Venerable company keeps powering up
Lynden Sheet Metal must be doing something right. The HVAC, refrigeration, plumbing, metal fabrication and electrical company has been in business 81 years and is going strong, with sales quadrupling over the past 10 years to $13 million.
Considering that just 21% of American companies make it to their 20th anniversary, Lynden Sheet Metal is breathing rarefied air indeed.
The company wants to grow more. Earlier this summer at LSM on Evergreen Street in Lynden, Conex shipping/storage containers and even a party tent were up outside to add storage space. There’s talk of putting up another permanent building, maybe 8,000 square feet, at the company’s present location. The existing building is 12,000 square feet on the ground level (the fabrication shop) and another 6,000 square feet on the mezzanine (offices).
Before COVID-19, the company had 58 employees. Earlier this summer, it had 70 and was hoping to hire five more.
Company President Bobbi Kreider started in the office in 1996 and is now the majority owner and the day-to-day, hands-on general manager. Phil VanderVeen, head of HVAC and refrigeration service and repair, and Ken Keck, head of metal fabrication and welding, are partial owners buying into the business gradually.
The company’s biggest revenue generators, in order, are HVAC installation, HVAC and refrigeration service and repair, plumbing, metal fabrication and welding, and electrical, added in 2020. All serve commercial and residential customers (except electrical, which serves residential only) in new construction and remodels.
“We work on commercial walk-in coolers and freezers and any sort of commercial kitchen equipment,” Kreider said. “We have rental coolers and freezers for events if someone’s equipment is down.”
The metal fabrication division does anything from small fix-it jobs to stairs, handrails, awnings and countertops.
“This is big in the Northwest for commercial kitchen hood installations, as we provide an all-inclusive package, including design, engineering, submittals, permits, installation, plumbing and electrical,” Kreider said. “This allows the customer to deal with one contractor versus several.”
LSM’s customers include homeowners, landlords, realtors, business owners, restaurants, contractors, food processing plants, hospitals and assisted living (“any customer looking to install or upgrade,” Kreider said).
The company grew as it added plumbing and refrigeration, making LSM more of a one-stop shop, Kreider said. “Now, by adding the electrical division, we really have closed the gap and can take care of all the mechanical systems in a home.”
LSM was founded in 1940 by John Wynstra and Pete Douma, with about four employees, including the founders, Kreider said. As well as wood-burning furnaces, LSM designed an oil furnace that was efficient for that time. “People loved them, and we still have many of those furnaces in use decades later,” she said.
Kreider’s father was a sheet metal worker whose work for Haskell Corporation took him to Alaska for months at a time. That was hard on a family man.
“My uncle Dennis Clark, who was John Wynstra’s nephew, worked at LSM, and my dad approached him to go into partnership and purchase LSM in 1977, as John and Pete were ready to retire,” Kreider said. At that time, LSM had about 10 employees.
“My mom worked in the office. My husband started working there in 1990, and I started in the office in 1996.
“My Uncle Dennis retired in 2000, and my parents retired in 2010.”
LSM’s first home was on Third Street in Lynden, next to The Dutch Treat restaurant. In 1980, the company moved out of town (it was out of town then, but now it’s right in town, Kreider said) to 8123 Guide Meridian, next to a facility occupied by S&H Auto Parts and owned by Hinton Chevrolet Buick. In the late ’90s, with the Guide about to be widened, the owner approached LSM and offered to put up a new building for LSM, if LSM would give him their existing building.
“It was a win-win,” Kreider said. Hinton gained a building next door to his existing location and LSM moved into the new building at 837 Evergreen St. “That was in 1998, and we have been on Evergreen Street ever since,” Kreider said.
LSM established its plumbing division with the purchase of Alpha Plumbing in 2008. Over the years, LSM’s heating and cooling businesses have been driven by the fluctuating prices of various fuels or increasingly efficient equipment. Heating systems that use fossil fuels such as natural gas, propane and oil are being phased out in new construction, and current utility rebates encourage owners of existing homes to switch to heat pumps, Kreider said. “The nice thing about heat pumps is, they’re the most efficient way to heat a home and they serve as air conditioners as well, so they provide year-round comfort.”
VanderVeen started with LSM out of high school 20 years ago. Keck joined the company in 2010. Britton Brink, head of HVAC installation, started as the “clean-up kid” while in school and has been with LSM 21 years. Chris Pace, head of plumbing, joined LSM 10 years ago. Janel Schuyleman, office and HR manager, has been with LSM four years.
Today’s challenges include finding enough people who want to enter the trades, Kreider said. “It’s extremely hard to find hard workers, let alone qualified ones. Most businesses in the trades would say the No. 1 issue holding them back from growing is the lack of skilled workers.”
“Our industry is all about making people comfortable in their spaces,” Kreider said. “It never ceases to amaze me that people will spend so much on pretty finishes like quartz or wood floors but only try to do the most basic heating and cooling system. Our thinking is, ‘How beautiful will that house feel when you’re too cold in winter and too hot in summer and paying more than you should in utilities?’
“I enjoy what I do. We truly have the best crew, which makes it fun … I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
“I’m proudest of our team of people and their longevity. Our estimator has been here 42 years, and many have been here 10 to 20 years, plus a few who literally worked here from age 18 to retirement. I’m proud to provide a work environment where people want to stay. I’m proud that customers place their trust in us to do a good job.”
Fewer than 1% of companies make it to their 100th birthday, according to census data. Will LSM? Research shows that companies who groom successors early are much more likely to survive and thrive.
Lynden Sheet Metal, with 81 years under its belt and VanderVeen and Keck on track to own the company entirely by 2035, looks set to join that elite group. n