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Growing the right way

KO Custom Fab celebrates its eighth year of business this September


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - After shrinking to as few as two shop workers, KO Custom Fab in Estacada is back up to more than 15 workers.For local businessman Ken Oliver, the old adage “learn from your mistakes” is part the story of his success, although it isn’t his mistakes he’s learning from.

After working for two metal fabrication companies that both eventually went under, Oliver has taken lessons from both of those places and ensured his business is built for the long run.

Oliver’s company, KO Custom Fab, recently celebrated its eighth year in business full-time in Estacada.

“I was working for a fabricator in Portland and I came home and just wanted to do my own thing,” he said. “So in November of 1999, I started doing work part-time behind my house. In the spring of 2004, though, I got a big job for some campground gates and needed to decide whether I wanted to go full-time on my own or not.”

Well, on Sept. 4, 2004, Oliver decided he was ready to make the leap, beginning his company full time on his own property.

“The company I worked for eventually went out of business and now my old boss is a subcontractor that works for us,” he said. “Funny how the world turns.”

Oliver and his company manufacture structural steel and miscellaneous iron for commercial construction, examples are steel beams, columns, handrails, stairs and more.

Among the bigger companies he has worked for recently are Target and Goodwill, which has required his company to re-grow after downsizing during the tough economy.

“We downsized in 2009 to just two guys in the shop,” he said. “We now have 15 people in-house plus two or three subcontractors.”

With the growth, Oliver also needed to make the transition out of his backyard, which led him to a new location along Highway 224 in Barton.

“We built back up from there and we doubled our sales last year,” he said. “The big thing is that I built the company debt free and we focus on doing good work with competitive bidding, but we don’t always try and be the lowest bid. Price is not always the most important thing, because we hang out hat on having a very good relationship with our customer.”

Oliver said one of the hardest things about being in the industry he’s in is having to deal with the reputation some other fabricators give to his craft.

“There are a handful that just don’t do a good job,” he said. “It’s like the acceptable practice has become that the steel doesn’t fit well, but our steel fits right when it comes out to the site. Everything hangs off of the steel, so it’s a critical item and we’re good at doing it right.”

With a solid reputation around the area as someone who can be counted on for quality work delivered on time, Oliver says he’s currently at full capacity in the shop right now thanks to 16 projects from Target and four more from Goodwill.

When he’s not working, Oliver is a volunteer firefighter in Estacada and has been married 25 years to his wife, Donna, with whom he has two children.

Despite all of his success, Oliver remains focused on not getting too big or overstepping his bounds.

“I pay my taxes, I pay my bills and focus on not growing too quickly,” he said. “Because I learned from other bankruptcies.”