Driven by a growing market, Vance Metal Fabricators Inc. entered the beverage arena in the late 1990s, crafting custom tanks for breweries, wineries and distilleries. Today the firm has grown that footprint while continuing to diversify its offerings.
The company was founded 137 years ago as a boiler manufacturer. It has thrived through three different phases—boiler repair, building and construction stairways and original work for equipment manufacturers.
“We’ve transitioned over the years,” said Pat Farrington, marketing manager for Vance Metal Fabricators. “About 20 years ago we got involved in the tank market. Given that we were in fabrication work already, we thought it was a logical fit.
“The word got out that we were doing that work here in the Finger Lakes, and the business has grown to tanks in 20 states.” Vance also does business in Canada.
Helping clients in the beverage space required the company to adapt, Farrington says.
“There was certainly a significant learning curve,” he said. “But we had great support from people at Fox Run and Anthony Road (wineries) and local customers. We were already doing that skillset—welding, which is the core competency of building tanks.
“Our goal and emphasis has been to grow the beverage business. We’ve done some work with tanks for vinegar, and a growing emphasis is on food and dairy,” he added.
Vance Metal Fabricators employs 70 people in Geneva in a 68,000-square-foot facility on 18 acres at 251 Gambee Road. The company is employee-owned with 24 employee-owners today.
The challenge has been international competition. Companies in other parts of the world have material and labor prices that are tough to compete with.
“We certainly compete with overseas manufacturers, and turnkey material pricing and labor in a place like China plays significantly with that,” Farrington said.
The quality of those competitors does not compare to Vance, says Dave DeFisher, owner of Rootstock Ciderworks—a farm distillery in Williamson, Wayne County, and a client of the company since 2011.
“It’s always very tempting in this business to try and buy the cheaper tanks—the imported ones from Slovenia or other countries— but the quality difference and the gauge of the steel—there’s just no comparison,” he said. “Vance has it on all of them.”
The farm cidery has 16 tanks made by the company.
“I’m really big on keeping things local, keeping things USA-made; it’s very important to our company,” DeFisher said. And Vance has been overwhelmingly incredible when it comes to customer service. They’re patient, they’re willing to wait, (and) they’re willing to work with us on special things we need made on the tanks.”
Another challenge for Vance is the workforce. Welders are not easy to come by, Farrington says.
“It’s getting more and more difficult as the workforce is aging out,” he said. “We’re able to take advantage of some of the technical programs. You’re seeing people that are going to school and accruing a lot of debt. We would love to be able to find more people as we continue to grow—people with those skillsets.”
Jim McDermott, director of brewing at Rohrbach Brewing Co., has worked with Vance for years. Today the company is helping McDermott update the brewery.
“We continue to partner with Vance because of the quality of their work, their customer service and the value of what they provide,” McDermott said. “Vance has worked with us from the design stage up to delivery, and we’ve never had to take something off the shelf that didn’t work for us. They’ve hit the promised deadlines and have produced quality tanks for us, so we’re very happy.
“If our experience is any indicator, they take good care of their customers and provide a high-quality product for a fair price. To me, that’s a recipe for success,” he added.
The company has evolved by embracing changes and staying relevant with technology. Today Vance Metal Fabricators looks very different from how it looked years ago but has kept the same core: a desire to serve the customer.
“For a company of 70 people, technologically we’re very advanced in what we’re doing, and that has allowed us to be competitive in a very competitive market,” Farrington said. “People don’t have to source fabricated equipment or tanks outside of this area. They have a local source that can provide everything they need from a brew system to a welded component for their products.”