2011 was a milestone year in the early days of what would become Weld House. For being such a pivotal year, it is unfortunate that memories have faded. The height of the highs and depth of the lows are now foggy and all that is remaining is an overall sense that it was a lifetime ago. However, a few things that come to mind and here is one of them.
With the nerves of having just quit my day job in the forefront of my mind and dealing with the daily hassles of getting established in a new city after moving from Dallas to Phoenix to build furniture full-time, Keen Footwear kept me mentally and physically busy trying to figure out how to make extra long table tops out of recycled, reclaimed automotive sheet metal for their upcoming summer and winter trade show booths. Until then, small table tops were made out of one automotive body panel like a roof, trunk or hood.
A recurring theme in my life continued by being rewarded with a nice pay-off but only after reluctantly being forced out of my comfort zone by a client’s specific request. Thank goodness for amazing clients and their ideas, their projects, their wants and needs. There is no doubt that there would be NO Weld House if it weren’t for the requests of clients that required me to search, to think, to stress out and ultimately come up with a solution that was a good one. A solution that was legit, not faux, not sketchy or half-assed. An idea good enough to be the foundation of a bigger business. There is a relationship between feeling uncomfortable with something unfamiliar and being rewarded for perseverance of seeing it through. Whether personal or professional growth, let us always be uncomfortable. Working outside of what is usual is how we are guaranteed to be growing in strength and creativity. Look for the silver lining while in the midst of the struggle, being content within the process and keep an overhead perspective. Do not make emotional short-cuts that will rob you of the reward, a reward that was likely imminent.
Keen asked for 8-10 foot long table tops right before the move to Arizona. Saying no to them was not an option. Giving them anything other than something bad ass wasn’t an option either as their interior design and company culture is really next level. Organic, repurposed, recycled, industrial, modern, contemporary, clean lines, steel, glass and wood would describe Keen’s architectural aesthetic, all of which fits Weld House very well. So, driving out west, towing all personal and professional belongings in one trailer, there was not a clear path forward on how to build these long table tops. Finding shop space, meeting good vendors and setting up a legal company were all easy tasks compared to delivering a product that had never been built before.
Getting lucky. Keen was and is an amazing company to work for. Keen was very kind and must have known they were working with someone who was potentially way out over their skis by accepting this job. They gave very simple, specific instructions … build something cool. On one hand, that directive removed a lot of external pressure but internally, it triggered an intense desire to deliver something next level to them.
Turns out, shop space, vendors and steel suppliers would be an hour away from home. Meeting with early sheet metal vendors and showing them oily automotive sheet metal that needed shearing, paint stripped and then press brake bent was met with a hard no. After finding an agreeable vendor, there were fails at early attempts to weld the sheet metal panels together to create long lengths. Too much heat from welding warped the sheetmetal beyond an acceptable amount. Ruining sheet metal meant going back out to junkyards to find another suitable body panel with agreeable color/patina. Cutting down and preparing the sheet metal cost time and money and had to go back to the sheet metal vendor and wait in line. So every time there was a failed attempt to make a long, flat surface, it was painful on many levels. There were points of almost being in tears when these early vendors ruined entire panels due to an incorrect bend or shear cut. Working through all of these R&D issues, the set backs, the tears, losing money that wasn’t there to lose, being an hour away from home, carrying the responsibility of a young family, juggling bills and managing looming deadlines with Keen and other projects all made for some heavy days and sleepless nights. But the dream was real and it was the motivation to keep going.
The lightbulb moment of how to build these long panels with no warping was one that will never be forgotten. It came right after a major fail. When the idea hit me, I remember right where I was standing. The mental picture of my surroundings is still crystal clear; the vendor’s parking lot, the tailgate of my old Dodge with stacks of bad sheet metal. Explaining the sheet metal techniques learned are not going to be revealed in this or any blog post to come. This blog post isn’t about the technique, it is about the struggle and the victory. Looking back at these photos, there are way too many deficiencies to count compared to the products, the techniques, the talented crew and the facility that Weld House has grown to enjoy.
Weld House has not sold to Keen in many years but they were a crucial part of our evolution from a hobby into a business. They asked for something new and it was painful and difficult at the time. The products we have developed as a result of the Keen account have grown to be our greatest strengths and they have opened nearly every important door since. Keen was life changing to say the least.
Building Keen’s cool modern steel tables was important professionally but breaking down the Keen experience into a model that allows me to experience difficulty in life and not run from it has been a blessing. Looking back, the lessons learned with Keen were small potatoes compared to what lay ahead but it was a character building block that has served me well ever since. Embracing struggle, enduring it, not seeking temporary relief, keeping still in the midst of the chaos, living alongside the loneliness of the unknown and finding the silver lining are all self-talk motivators I give to myself to this day. Pain is temporary. Victory always comes to those who stay consistent, press forward and strive to be great.
If you’ve made it to the end of this blog post, I hope you will be encouraged, motivated to continue to hone your craft and look for parallels to become a better human in the process. Never be comfortable.