Passing the Torch
Metal Fence Supply Co. founder partners with new leadership for continued success
After almost 30 years in business, Paul Gajda finally feels like he can retire from Metal Fence Supply Co. because he found the right person to take over the company. For the past year, he’s been partnering with longtime employee Brandon Dando to transition the business into his capable hands.
Brandon has been working with Paul for more than 12 years, learning all aspects of the fencing business based in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, that Paul started in 1981.
Fulfilling a Marketplace Need
Metal Fence Supply Co. serves a large area, and the team travels regionally to provide a wide variety of fencing installation and services, including chain-link fences, custom fences, custom gates, dog kennels, metal fences, ornamental steel fences, vinyl fences and wood fences. The company also provides access control gates and custom fabricated gates for both security and control traffic with ingress and egress traffic gates and barrier gates.
As the longest operating fence company in Lawrence County, Metal Fence Supply Co. has grown rapidly in the past 10 years as Brandon stepped up to oversee production.
“When I started the company in 1981, I saw a need for fencing with only two companies installing fence at the time,” Paul recalls. “It was hard to get things done and get materials, so I started selling materials, and then it took off from there.” Paul focused largely on the residential market for the first eight to 10 years. Then he started getting inquiries from colleges and universities, such as Grove City College, Westminster College and Allegheny College. He says his business began booming even more after he joined the Lawrence County Builders Association.
“That really got our name out more, and then contractors called us to get materials or do fencing projects for them,” Paul says. “In the last 10 to 12 years, business has magnified to the point that we need more manpower to keep up. That’s been a challenge—finding competent, reliable people. That’s why it is so wonderful to have someone like Brandon on the team.”
Transition of Power
Brandon joined Metal Fence Supply Co. full time about 12 years ago, after some part-time work for the company. About a year ago, Paul approached Brandon about taking over the company.
“We worked with a CPA and lawyer to get all the legalities sorted out. I’ll exit at the end of 2019, and he’ll take over 90% of the company. I’ll be part time for the next five years and get paid, but he’s running the ship,” Paul says. “I have been ready to retire but couldn’t find anyone I felt was competent to take over; entrepreneurs are rare birds. This is the third company I’ve started and, at 75, I’m ready not to be doing this day-in and day-out, but I’m not quite ready for the recliner yet.”
Brandon says he first started at the company while he was attending community college and working a night shift at a hotel. His brother, Adam, was selling advertising to Paul for the New Castle News and knew he needed a hand. Paul suggested Brandon finish his degree, so he went back to Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania.
When Brandon returned, he moved into sales and business operations as opposed to working in the field. “Once I got that figured out and learned the pricing, I hit the ground running and business exploded. We expanded into the commercial side of fencing, and we’ve seen business grow exponentially over the past five or six years,” Brandon says.
“Brandon outshines the competition with his knowledge and skill,” Paul says. “He focuses on each project’s needs and stays ahead of the game to account for everything. He delivers extraordinary service, addresses customer concerns and offers a guarantee. Brandon is also very personable and easy to work with. He knows how to establish trust and create mutually beneficial and profitable relationships with general contractors and clients.”
The company still does residential projects, like pool fences and privacy fences, but Brandon says he’s seen a shift from wood to more vinyl, as well as many ornamental fences. “The residential market is still prominent, but we are striving to grow and move into bigger jobs,” he says.
Building More Fences
The team has been traveling more as work projects have increased. “It’s the nature of the beast,” Brandon says. But the company still does a lot of local projects, especially athletic fields, which account for about one-third of the company’s commercial business, Paul says. Metal Fence Supply Co. is currently installing the fencing for a soccer field for Grove City College.
Metal Fence Supply Co. partners with Athletic Field Pros and S&S Processing on building many athletic fields like the baseball field dedicated to Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and former Pittsburgh Pirate Bill Mazeroski in Hempfield Township.
They have also worked together on projects at Slippery Rock University and California University of Pennsylvania.
Metal Fence Supply Co. also worked on the 4,000-linear-foot fence for the FedEx Ground development project in Zelienople. In addition to the fencing around the project, the company updated gate access for the facility with automation upgrades that allow FedEx to track its trucks from site to site. The firm also worked on the FedEx hub in North Pittsburgh and in Harrisburg. “We updated gate automation, barrier gates and overhead truss gates, which allow security guards in and out, as well as access to truck trailers coming and going,” Brandon says.
These automated systems allow FedEx staffers to use queue scanners, barcode keypads and phones to interface with vendors so they don’t have to check in every time. Much of the processes are automated through badges, so a driver could swipe his badge and everything on the truck is now in the system, with the same thing happening at the destination hub, Brandon says. Metal Fence Supply Co. runs and hooks up the network wiring and Cat 6 cable. Another company connects the network, he adds.
“We also work with a number of drillers north of us,” Brandon says. “They are producers in oil and gas, largely in Potter County. We have a master service agreement to provide their fencing needs whenever they need something. Typically, we are hanging big gates as well as automated and access control gates. That has taken over a big portion of the business, and we are allocating time and energy to really carving out that sector of the market.”
Brandon says the company also installs security fence around meters, tank farms and ponds for the drillers. These industrial-style fences are usually galvanized heavy pipe and barbed wire framework. The larger gates allow room for the industrial equipment to get through. If this kind of fencing is installed near residential areas, Brandon says, the client may add custom modifications, such as vinyl 8-foot-high fencing, to camouflage the barbed wire.
The company has six people on the team and plans to grow, but finding skilled workers can be a challenge. “I think fencing should be considered a trade, but it’s not. We’ve trained many people, and then we lose them. We see some guys moving into the trades, and our training really makes them light years ahead of their competition,” Brandon says. “There is also a lack of people wanting to get into the trades, as well.”
The average age of skilled laborers here is rising, which makes it difficult to find people young enough to do the work while also being competent and willing to work outside. It is a big responsibility in a changing environment, he says.
“And a fence is not just a fence; we provide a service. Especially in the residential market, we have to battle this assumption because someone can work out of their kitchen for less. We’re able to provide a wide range of services from concrete to welding on-site. We are set up to do all these different things and offer a turnkey product in a wide variety of aspects that go beyond just installing a fence. Plus, you know we’re going to be here five to 10 years down the road if a tree falls on it or a car runs into it,” Brandon says.
Overcoming the “two guys and a truck” competition means helping the client understand that when they bid these jobs, they’re looking at just the bottom line. “There are no actual specs, no detail on materials. I give them a price for heavy pipe and chain link, and we concrete all the posts in. We may be $5,000 higher, but whenever I talk to a customer, I try to explain to them that we will be here next week and we have insurance,” Brandon says.
Brandon says he hopes to increase business by growing the gate automation service lines and without having to travel. “That’s where the industry seems to be heading—toward the security end of things. It will be an integral part of fencing, and as we see more things focusing on technology and using the cloud, it will be important to stay on top of that,” he says. “If something needs to be done, do it. That’s really our business philosophy, top to bottom. No one waits to be told to do it, they just do it.”
In addition to growing automation, Brandon looks forward to taking over the company by year’s end. “I’m really grateful for Paul’s trust in me and for taking me on as a partner. I’d like to maintain the growth we’ve seen as well as the reputation we have built to set up terms quickly and get things done promptly for our clients,” Brandon says.