Posted by Matt Register

We spoke with Duffy Shea, President of Alamo Iron Works, about customer service and the legacy of his 140 year old company.

Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.

Matt Register: Hey guys, welcome back to the show, Texas Business Radio. We’re talking about manufacturing. Manufacturing is big in Texas and getting bigger. There is a whole lot being built and made right here within our state. We’re going to bring some really smart guys to tell you how it’s done. Go ahead and get your calls in, our 24 hour call in line 844-814-8144. Get your questions in, we’re going to get the experts on here to get them answered. Let’s jump right into it. I’m your host Matt Register. Jay Curry had to step out for a minute. Joining me is my business partner George Walden. George what do you think?

George Walden: Oh, I’m enjoying the show. You know manufacturing is so important to the backbone of Texas. And here we are talking to a business and manufacturing that is 140 years old. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Matt Register: Yeah. No doubt. So, we’re going to jump right into it. Duffy Shea is the president of Alamo Iron Works. Alamo Iron Works established in 1875, that’s almost a long time ago. Say it real fast. Duffy welcome to the show sir.

Duffy Shea: Cool man. Glad to be here.

Matt Register: So tell me a little bit about Alamo Iron Works. What do you do? Who do you do it to?

Duffy Shea: OK. Been around for a long time, as you mentioned Matt. Primarily in two segments of our business. We’re in the steel business and that’s what we’re known for.

Matt Register: Sure.

Duffy Shea: We like to brag a little bit that we kind of built south Texas, central south Texas. And so we do a lot of work in steel. We do a lot of fabrication. We do a lot of value added steel processing and then we have a business model that says “if you’re going to use the steel, you got to weld it, grind it, paint it”. So we also sell the supplies that go with the steel customers, who are going to do something with that steel down the road.

Matt Register: Sure.

Duffy Shea: So we do everything but erect steel.

Matt Register: But you do a whole lot to, right, on the fabrication side of your business. You can, you can cut, weld, machine, all the above to some steel.

Duffy Shea: Absolutely. So, we have about 150,000 square foot steel shop, here in San Antonio, right by the AT&T Center. And we have saws, we can gang cut, miter cut, bondo cut, shears, burning tables, 46 foot burning table, a couple of burning tables, press brakes, 400 ton press brake. We also run rebar and we do a lot of rebar shapes. So this means for people who use steel, this all rings a bell.

Matt Register: Sure.

Duffy Shea: And so, we add quite a bit of value. We don’t just buy steel, sticks of steel, turn around and sell to you in the same shape we bought it. We normally do something for, on behalf of our customers.

Matt Register: Now, you have the ability to buy it and sell it in some shape you bought it.

Duffy Shea: Sure, if somebody wants to come in and just buy some plate steel and will, they’ll work with it. Absolutely.

Matt Register: Well, it’s interesting you got into the supply side. Right? It’s something that people who buy steel; they also have to buy welding rods, they also have to buy grinding wheels, they also have to buy a whole lot of stuff. When did you guys get into that business?

Duffy Shea: 1906.

Matt Register: So, you’ve been doing that for quite awhile.

Duffy Shea: First catalog, they actually put a catalog, a supply catalog together. Got a copy of it in the office, typed up and everything. 1906 was the first supply catalogs.

Matt Register: Still type it up today, same way?

Duffy Shea: No, no quite. It got a little bit more advance on that.

Matt Register: Got it. But you’re doing this all over the state. Right?

Duffy Shea: Correct. Our foot print is real, pretty big. El Paso down to the valley, real strong. Down, up I-35 through Dallas. I-10 over into Houston and down into the valley. And of course out in Midland, Odessa and West Texas.

Matt Register: So, doing that, your business looks like a lot of vehicles as well. Right? Tell me a little bit about that because that doesn’t sound like anything close to being in the fabrication business.

Duffy Shea: Well, one of the big value adds you have if your in the steel business is steels heavy. And not everybody is around the corner. So they can’t come over and pick it up.

Matt Register: Sure.

Duffy Shea: So, you’ve got to get the steel out to people. And what we’ve done over the years, is become a very reliable, almost like a milk run. If it’s Tuesday and it’s 10 o’clock, I’m in Sonora and, or one of my vehicles are. So, we have an extensive delivery process and offering. Which is really helpful to those who aren’t in Houston, aren’t in Dallas or in Austin. You know, the smaller, mid-sized manufacturer, who has no way of just jumping in a pickup and driving to San Antonio to get it. So, we, we provide, that’s a significant value add, we think to our business.

