Newburgh Manufacturer Cites Creativity And Fair business Practice With Job Growth
Posted in Manufacturing | Last Updated March 5, 2020
Martin (l) and Ethan (r) Kolt; brothers and co-owners of Active Ventilation
Creativity and fairness is growing Active Ventilation and creating jobs in Newburgh, N.Y.
Business is growing at Ethan and Martin Kolts’ sheet metal manufacturing plant in Newburgh, N.Y.
This year, the Kolts plan to manufacture new roof vent products which they will add to their already robust product lines.
This will amount to over 700 models of roof vents sold under the label Active Ventilation Products Inc. the Newburgh-based manufacturing company both brothers run.
Investing in new equipment
“We’re looking to buy new machinery to make new products,” Ethan Kolt says, “which will feature a pitched flange, something we have never offered before, and add pitched curbs and roof curbs. It deepens our line.”
After excitedly sharing this, Ethan reassures us:
“Nobody is passionate about roof vents. Nobody. If I was super excited about them myself, I’d find it weird.”
The thing is, though, Kolt IS passionate about roof vents, so much so that he was able to envision a strategy that helped he and Martin exponentially expand their family’s business.
Workers pose in front of Active Ventilation vents
How they did it
Creativity: seeing a market need.
It happened by way of observation.
A few years back, Ethan was at a trade show in Louisville, Kentucky.
The show featured high-end manufactured homes.
“The homes that they were showing were beautiful homes, you know, the industry has changed so much over the years, he says, “I’m looking at all the beautiful faucets and fireplaces and kitchens with iPads inside the panels, I’m looking at all the bells and whistles.”
Being a roof vent specialist, the obvious question that came to Ethan’s mind was, “ok so what’s on the roof?”
Beautiful homes; ugly roof vents; opportunity!
After strolling a long ways away from the main display area to a vantage point where he could see the backside of all the roofs.
Ethan noticed an aesthetic mess of vents of different sizes, different angles, and different materials.
Ethan figured out the bottom line of what it was costing home manufacturers to obtain various vents from various suppliers.
He reasoned if he could offer potential customers a one stop shopping opportunity, with a line of beautiful products he could offer convenience but also tremendous savings, plus aesthetics.
View of the factory floor
Delivering sales and working with production to make the product happen.
“I was bringing in millions of dollars in sales and I said to Martin, all right, you wanted the sales. I got them. You have to make this!.
“Martin has a gift. His gift is, he can make my vision work. We could figure it out, he could figure it out,” Ethan explained.
And, he did.
Resiliancy is the key to surviving market changes
The willingness to work together and the willingness to weather market changes while excercising acumen in pursuit of creativity, flexibility, and innovation, for Ethan, represents resiliency and takes a kind of genius.
“Every business owner who succeeds and survives several recessions, every owner, or person who can weather the storms, has that aspect of their personality. You know, a flash of genius. Each of these people, men, women, it doesn’t matter. Race, creed, religion, none of that matters.
“Flexibility is also key for sure.” He says.
Martin, who founded Active Ventilation in 1997, and Ethan, who joined him in 2002, now employ over 55 sheet metal fabricators.
Updating an old standard: a solar fan
Along the way, they have more or less re-invented the vent.
“We own patents. Martin does more of the engineering, but both of us invent.” says Kolt.
Their father, Stanley Kolt, is no longer involved but was an innovator in the ventilation world in his own right and the originator of the Aura Ventilator, which displaced the outmoded Turbine Ventilator within the round vent market.
Martin and Ethan have taken the concept to the next level with innovations that include a solar fan.
A Start on Clinton street
Active Ventilation got its start in a smaller building on Clinton Street with a handful of employees.
When that building was destroyed by a fire, the move to the 63,000 square foot First Street building, with its higher tax burden, made it necessary to scale up.
“The building forced us to make this a real company,” says Ethan. “We went from six people to over 50. So I came up with marketing ideas.”
Everything, from design to finishing, is done in-house; by its 21st anniversary (2018) the building contained “over 300 metal working machines, a full spinning department, a tool and die department, two powder coating departments.
Incredibly, Some WWII era equipment is still in service.
The head of the shipping department
Hiring the best people: how that happens
The importance of having a conversation
Before joining his brother in the family business, Ethan spent a good bit of time in Chicago in the hiring business. He learned a lot about how to guage a potential hire, what to look for in a person and how to screen.
When asked whether he believes in using the extensive, in person or online screening questions so popular today for finding the right talent, Ethan replies with an emphatic “no!”
Finding good talent not hard
He claims his interview style is successful and it all comes down to a conversational approach and shrugs off the popular notion that finding good talent is hard.
Ethan disagrees and emphasizes that you can find people and once the right candidate is found, they are trainable.
Once on board, he offers them a solid benefits package, a key, he says, to retention.
Attitude and willingness key
The key qualification for admission to the Active Ventilation meritocracy: attitude.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m looking for entry level, maintenance, or senior level, attitude is 98 percent of what gets you hired. A great work ethic.” says Kolt.
“Your IQ doesn’t matter; I’ve seen people who are not especially bright go far and I’ve seen bright people implode.”
People who get hired at Active Ventilation are, he says, often shocked at the old-school benefits package.
“When someone enrolls in our program at age 20, they’ll be set. People are amazed to hear this!”
Benefitting from a generous benefits package is a powerful incentive
“Employees with good attendance get three weeks vacation time their first year. When I say I care about people and that’s my passion, I put our money where my mouth is — that’s how we get and keep talent.”
“At AVP we have a 3 tier-ed health insurance plans offering, which include vision & dental through Empire Blue Cross & Blue shield. We provide a 7% match with our 401K plan plus and additional 3 % (which totals 10%) that is gifted even if a staffer does not put any money towards their 401K plan. This gifted 3% works as a pension plan for individuals who feel they can’t afford to put money aside towards their retirement.
Retire a millionaire!
“Staff members who are under 35 years of age will benefit the most from this pension. Some of our fiscally responsible personnel can retire here as a millionaire and for those who are closer to retirement age can take full advantage of the % we provide so that they can work aggressively towards financial security and freedom in their older age.”
Ethan says many of the workers at Active are area residents in Newburgh who can easily walk to work and who don’t need a car.
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