J.R. Kauffman founded Wytheville Metals in Southwestern Virginia in 2003. J.R.’s son Rick, the current owner, recalls: “Back in 2002 I was helping my dad on a dairy farm in Maryland. We were tired of milking cows. Dad had a sister in a construction supply business selling metal and accessories and was attracted to that.” 

There wasn’t a lot of competition in the area, so it felt like a good fit. The family moved to Virginia in 2002, and J.R. opened the construction supply company in 2003.

The business was small, with J.R. running the company and Rick as his employee. At the start, Wytheville (pronounced WITH-vil) Metals didn’t roll form its own components; they bought long lengths of trim and panel stock and cut it down to fit customers’ orders. “We tried to stock 10- to 20-foot lengths of panels and trims. We thought we could cut them down to the sizes needed by our customers. It worked to an extent, but there was a lot of waste. It wasn’t as efficient as it could have been.”

Business was slower than they liked, so they started buying job packs from another company to continue to build the business. They contracted roofing jobs and built pole barns, too. In time, they found there was more money to be made — and were fewer headaches — if they focused on rolling the components and left the construction to someone else. “Also, we were competing against potential customers by building so we switched to strictly rollforming and serving on the supply side,” Rick explains.

Roll Forming Builds The Business

It was in 2005 that the company invested in its own roll former; they chose a new stationary roll former from ASC Machine Tools. Once they started rolling their own panels and trims, business picked up and the company grew quickly.

Other equipment in the Wytheville Metals arsenal includes a Slinet trim slitter and Variobend bender, both from Hershey’s Metal Meister, Acu-Form trim formers, and a Zimmerman portable roll former. 

The portable roll former allows them to offer and roll the higher-quality standing seam panels at jobsites. “Standing seam isn’t as big of a seller because it comes at a higher cost,” says Rick. “There’s no limit on the length we can roll. The limitation is how far the roofer has to carry it to put it up on the roof.”

While the company’s most in-demand product is a standard 5-rib ag panel (which they offer in lengths from 2” to 50’), they also produce trims and flashings, snow guards, and any other metal component that’s needed. “We also offer custom components,” says Wytheville Metals Office Manager Joel Zook. “If a standard component won’t do the job, we can bend whatever will work for the customer.” 

They can also provide all the accessories needed for getting the job done, including (but not limited to) Titanium Underlayment, Epilay Underlayment, and standard black felt paper. Most of the accessories they offer like screws, pipe flashings, and closure strips come from Levi’s Building Components. There is also a showroom in the main office that has tools on display and for sale, including Midwest Brand tools, Malco, Makita Tools. Newest line they’ve added is Ox Tools made by Craftmen’s. Basically, they have anything a customer would need to do a job.

Supplies and Logistics

Rick says about 70% of his building materials end up within a hundred-mile radius of the metal shop. “There’s normally a weekly run that’s about 2½ hours away.” They ship a fair amount of materials to North Carolina.

Wytheville’s customer base includes roofing contractors, post-frame builders, do-it-yourselfers, and lumberyards. “We have a lot more homeowners that do it themselves,” reveals Joel. “We still have a large contractor base, but a lot of product gets sold to homeowners. We have a large base of contractors that do installs; most of that is going to be for houses.” While they sell to some pole barn builders, that number is small because “they’re hard to find in our area.”

There has been a lot of growth in the storage building market recently, which means there are opportunities available for supplying this segment of the construction industry. Wytheville Metals supplies its own shed-building company, Premier Structures, as well as many other storage building manufacturers. “We supply a lot of product to that industry; that’s really picked up in last five years,” Rick remarks. 

As far as what else is selling in their Southwest Virginia area, Joel says it’s split between the residential, agricultural, and commercial markets. “Most of what we deal with on the standard panel and standing seam are residential homes. Most are single-family homes, but we’re currently working through a large contract for multi-unit apartment buildings in Wytheville. Probably 75% of our business is single-family, 20% ag, and a small portion is multi-family and commercial.” 

J.R. Retires and The Company Continues to Grow

As the demand for components grows, so does the number of employees. However, J.R. is no longer heading up the crew. Rick recalls, “In 2016, the decision was made that Dad would retire and I purchased the company.” Including Rick, there are 13 employees involved in the metal side of the business: there are 11 full-time employees and one part-time employee that handle delivery, production, and office duties.

As the demand for metal building components grows, so does the competition. “When we started, there were probably three roll formers within a two-hour radius,” observes Rick. “Now there are probably 12 or 15. There’s a huge demand in our area.”

While competition is fierce, this is one company that chooses to not compete on price. “We’ve learned that our success in reaching contractors is through service,” Rick explains. “We can’t compete pricewise because of logistics. We can’t afford to deliver a product to contractors cheaper than they can get in their hometown. So we focus on quality products and services.”

One way they differentiate themselves is the material they offer is on the thicker end of the gauge variance spectrum. For example, the thickness of their 29 ga. materials are right at the cutoff for 28-ga. “We try to offer a thicker product, but that only gets translated to a few customers,” Joel notes. “Most homeowners don’t catch up on that detail.”

Another service their customers like is delivery via boom truck. “If a job goes to a jobsite and not to another store, we offer boom service where we can set the job pack across the fence,” Rick declares. “We can boom it out 30’ from the truck. Customers really like that service.”

Past, Present, Future

Rick says one thing he would do differently if he had the chance to do it all again is he’d start roll forming right away. While the chop shop operation worked, there was a lot of waste, and the business wasn’t as efficient as it could have been. “We had wasted labor and material; roll forming right away would have cut out a lot of that. I feel like we lost a few years’ worth of revenue and steam by not starting off with a roll former.”

Buying a machine, learning how to use it, and getting it set up was easy. “We took a trip to Washington for a day of training and the machine arrived a week later. Learning how to do it wasn’t very difficult. We had a good experience with ASC.”

Fast forward to 2022: “We had an over-the-top year. We don’t know what to expect in 2023, but there’s no reason to think it won’t be good other than how everything else is going,” presumes Rick. 

“Finding product was hard going through COVID,” he continues. “We’re in a more rural area so the panic level wasn’t quite as high here. We never really shut down at all since we’re an essential business.” 

“As far as supply chain issues go, Liberty Steel treated us very well,” Joel adds. “They kept us supplied. The cost of things was very volatile during that time, so it was hard to price it in a way so we could make a little money and the homeowner could still afford it.”

Looking ahead, improving the company infrastructure and a facelift are in the works for Wytheville Metals. They plan to merge their metal manufacturing and storage-building businesses into a single company to streamline administration and become more efficient. 

And a full facility makeover is in the plan for 2023, which will include refacing the building. “The first building my Dad built on the farm was 80 x 100 with a little office attached to the side. He added a couple additions after that. We have a conglomeration of buildings totaling 30,000 square feet.” Refacing the buildings will help give the business a more professional-looking face.

No matter what degree of success Wytheville Metals enjoys, Rick stays grounded. “It all started with Dad and I’d like to give him credit for where I’m at. He’s definitely the reason I am where I am. 

“What made the biggest impression and influenced me in business is we strived to have a good product with quality being the number one thing,” Rick continues. “Dad took that to a whole new level. It didn’t matter if competition was knocking his doors down, he would not bend on quality and service. From a business ethics standpoint, don’t worry about what your competition is doing — keep doing what you’re doing and your customers will follow.” RF