Volume 2 | Issue 6 | Year 1999

Its customers are No.1. Could this be one reason Topeka Metal Specialties enjoys impressive continuous growth?

Their customers are No. 1. Just another cliche? Not to savvy businessmen, who realize this claim rests on a business philosophy that could spell “perish” or “flourish.” And flourish is what Topeka Metal Specialties Inc. continues to do since opening its doors to businesses more than 35 years ago.

A large job shop manufacturing parts for products of other manufacturers, Topeka Metal has built a solid reputation of manufacturing high-quality, precision and cost-effective parts. Quite an accomplishment, when you consider that quality for the end-user depends so heavily on quality at the job shop level, where expertise begins for so many manufacturers needing specialized manufactured parts.

In just 35 years, the small company with a handful of employees has grown from a family-owned shop to a leading manufacturer in today’s production market. The company began in 1964, when present CEO Hank Gerdes first opened his sheet metal job shop at the present-day location. Topeka Metal experienced numerous expansions as it kept pace with continued growth and enjoyed an impressive growth spurt in 1997, when it grew from 80 employees to over 200.

“I came to work here in 1967, when the company had seven employees,” says Larry Ragsdale, the company’s purchasing manager. Today, the company operates out of a 250,000-square-foot facility, with three shifts, five days a week.

Manufacturing Quality for Other Quality Manufacturers

Topeka Metal is a full-service company that customers have come to rely on for their fabricated metal parts needs. From the expertise of its engineering department to its equipment ready to provide extensive capabilities in shearing, punching, welding, machining and material handling, Topeka Metal is a high-quality sheet metal manufacturer. The company can handle any operation on cold-punchable materials including steel, stainless steel, brass, copper aluminum and plastics. “We have some of the most technologically advanced equipment available in the industry today,” says Ragsdale.

Primarily a contract manufacturer supplying a wide range of parts to other manufacturers, Topeka Metal also fabricates cabs for vehicles. “We manufacture specially engineered cabs for over 100 types of heavy-equipment and off-road vehicles in a wide range of sizes and shapes, used primarily by agricultural and heavy-equipment manufacturers,” says Ragsdale. “And our craftsmanship is evident in every curve and fitted joint.” The company manufactures cabs for cranes, dock trucks, fire trucks, refuse trucks and highway equipment. It also manufactures video lottery machines, turntables for manlifts, telephone cabinets and racks, railroad signal houses, lawn mower decks and frames, and parts for airport tugs and agricultural equipment.

Full-Service Capabilities

You know you are doing something right when you don’t have to spend a lot of time and money developing advertising campaigns that may or may not be effective. Word-of-mouth advertising works just fine for Topeka Metal, who keeps generating continued business. Although it serves clients nationwide, the bulk of its clients are located within a 500-mile radius of Topeka, mostly because of the transportation factor. “We have established a very good name for quality and capabilities, and people know that we will do a job 100 percent,” says Ragsdale. “Many of the shops can do only the sheet metal and not the welding, machining, and painting. Or some companies might be capable of only the machining. We can do just about all of it.” Customers keep coming back to Topeka Metal because of the quality workmanship and the personal attention they receive from conception to final production. The company can handle jobs ranging from light-gauge materials up to 6” plate.

“We strive to help our customers in every way we can,” explains Ragsdale. “When we consider the plans of our customers, we always try to improve on the design of the manufactured part, trying to make it easier to build while keeping the cost down. We might suggest that they bend a piece rather than weld it to keep it structurally sound and cost effective. The bottom line is that we help our customers improve their products and keep their costs down.” Topeka Metal’s engineering department works closely with customers’ engineering departments in a collaborative effort to arrive at the best solution.

“We will expand at any given time we need to expand,” explains Ragsdale. For example, the company is discussing a potential job that would require put-ting up another building to handle the requirements of the customer. Actively customer-responsive, Topeka Metal will upgrade its equipment or purchase whatever equipment it takes to build a product its customers require.

Particular About Precision

No doubt the reason it enjoys a word-of-mouth reputation is the company’s dedication to precision. Its Amada Punching Models can produce tolerances of plus or minus .005” from zero point to any hole, thereby assuring proper shearing and bending points can be achieved from the punched holes. This translates into substantially less time necessary for welding and assembly, which means substantial savings in cost. Numerous hand-tooling expenses are eliminated because the equipment offers contour nibbling and plasma cutting from point to point in any given radius. These punching ranges apply to sheets in excess of 20 feet in length, as long as the overall weight does not exceed 275 pounds.

Topeka Metal’s CNC turret punch presses, utilizing an integrated plasma, are capable of making odd-cut shapes during the punching process, thereby eliminating the worry of expensive tooling costs. For parts requiring expensive tooling or high tolerances during the punching process, Topeka Metal’s computer-controlled, 2000-watt, CO2 laser table is ready to complete the part to the customer’s satisfaction. All press brakes are computer-controlled with x-, y-, and z-axis control.

The combination of computer-controlled brakes, turret punch presses and the laser table offers cost-effective products of almost any configuration in sheet metal, while maintaining the highest quality in the industry.

The Human Element

“So many companies have been loyal to Topeka Metal over the years, and we have been loyal to them,” explains Ragsdale. “We will bend over backwards to do the very best job we possibly can to provide the best service we can to our customers. We pride ourselves on that.” One very loyal customer is Snorkel Fire Equipment company of St. Joseph, Mo.

“They are a very vital part of Topeka Metal, as well as Ottawa Truck of Ottawa, Kan.,” says Ragsdale. “They are very much a part of what helped Topeka Metal grow to become the company we are today.” Companies that keep their employees happy are happy because they keep their employees. “We are very fair to our employees,” says Ragsdale. “Hank Gerdes, who is about 74 years old, is out in the shop every day. He is a very fair and honest person. And his children, Marti Siple and Gary Gerdes, follow in their father’s footsteps. Marti’s husband Phil is the sales manager. This is a very open company, and employees can freely discuss any problems. We are not just a bunch of people on payroll; we take a personal interest in each individual and our employees feel they are taken care of.”

Employee loyalty is evident in the number of employees with 20, 25 and 30 years’ experience with the company. Recognizing its place as a vital participant in the Topeka community, the company is proud of its community role. “Topeka has 125,000 to 130,000 people, and we are one of the major employers,” says Ragsdale. “We will continue to grow as we have in the past, and we will continue to be a vital part of our community.”

Previous articleForging the Future
Next articleThe Born Again Steel Mill