Straight Up Fence Inc. builds on linkage with family and customers
Commercial and residential property owners and general contractors alike call on Straight Up Fence Inc. for fencing that increases security, privacy or even the stylish look of a business or home. It’s a delivery of desired functions that Owner Ruth Smith believes is matched by the company’s own well-established values.
Smith oversees the company, based in Orlando, Florida, with a commitment to quality work, happy customers, a family-oriented spirit and faith.
In her role with the company, which has been led by three generations of her family thus far, Smith admits she initially had much to learn to be an effective manager. That was two decades ago.
Today, she guides the fence installment company with knowledge and experience in all aspects of the business. Straight Up Fence designs, installs, repairs and removes fences by focusing on good planning and execution of an installment. When a customer calls, the company begins by measuring the property, investigating the best fencing materials (most often steel, aluminum, chain-link or vinyl), offering its proposal with various options and finally building the fence.
Roots of Relationships
The family business began with Smith’s father, Troy White. When White was about 17 years old, he learned the basics of fence installment by working with his brother. Together, they erected basic steel fences sold to residents through mail-order catalogs published by popular retailers like Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Montgomery Ward & Co.
Residential and commercial fencing was about to evolve beyond the standard chain-link fence, however, and White was ready for it. He started and ran Metro Fence of Orlando from 1978 to 2000. He then gave the company to Cathalina and Chris Detwiler, his granddaughter (and Ruth Smith’s daughter) and her husband.
Soon after that, Smith started managing the financial operations. In 2003, the family incorporated Straight Up Fence Inc. Smith and her husband, Harold Smith, took the helm of the company next, and growth in family participation continued to ensure stability. Smith’s sons worked in the field to install fencing and her daughter, Cathalina, switched to the role of a salesperson.
The recession of 2007-09 came next. “When others went out of business, we worked with our customers so well that we stayed in business,” she says. “The creditors believed in me, and my customers and contractors stayed with me,” she recalls. “Even the contractors were paying me in advance so I could survive, so I started to believe I could do it, and I did.”
Smith became the owner after her husband died in 2014. Smith admits her greatest challenge was assuming leadership at that time. Even though she had been a key figure in the company every day for several years, she suddenly had to lead in all areas.
“I was exposed to all aspects of the company, from sales to accounting—and I wanted to do a good job in my new role, so I worked hard and learned as fast as I could,” she says.
She survived out of sheer willpower, a commitment to nonstop learning and help from those she reaches out to, both inside and outside the company.
Another wise move was when Smith asked a friend in the business, Dan Lapina, to join her at Straight Up Fence. The new leadership arrangement worked well. Lapina had a strong background in framing and trimming houses, and he quickly became an asset for the company, serving alongside Smith. He was named the company’s General Manager.
In addition to Lapina, Smith’s son and daughter-in-law—Marty and Rene Smith—have been a very important part of the continued success of Straight Up Fence. They are both Lead Estimators. Marty had been in the fence business for 35 years before joining Straight Up Fence in 2019. Rene signed on in 2020.
Meaningful connections and the stability of family have resulted from Lapina’s leadership, too. Smith and Lapina hired Lapina’s son and his friend to determine what new trends can improve the company’s operations.
Jake Lapina studies construction marketing at Florida Atlantic University and Ben North is in the construction management program at Seminole State College of Florida. Jake has enhanced the company’s brand and participation in online and social media networks while Ben has brought important updates to the company’s job bidding efforts.
Height and Width
When customers call on Straight Up Fence, they can be assured of getting fence installments that are backed by years of experience, the best choices of material for the project at hand, precise specifications, conscientious crew members and speedy delivery.
“We are proud of every job we have done,” Smith says. “Although some are more challenging than others, we take pride in every job.”
Two recent projects are examples of how the company installs fencing to achieve customers’ needs.
Straight Up Fence installed 1,800 feet of chain-link fencing that was 7-feet tall and was topped with 1-foot-high barbwire to increase security. The fence protected a roofing company’s materials and equipment at the site in an industrial park near downtown Orlando. The customized fence included three gates to allow vehicle entrance by company personnel that ranged from 24 feet to 30 feet in width.
“The ultimate purpose of this secure fence system was a little out of the ordinary for us, but we achieved the quality fabrication in a timely manner and to the customer’s satisfaction,” Lapina says.
Another challenging installment was for Holy Family Catholic Church in Orlando. The fence of vertical pickets surrounding the parish’s school on the property was a patchwork of mismatched materials in spaces that were rarely perfectly square. The project called for close work with parish representatives who were most concerned about ensuring the new 18-foot grand archway that led to the vestibule was faithful to the original style.
“They all had their own ideas, and it all came together,” he says. “It took a while, but it became one of the nicest gates and fences we’ve ever done.”
Straight Up Fence replaced the old fence with a new aluminum rail fence that fit the irregular exterior spaces better and looked much better, too. In two weeks, the fabrication and installment was complete. Smith praises her daughter-in-law Rene for guiding the effort resulting in the beautiful project.
The Future Looks Vertical
Smith hopes other recent changes successfully guide the company into the future. These include a greater pursuit of residential fencing business and the expansion of in-house welding capability.
Most of the projects are commercial, but Smith believes residential fencing offers a lot of growth for the company. Strategically, the decision fits with the company’s mission of pursuing both large and small jobs.
With 16 employees and the typical crew numbering two or three people, the company can fluctuate from small to large teams easily. Whether erecting miles of fencing or installing fencing so a small yard can hold a resident’s small dog, “we’ll do whatever we need to get the job done,” Smith says.
Straight Up Fence enlarged its welding shop recently. The decision came when the company realized some customized orders for gates could be done in-house, at a better price for its customers, and oftentimes faster than outsourced gates.
The company continues to design and build fences each day with the same attention to detail and commitment to service as in earlier years, but also with the determination to change, learn and grow to meet customers’ needs.