AUGUST 2009

A Closer Look E-mail the author

Iron Ax, Inc.
John Kitchens • 877-247-6629

John Kitchens started his career at Iron Ax about thirteen years ago, and although his title is vice-president, he said, “We’re not all that huge, so you have to wear a lot of hats.”

John Kitchens

Besides the usual management and compliance work, Kitchens does a lot of sales and added, “If it involves a computer or paper, it’s my job.” He even designed the computer programs that are used at the company’s scales. “The only thing I don’t do is engineering.”

With a degree in accounting, Kitchens started his career as a CPA, and then became a financial analyst and metals buyer before joining Iron Ax.

The company, in its current incarnation, has been in business for about 20 years, according to Kitchens. But forty years ago the owner, Charlie Hall, started in the car crushing business. Then, about 20 years ago, he needed a shear. After shopping around, Hall realized that none of the shears currently being manufactured were exactly what he was looking for. So, he designed his own.

Hall brought the shear to a job site and when a customer saw it, he asked where he could buy one for himself. Hall built another and sold it to him. “Then the phone started ringing,” Kitchens said. “That was the birth of Iron Ax.” About a year later, the company split into two entities – one for equipment manufacturing and sales, and the other for scrap processing.

Despite the split, the companies work closely together. For a few years, the manufacturing was done in a warehouse on scrap yard property. When it moved, it didn’t move far. Now the manufacturing is done across the street from one of the yards.

Today, the company owns four scrap yards and manufactures and sells all sorts of equipment for scrap processing. One of those is the EnviroRack, which is a one-man-operated piece of equipment used for draining fluids from cars that are slated to be recycled. While there are similar products on the market, Kitchens said, “We were the first ones to come up with it.”

What’s unique about Iron Ax’s products is the testing involved. Kitchens said that the products are used in their own yards for a minimum of two years before they are marketed. Buyers know that the products perform in the real world, and not just on the drawing board. The company also sells other manufacturer’s products and custom-designs and modifies equipment to customer specifications.

Among other innovations, Kitchens described a grapple that was designed to work underwater. It was used to clean up damaged oil rig material off the seabed, about 150 miles off the coast, after Hurricane Katrina. The underwater grapple was controlled remotely from the ship above.

Kitchens said that one of the biggest challenges lately has been the economy. He said that from January through September last year, it was “a banner year” and the company looks forward to continued growth if business presents itself.

He said that the hardest thing to do is to get people past the fear of spending money. “We’re not afraid to spend some money to make it,” Kitchens said. “It’s a risk, but you’ve got to take it.” It seems that customers are starting to realize the same thing, and the company experienced a recent bump in sales in a three-day period that was better than the previous three months.

Still, there’s some uncertainty. Kitchens said that people are in a “watch and see mode,” being cautious and waiting to see which way the economy is headed. “This is not a moneymaking year,” he said, “This is a ‘hold on to it’ year.”

The good news is that the company is debt-free and “we’re still here when a lot of people aren’t.” He also said that the company has been able to find enough for the current workforce to do, so when things get better, they will be ready. “When scrap metal prices go up, we do great,” he said. “We have to have some confidence.”