Masters of metal

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

 

They’ve been mastering this skill for nearly 50 years, ever since Kenneth and Barbara Carr established a metal fabrication shop in 1970 in Lebanon, Mo. They named their company Carmeco—an amalgamation of Carr Metal Company—and began making agricultural equipment in a 6,000-square-foot facility. Today, Carmeco has grown to nearly 100,000 square feet and handles a wide range of metal products, from appliance components to semi-trailer parts.

Both Kenneth and Barbara have passed away, but their descendants carry on Carmeco. Their son, Jeff, his wife, Janet, and their sons, John, Jared and Joe, run the company.

“This is all I’ve ever known,” said John. “This place started before I was born, and I grew up here—my brothers did, too. All we know is how to make things out of metal.”

Joining the family business full time in 2000 after college, John is the company’s chief visionary officer and has helped expand Carmeco’s identity as a “job shop”— manufacturing metal products for others—to include self-contained businesses of its own. In 2003, the Carr family branched out and bought Osagian Canoes, a popular brand of aluminum watercraft, which are now made in Carmeco’s Lebanon facility.

“My brothers and I decided we needed to diversify because we’d lost some business to China, and we wanted to have control over a product that we owned,” John said. “Since then, we’ve gotten a lot more productive and gotten some of that business back, but we’re still looking for other ways to grow the company.”

In 2006, Carmeco returned to its agricultural roots when the family purchased a bulk feed bin business, TOBB Products, from its owner, Steve Ennis. The product line was the perfect fit for Carmeco, John said. Not only was the factory outfitted to handle the fabrication, but the Carrs also raise cattle and know firsthand the positives and pitfalls of feeding equipment. They started a cow/calf operation 25 years ago, and the brothers and their dad recently partnered in purchasing another 330 acres adjacent to family land. They are removing timber and renovating pastures with plans to expand their beef operation, which currently numbers 60 head.

“The gentleman who was making the product wanted to get out of the business and approached us with an opportunity to buy his company,” John explained. “We knew we could make these bins. We had the equipment, and it was something that interested us as farmers ourselves. We understand that when it comes time to feed livestock, farmers need to be fast and efficient. And we know that they’re always looking for ways to save some money.”

TOBB products fill a niche between small-scale producers with only a few head of livestock and large cattle operations, John said. Stationary bulk bins are available in capacities of one, two, three and five tons along with two-ton and three-ton portable models.

“I know farmers are looking for ways to save money wherever possible,” he said. “We fill a need for producers who want to buy feed in bulk at a lower cost per ton but don’t have enough head to need a great big grain bin. They can safely store their feed in our bins and take advantage of price breaks when they can. Plus, it saves the waste and hassle of dealing with feed bags.”

After acquiring TOBB and bringing the manufacturing process in house, Carmeco adapted the design to make it easier to manufacture, which helped with quality issues, John said. For example, Carmeco’s team added flanges to the edges of the steel components to streamline the welding process. And they listened to customer feedback and devised a convenient handle that allows the lid to be opened from the ground rather than having to climb to the top of the bin.

TOBB bins are not only made in Missouri, they’re made almost entirely with Missouri materials, from steel to tires, John said. It’s a point of pride for the company and for MFA Incorporated, which officially added TOBB Products as a Farm Supply vendor in February 2017. MFA and its affiliates are the main Midwest distributors for the product line.

“Given TOBB’s location in south central Missouri, their affordable prices and quality of product produced, it was a no-brainer for us to grow a relationship with them to better service our stores and producers,” said Eric Allen, MFA farm supply product manager. “The folks at TOBB Products are very easy to work with and keep customer service to a high standard.”

This customer-centric focus helps set TOBB apart from the competition, said Sales Manager Kris Deitz.

“Simply put, we take care of our customers,” Kris said. “We take pride in manufacturing quality products that serve their needs, and we stand behind those products.”

Bins are made of 14-gauge and 16-gauge steel and feature an all-welded construction to contribute to their longevity. Portable models are designed with full axles and leaf-spring suspension for smoother hauling.

“TOBB bins are built to last, but they’re not over-built,” Kris said. “There’s a balance between manufacturing it to be quality while also making it affordable. That’s why you see competitive pricing on TOBB products.”

All the bins are painted in standard colors such as gray, blue, red and green, and they can also be custom-painted upon request.

“We’ve had farmers who wanted a bin to match their barn and distributors who wanted a specific color to match their logo,” Kris said. “That’s another way to be a leader in customer service—give the customers what they want.”

The company’s 55 employees also embody that spirit of customer service, John said. Monthly small group meetings allow the staff to share concerns and ideas with management to not only improve the work environment but also the products.

“We want employees to be involved in the process because they are the ones making these products every day,” he said. “We feel like we have the best employees in the world, and they tend to stay around here awhile. As a matter of fact, we have a gentleman, Glen Mebruer, who’s worked here for 48 years. He was the first non-family employee, so he’s been with us from Day 1.”

In 2016, Carmeco expanded the TOBB line to include creep feeders with 162-bushel capacity. Other products are in the planning stages, John said, including metal bunk feeders and a smaller pull-behind bin designed for an all-terrain vehicle. The proverbial wheels are always turning, he said, looking for the next niche for his family’s company.

“One of our goals for Carmeco is to get into other product lines or create something we can manufacture that makes feeding cattle easier or saves money for farmers,” John said. “We’re working toward taking the business to the next level. Between me and my brothers, we have 10 children, and we want there to be a future here for at least some of them.”

For more information on TOBB bins, talk with the farm supply specialists at your MFA Agri Services or AGChoice location, or visit online at www.tobb.biz.

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