Legacy and an Inheritance
“My dad, Richard Pledger, opened the retail/wholesale store not before I was born but before I was interested in anything that put food on the table,” Suzy says. High school studies and activities kept her too busy for work. It was not until after she had been attending the University of Houston, just a few blocks away from the business, that she began helping out with the books. Then marriage, three children and her husband’s graduate school and first job out of the state all kept her too occupied or too far away to help her dad. “We moved back to Houston in 1974. During that first year, I picked up where I left off,” Suzy says.
After Richard died in 1989, Suzy’s mom became Owner and Suzy the Manager. Nine years later, her mother passed away and Suzy inherited the business. At that point, her son, Miles Voss, started helping in the warehouse while attending school.
“My husband, Cody Voss, who has enjoyed a career in Christian/Gospel music, is active in a supporting role. Often, he makes contacts for us, talks to people and visits with clients. He knows the business,” Suzy says. Cody and Miles are stockholders, and the three have been running the firm since 1998. “Though my granddaughters are in college now, they join us from time to time, as did our grandson before graduating from Texas A&M University. We’re a true family organization,” Suzy says.
As the current Shop Manager, Miles supervises the loading and unloading of ladder and materials. He also performs much of the welding and has trained several young men through the years. His other duties include off-premises estimating and getting the occasional temp-agency personnel situated and outfitted correctly for working in the shop. “We wear several hats around here,” Suzy says. “Everyone knows exactly what to do, and they do a great job of it. The temps are just as important to us as the regulars.”
Many of the firm’s short-term employees have been students attending the University of Houston. The funds they earned on the job helped put them through school. One young man became a cancer research doctor, and another just retired from his position at Shell Global as Head Safety Engineer. “We keep in touch with them and enjoy when they come back and visit us,” Suzy says. “If they aren’t family to start with, they’re family by the time they stay with us very long.”
That means that all employees are treated like they’re related. “When something unexpected comes up, our employees can ask for time off and we will try to work with them,” Suzy says. “Overall, we try to keep our crew happily working in a pleasant, productive and fairly flexible environment.”
At the same time, everyone is aware that their part in company dynamics is essential to success. “One thing about a shop like ours, though—we are driven by the time span of our customers. In other words, when a contractor gets ready to do the job, we have to guarantee the part we are furnishing them is available,” Suzy says. “Our people understand that we can’t take lots of time off because we don’t always have someone else to take their place and get the orders done so the projects can be completed on time.”
“A B Ladder has been privileged to be involved in custom design projects that we have been very proud of. As we are out and about the Houston area, we see the different installations that we’ve accomplished,” Suzy says.
During Hurricane Alicia in 1983, flooding devastated the facilities at the Texas Medical Center (TMC). In conjunction with the engineer on the job, A B Ladder designed floodgates to protect TMC from future weather events. A B Ladder has also provided handrails in every building in the Dickinson Independent School District and about 20 years ago, it fabricated and installed handrails at the air traffic control tower at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston.
“We have a very nice installation at the Memorial Hermann Hospital at The Woodlands,” says Suzy. A B Ladder built a lower ladder with a step-off platform to facilitate access to an upper ladder. Another project came about because of a vandalism problem at the Toyota Center. The group fabricated a handrail around the statue of Hakeem Olajuwon, who played basketball for the Houston Rockets.
Another design that makes Suzy proud was for NASA. “I’ll never forget the day a man from NASA came in and said, ‘We’ve built this wonderful mock-up with the space capsule sitting on the top of it, and we don’t have a way to get our men up there to practice,’” Suzy says. “The solution was fabricating a gantry ladder that went on the shuttle. We feel extremely blessed to get in on a few ventures like that.”
Importance of People
“Our customers continue to come back and sometimes expect us to be almost miracle workers for them. We try to accommodate them on everything—the miracles on occasion, as well,” says Suzy, with a laugh. “It’s kind of nice to serve a second-generation and occasionally a third-generation customer. We see that as a great commendation that we turn out a good product or people would not keep depending on us.”
That repeat business validates Suzy’s philosophy on how to treat others. “There is never anything wrong with treating everyone you meet with the same kind of respect with which you would like to be met,” she says. “I choose to consider others as important to the world as we sometimes think we are to the world. At A B Ladder, we try to treat our customers as though they are extremely important to us and to the city of Houston and some of them to the state of Texas. Then some of them, as in the case of NASA, are even important to the moon.”