25 Years of Mechanical System Fabrication
Shinn Mechanical fabricates mechanical systems for the commercial and industrial markets in the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. This consists primarily of piping, plumbing, fire protection, wastewater, fuel, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Shinn serves a variety of markets including aviation/aerospace, industrial, municipal, education, and healthcare and provides its fabrication services to other contractors in the area.
Mike Shinn founded the fabrication company in November of 1994. The company began to see success almost immediately, and rapid initial growth set a trend that has continued. “Basically, I left my other employer on a Monday, started my company on a Wednesday, got a job on a Friday, and I had ten guys working by the next Monday. My first job was a $3.5 million job, labor only, and that was twenty-five years ago,” says the president and chief executive officer of Shinn Mechanical.
To celebrate the milestone of a quarter of a century in business and show its gratitude to the workers who have helped build it into a leader in its region, the company hosted a large party on November 22, 2018. Customers, employees, and their families were all invited to attend, and the event was a huge success.
Located in Kent, Washington, Shinn has approximately one hundred employees working in the field and twenty-five administrative employees working at its headquarters. Mike earned his stripes in the piping trades, and as a result of that background, his leadership style is rather unique. “I’m trade-oriented, and a lot of my people are tradespeople also, so we kind of think differently than most people,” he explains. “We learn by hard knocks, so hopefully, we don’t make the same mistake twice.”
Shinn has grown upwards of two percent each year since its inception, even throughout the 2008 recession, and in the last two years, it has experienced a growth rate closer to twenty percent. Growth may have been constant, but according to Mike Shinn, it is not the only goal. The most important thing is providing the best service.
“Our goal isn’t to be the biggest. Our goal is to be the best, and if the best is the biggest, then that’s okay. That’s my motto. A lot of my competitors want to be the biggest, but they don’t want the structure, so I want to have the structure in place, and that’s my goal. You have to be organized,” says Mike.
The Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) recognized Shinn Mechanical in 2008 with the E. Robert Kent Award for management innovation. This award recognized its efficient solutions to the challenges that arise in fabricating mechanical systems. Shinn has also been awarded safety excellence awards for its commitment to keeping employees and customers safe.
The founder of Shinn Mechanical gives back to the community by investing in the local sporting teams and hosting fundraising events to raise money for charities. However, he has also gone above and beyond for particular causes.
Mike is now a retired member of the board of directors for the MCAA, after six years. The MCAA sets the standard for all mechanical contractors in the country, and it presents various conventions and courses to help develop the industry. Part of Mike’s mission on the board was to support other contractors with the knowledge and experience he had gained over the years. During his time on the board, he had a part in developing the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry’s (UA) Veterans in Piping (VIP) program. This apprenticeship program is geared toward military veterans looking for employment after completion of their service.
Companies throughout the United States that depend on skilled workers are struggling with a shrinking labor pool. However, Shinn Mechanical has found a way to work around this issue. As a union organization, the company can draw on a consistent supply of certified, well-trained workers. Also, the company always aims to grow from within and invests in its people by training them properly through apprenticeships, nurturing their education, and supporting their career paths. In return, those workers care about what they do, and that translates to better value for the customer. Doing the best it can for customers is central to Shinn Mechanical’s approach.
Shinn Mechanical focuses on employee satisfaction because Mike believes that a positive attitude leads to increased productivity. “You don’t want work to run you. You want to enjoy it and have fun with what you’re doing, and you want that atmosphere to roll off to your workers. Because everybody has to work, so you might as well have fun doing what you’re doing. I just think that makes you more successful,” says Mike.
Integrity guides Shinn Mechanical in its business operations. “We do quality work, and no matter what the cost for us is, we always do the job. Even if we might have made an error on a bid, we’ve never pulled a bid on a job ever. We’ve always done the job at the price we bid to, and that’s important to me,” says Mike.
Shinn Mechanical has developed strong relationships with a network of suppliers throughout the region. The ongoing support of these subcontractors and vendors has been key to the company’s continued success and growth. Whether it be pipe suppliers, steel suppliers, hardware suppliers, insulation subcontractors, or equipment representatives, Shinn knows that it can rely on its vendors to deliver, no matter what.
The experience of the people at Shinn Mechanical is a significant factor that has enabled it to stand apart and provide customers with substantial cost-saving insights that other companies cannot offer. Contractors without the hands-on experience of trades are not as capable of envisioning the potential issues that might arise during a project.
“Being that I’m a pipefitter and I have a lot of my other key people are pipefitters that work for the company, we think about things like an installer would, so it makes us more competitive,” says Mike. “We’re working the jobs as efficiently as possible, and by doing that, we prefab more than anybody.”
The team fabricates between sixty and seventy percent of the mechanical systems for customer projects in their shop in Kent before installation. Building all the components on-site is not a practical use of time, so to increase productivity, Shinn Mechanical prefabricates as much as possible. The company uses innovative technology and tools to improve the efficiency of its services, as well. It uses a water jet cutting machine, an industrial device that employs a high-pressure jet of water to cut through many types of materials.
Contracting services are provided throughout western Washington along the I-5 corridor, though Shinn fabricates products that can be distributed anywhere in the United States. The company targets the complex projects and avoids the cookie-cutter type of work that requires less talent and skill as it is made up of people who enjoy learning. They appreciate the chance to improve their craft by exploring solutions to new problems with each complicated project that comes along.
The Seattle region is thriving with more tower cranes than any other place in the United States, and this activity has created a demand for construction services in the area. In all of North America, the only city with more tower cranes than Seattle is Toronto, Ontario.
“You’ve got the airplane companies here. You’ve got the rocket ship companies here. You’ve got Amazon. There are a lot of companies that base their operations from Seattle or have a big presence here,” says Mike.
Shinn Mechanical’s journey has been filled with accomplishments, and it is in the process of developing a succession plan to ensure it continues that trend. “We made it twenty-five years; now let’s go for another twenty-five,” says Mike. “I might not see the next twenty-five years, but at least I can say we’ve had a successful first twenty-five.”