Fabenco safety iron gates
Houston-based Fabenco was founded in 1965 by Hardy LaCook and Donald Henderson, a businessman who earlier had established Central Iron Works. Fabenco now is run by LaCook's son, David, who serves as president. Over the past 40 years the company has produced an array of fabricated metal products for various industries, from ornamental iron for home construction to guardrail and highway posts for freeways. For most of that time, the company has also produced a self-closing safety gate, which is now Fabenco's chief product. The gate can be used where there are unprotected openings on platforms, catwalks and mezzanines. Fabenco says buyers of its gates include Exxon Mobil, General Mills and Union Carbide.
David LaCook recently talked about the company
Over the years we have done all kinds of stuff. The company originally started with a dealership for Armco, a big steel company, and also had done flood control projects. My father had gotten a patent for a little levee gate for use in rice fields, where water flows from one to another. That is what started the company, but it didn't do very well. In 1968, we got into building pressure vessels for chemical companies, the kind of things you see along the Ship Channel, as well as Corps of Engineers flood control projects. Because of that investment, after OSHA came into being in 1971 and said, "You are not supposed to put chains across ladderways," one company came to us and said, "We need a gate." My father invented the Fabenco self-closing safety gate for use atop platforms and ladderway openings, and it satisfies an OSHA requirement. We invented that industry, and that is what we still do today.
During the late '70s early '80s, we got off into building equipment for natural gas production. It was when the bottom fell out of the energy industry in the mid-1980s, we started putting more focus on the safety gate, advertising regularly and promoting it. It really took off in the late '80s and '90s and as we put more focus on the gate. That is what keeps us busy. One interesting thing about the product, even though my dad invented it, he never thought it would amount to anything. This year we will sell unit number 300,000. Since 9/11, there has been a lot of focus on security, but it seems to be switching back to the safety side, so we have seen business pick up very rapidly.
Our customer base is generally the Fortune 500 and anybody who builds facilities for them. Any industrial product where you have a change in elevation in work surfaces. You climb a tower in a chemical plant, you will find our product. They are in the South Texas Project nuclear power plant; they are down at the Johnson Space Center at some of their facilities; they are at Cape Canaveral. Agencies of the government use them. Right after 9/11 we had a call for a couple of gates on a piece of equipment going to Afghanistan. Just think of a place where people climb up ladders to do some work.
We sell about 20,000 units a year with a dedicated work force through a culture that Don Henderson started with Central Iron Works. That culture is that if you take good care of employees, they will take good care of the company. One of the things I am proud of is with the 20 employees we have today, at least half of us are second-generation.
May 26, 2005=HOME