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Faced with difficult times, local manufacturer Southern Fabrication Specialties expanded its product line to keep moving forward during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has been a part of the Waxahachie business community since opening as Southern Frac Tank Manufacturing in 2011.

Vice President Brian Bottelberghe said the company started out making products designed to serve the oil and gas industry exclusively. However, when the energy market started to fluctuate, changes were made to shore up the company’s future.

“We started as a frack tank suppler and originally built frack tanks and built anywhere from 25-40 frack tanks a week. Then in 2015, we got hit by when the oil and gas dropped. We decided then that we had to diversify,” Bottelberghe said. “We started building all of the other products, which are specialty trailers, shipping containers, modifying shipping containers into ground-level offices, chassis, custom tanks, and storm shelters. That has helped us to survive when other frack tank manufactures have gone by the wayside.”

Some of the high-quality steel products the company constructs are construction hoppers, storm shelters, chassis, specialty trailers, shipping container modifications, and prefabricated parts.

When the pandemic began affecting the city in March 2020, Southern Fabrication cut its production in half and sent half of its 60 employees home on a paid two-week furlough. As the pandemic progressed, 20 people were laid off in May 2020.

Doing a layoff was tough because “everyone is so close to one another,” Bottelberghe said, noting that most of the employees have been with the company since its start.

Although the office staff could work from home, the manufacturing employees continued their work on site.

“You can’t manufacture from home, so we didn’t miss a day most of us,” he said. “You just worry about bringing it how to your family or their family. The employees did a really good job of if they were sick or if they were exposed (to COVID-19). We were very fortunate (how manufacturing was able to continue). I have got to commend the employees for that.”

During 2020 and into this year, Southern Fabrication Specialties has seen a demand for ground-level office buildings as requested from its then parent company, General Finance Corporation, and its sister company Pac-Van.

The ground-level office buildings are made from shipping containers and were used during the pandemic as testing stations and a place for people to get their vaccines. They have walls that are easy to clean and disinfect and have restrooms built into them. They also have been used as construction trailers.  

In addition to building the office buildings, Southern Fabrication’s offerings helped a growing retail curbside brought about by the pandemic.

“One other product that we have done during the pandemic here is [due to] online orders increasing at the grocery store with curbside delivery,” Bottelberghe said. “We built several units; I think 15 units for one of the grocery stores. It allows the store to store all of the [orders] in there so they didn’t take their floor space at the store.

“We took a couple of shipping containers and made them into a huge storage area that is insulated,” he said. “It had the air conditioning in there and you could put a refrigerated unit in there also.”

Recently, United Rentals completed its acquisition of General Finance Corporation, which is an equipment rental company. It has an integrated network of 1,156 rental locations in North America and 11 in Europe.  

Bottelberghe sees a bright future for Southern Fabrication Specialties as it becomes part of the United Rentals family and noted that the company is hiring more people to its workforce.

“Business is back to normal, and we are working 12 hours a day because we can’t get enough people,” he said. “We have been doing that for about two months now. I plan to do it through the summer until we can get some more people hired.

“They are wanting us to build 60 of these units a month,” he said. “If I can build 60 then they want 120. I could double my capacity if I could find the employees. We are looking to hire around five to 10 a week if we could get them.”

The available positions include welders, painters, and those with a construction background among others; the company is also willing to train people.

Southern Fabrication Specialties is located at 1805 Howard Road in Waxahachie. Additional information can be found at www.southernfabricationspecialties.com.

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