Matt Register: Well, no doubt. Cause you’re probably, certainly the only one that’s willing to drive out there, right, and provide them product.

Duffy Shea: Yeah. Our, some of our competitors do. The difference we’ll do is, we don’t tell them you need a full truck, forty four thousand pounds of steel, for us to go out there. It’s Tuesday, it’s going out there.

Matt Register: Sure.

Duffy Shea: So, you don’t have to wait till I get to an economically viable truck to do it.

Matt Register: Well, that’s sounds absolutely fascinating. So the company’s been around a long time. We were, right, during the break you were telling me a little bit about the history of the company. Walk me through, quickly, some of that history because it started a long time ago.

Duffy Shea: Some of the chronology benchmarks. 1875 it was a blacksmith shop on the San Antonio River. And I can’t remember how any people in San Antonio then but it was like eight thousand.

Matt Register: Right.

Duffy Shea: Then morphed into a steal, as well, and foundry. So, Alamo over the years, for example in the greater San Antonio area, Corpus Christi, if you walk down the street, you walk over manhole cover, look down and read, it’s going to say made by Alamo Iron Works. 90 percent of the manhole covers in South Texas were made by our foundry.

Matt Register: Wow.

Duffy Shea: And then the foundry business, then the supplies. And about 10 years ago, got out of the foundry business. Just way too much regulation in that business.

Matt Register: Right, sure.

Duffy Shea: And so, essentially in a lot of ways, over the last 120 years anyway, were kind of what we were. Just taking advantage of all the new technology that’s come out. But…

Matt Register: Who do you find your customers are? Because, you know, Texas is still a very, very energy heavy place.

Duffy Shea: Yes. Yes.

Matt Register: But there’s a whole lot of other manufacturing going on here.

Duffy Shea: Yes, it’s a lot of manufacturing. It’s very diverse and our customer base is extremely diverse. So, for example, in 2016 we had over 4000 end user customers that we shipped something to and invoiced.

Matt Register: Right.

Duffy Shea: That’s, in our world, that’s huge.

Matt Register: Sure.

Duffy Shea: So, it’s everybody from Caterpillar in Waco to Toyota, names we’re familiar with to Tino’s welding.

Matt Register: Sure.

Duffy Shea: And everybody in between. Even somebody like Schlitterbahn is a large customer of ours and they’ve got a maintenance department.

Matt Register: Sure.

Duffy Shea: So, they use miscellaneous steel and they buy lots of supplies.

Matt Register: So, when energy down turn…

Duffy Shea: So, it’s a very, very broad end user base.

Matt Register: So, an energy downturn doesn’t necessarily affect you the way it may at first appear that it might.

Duffy Shea: Yeah. And in my infinite wisdom, I decided in 2010, we were going to get more energy focused and boy, that really worked out pretty good. So, the board liked that in 2013 and 14 and I wasn’t quite as smart in 15 and 16. So, it definitely impacted our business because we’ve significantly shifted our focus to what the Eagle, Ford, Shells in our backyard.

Matt Register: Sure.

Duffy Shea: And in our, right in the heart of our footprint.

Matt Register: Well, it’s certainly hard not to do that. Right?

Duffy Shea: It’s tough to walk away from the volume. Yeah, that’s really hard.

Matt Register: That’s absolutely right. All right, we have Duffy Shea, who’s the president of Alamo Iron Works out of San Antonio, Texas.

Duffy Shea: San Antonio.

Matt Register: Duffy, thank you very much for joining us. is the web site.

Duffy Shea: That’s ours.

Matt Register: Don’t even bother writing that down or trying to remember it. We’re going to have a linked right from, is an easy way to get in touch with. Thank you very much.

Duffy Shea: Thank you Matt. Thank you George.

Matt Register: And one of the things we didn’t even mention was, you are the chairman of the San Antonio Manufacturers Association as well.Right?

Duffy Shea: That’s correct, I am.

Matt Register: So, giving back in your extracurricular activity, your free job, if you will. Right?

Duffy Shea: And I enjoy it very much, a great organization and the show today, I hope is, has been successful for our members.

Matt Register: Yeah. No doubt. Thank you very much.

Duffy Shea: Thank you.

Matt Register: Hey guys, we got to go to a good break and pay a couple bills. We’re going to be back right after this. Don’t go anywhere.

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About the Author
Matt Register

Matt Register

In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.

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