JR Custom Metal stays true to Wichita roots during expansion

When JR Custom Metal Products was considering plans for a new powder coat paint facility, a city in Oklahoma attempted to lure it away from Wichita.

The response from the company’s brain trust: Thanks, but no thanks.

“Wichita is our home, and these are our roots,” said Patty Koehler, president and CEO of the family-run company. “It makes us feel proud when we have an opportunity to help our community move forward by expanding and creating jobs.”

JR Custom, which specializes in custom manufacturing and metal fabrication, recently announced plans for the 24,000-square-foot paint structure. It will sit adjacent to its complex on land the company already owns in southwest Wichita.

The company plans to break ground later this month or in early May and hopes to have the approximately $5.3 million facility open by the end of the year. It is expected to add up to 20 full-time jobs in the next five years.

Koehler said there was an attempt to persuade JR Custom to build the paint facility in Oklahoma, though the family couldn’t see leaving the city where the company was founded in 1974.

“We were offered land to go there,” Koehler said. “It came down to our principles. We decided we needed to stay here.

“This expansion has always been in our plans. In our strategic plan from 2001, we identified a need for a powder coat facility because some of our customers require powder coating, which we have always outsourced. We want to be able to give our customers a completed product from start to finish.”

Powder coating is a type of finish that is applied via spraying powder on a metal surface instead of using liquid paint. The company’s customers include some of the most recognizable brands in the region and beyond, including Koch Industries, Siemens and Excel Industries.

Today, JR Custom employs 135 people at its fabrication facility at 2237 S. West St. Court, which was built in 1998. Hutton Construction will build the new facility.

Family ties

Four siblings – including Patty Koehler and sales and marketing specialist Jorge Martinez – work together to run the company, which was founded by the late Jesus Raul Martinez Sr. out of his garage.

Initially, much of the work the company did was for the meat packing industry, though that has changed over time. Today, JR Custom makes products targeted to a number of industries, including agriculture, aviation, construction and energy.

“As we’ve grown, we’ve grown different sectors of the business,” Martinez said. “We’ve always been a company that’s tried to stay up with technology, and this paint facility will have the latest technology out there. It’s going to be one of the leading powder coat facilities in the Midwest.”

As the Martinez siblings have grown the business, Patty Koehler said a plan to involve the family’s “third generation” more in the company’s management has taken shape. Part of that plan is for Eddie Koehler, Patty’s son, to manage the paint facility.

In this family-run operation, however, nothing is handed out. Patty Koehler said all the necessary training and professional development needs to take place before leadership positions are assigned.

Since expressing an interest to run the paint facility, Eddie, 32, has been under the tutelage of his uncle Jorge, learning, watching and waiting, Patty Koehler said.

“Our grandfather started the business, but the real growth came from the second generation,” Eddie Koehler said. “Seeing all the sweat equity and the the hard work that went into it, there were times when they sacrificed for the good of the business.

“As kids growing up, we had to realize that they had to take time to grow the business. Following the second generation, we have some big shoes to fill, but we have some of the best teachers to show us the way.”

Until the new building goes up, Eddie Koehler will continue in his role as the company’s maintenance and safety coordinator.

More expansion possible

Earlier this month, the Wichita City Council approved a letter of intent to issue up to $5.3 million in industrial revenue bonds for construction of the paint facility.

As part of the agreement over the issuing of the bonds and past tax abatements tied to other expansion projects, the city will require JR Custom to employ at least 188 people in Wichita by the end of 2021.

Martinez said the addition of the new building will likely allow for more expansion opportunities in the future.

“A lot of our current customers have expressed an interest in us doing this,” Martinez said. “There’s some excitement out there about where this could lead us.

“For our third generation, they’re going to have skin in the game now.”

As the half-dozen members of the company’s so-called third generation continue to grow into positions of leadership, Martinez said the possibilities are virtually limitless for JR Custom in Wichita in the coming years.

“We think it’s been good here in Wichita,” Martinez said. “We need to continue to work with other companies to find out why some leave. It’s easy for a big city to flash money and try to recruit companies.”

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said JR Custom helps show what can be accomplished in Wichita.

“We are pleased to have homegrown companies expand and experience success as JR Custom has experienced,” Longwell said. “It provides a great example for others and confirms that small companies have tremendous value to the economic health of our city.”

JR Custom Metal Products

Address: 2237 S. West St. Court

Phone: 316-263-1318