I was quite fortunate to attend the March ISFA CEO Roundtable event, hosted by Gecko Solid Surface Solutions in San Antonio, TX.
The roundtable event consisted of sixteen owners/operators of fabrication shops from across the country, getting together to talk about business, challenges, and how they intend to grow and simplify their businesses.
I feel it’s important to maintain confidentiality, so rather than share the specifics of what participants discussed, I’ll share my observations. I suppose a disclaimer is therefore necessary – these are my opinions and they don’t reflect those of Moraware, yada, yada…
Wednesday morning, I drove up and approached the narrow opening in the fence, wondering if a Walker Texas Ranger dude with a rifle & bad attitude was waiting at the end of the private drive. I was really pleased when I turned the corner and saw a nice picnic area in the shade and a bunch of friendly fabricators walking into the Gecko front office.
As I walked into the Gecko office, and later on a tour through the property and fabrication facility, what really stood out was that everyone working there seemed genuinely happy. People smiling, fist bumping as they passed one another – it felt immediately refreshing.
And it turns out, that’s not a coincidence, but a reflection of the approach Gecko’s owner, Augie Chavez and his right hand man, Dan take. In Augie’s words, our top priority is getting the work done safely. After that, it’s profitability and fun – and those two are somewhat interchangeable. They’ve created a culture that views throughput not as a stick, but as a tool to get to happy hour sooner.
Gecko clearly has an employee-friendly culture, from starting work at 8:30am so parents can get kids to school without stress, to a shaded picnic area and a basketball court, you can tell that Augie simply cares about the people who work for Gecko and treats them more like family than employees.
At the CEO roundtable, Augie welcomed the twenty attendees and we rolled into topical discussions. Several topics discussed were issues common to all fabricators and how they attempt to solve them. Several things stood out to me, not about the topics, but the perspectives of the attendees. I observed that two companies in the same geographic market can have very different perspectives on one another, specifically one viewed the other as competition and the other didn’t share that same perspective. There was also a difference in personalities – people were generally passionate about their perspectives, but some people were clearly pragmatic and others steered more toward bigger picture, lofty visions.
The topic that garnered the most compelling stories and engagement was about determining if the goal is to continue growing a company and when to choose to stop growing. Opinions varied, but ultimately factors like reaching a profitable capacity, quality of life, reasons for being in business in the first place, etc. all played into the conversation. And the most refreshing part of all were the origin stories of how several different businesses came into being. Several of the founders shared such compelling stories of how they sought out or stumbled into the fabrication world.
And finally, I have to mention Gecko’s environmental practices. They reflect Augie’s personal priorities of respecting the environment. Whether it’s solar panels on the roof or rooftop rain collection system with a large cistern. It’s a great feeling knowing that the entire water need for production is supplied from the rainwater cistern, in conjunction with a GranQuartz water filtration unit.
Gecko puts its money where Augie’s mouth is and that has a nice impact environmentally and financially. Imagine running machines on 3-phase power for an entire month and then getting an electric bill for $175! The payback period on the solar panels only took 5½ years, a few years ahead of projections.
Based on my observations, it’s probably no surprise that Gecko was selected as the 2015 Fabricator of the Year by ISFA.