Whole Shop Inc., a family-run fabrication company out of Tallmadge, Ohio, had humble beginnings in 1974 when a man by the name of Robert Clark started a small business drilling, tapping, and punching holes for local customers. “It was originally called H-O-L-E shop,” explains Jerry McClain, current company president. “All Mr. Clark did was drill and tap holes in his garage until he got a little bit bigger. Then they bought a building and started doing other things like metal stamping and wrought iron railing. At that point they changed the name to Whole Shop with a W, adding the slogan, ‘We Do the Whole Job’”.
McClain has worked at Whole Shop Inc. for 33 of the nearly 50 years the company has been in business. “At one point I’ve done every job in this shop except for welding,” he says. Whole Shop typically employs around 15-18 workers, and the company takes a very personal approach to garnering new business. “We’ve pretty much built this company on word of mouth sales,” McClain states.
After expanding out of the Clark’s garage, the company turned their focus to metal stamping before evolving into a full-blown laser cutting shop. “When I started, it was primarily a metal stamping shop focused on short run jobs,” says McClain. “Laser took over that because you didn’t have the initial expense of the tooling required to run a few thousand parts. When we bought our own laser, we had enough of our own product line to support it, and there were no other laser job shops in Northeast Ohio.” It wasn’t long after the purchase of their first laser cutting system that Whole Shop bought two more: “We got in early, bought one laser and within a year bought another used one, within two years bought a brand-new Cincinnati. We were doing pretty good.”
While these cutting systems had opened the door to many new opportunities for the company, Whole Shop discovered that lasers also had their limitations. “The first time we tried to cut copper on a laser it didn’t even scratch it,” remembers McClain. “Copper reflects an infrared beam about as well as anything can. I learned that the hard way; it bounced the beam straight back up to the laser and shut it right down.” Jerry also recalls turning away customers asking to cut thicker materials, stating that lasers work best when the material is less than ½” thick.
Looking to fill a manufacturing hole that the laser systems could not, Whole Shop decided to take the plunge by purchasing a small, used waterjet. This particular machine worked for a while but had a relatively limited cutting envelope. It wasn’t long before they decided that it was time for an upgrade, at which point a call was made to WARDJet to discuss options.
When asked about why they chose WARDJet, McClain pointed out the geographic relation between the two companies: “You’re right in my backyard!” With a history of doing business with local companies and less than a mile between Whole Shop and WARDJet, it was an obvious choice that didn’t take much deliberation.
In no time at all, Whole Shop had a brand-new Z-3043 waterjet cutting system complete with abrasive removal sitting on their production floor. With a cutting envelope of 10’ x 14’, the Z-3043 is the second-largest of the Z-Series waterjets. “We cut a lot of rubber mats for airplanes,” says McClain. “Some of these are often in fairly large sections which is why we went with a large machine.” While having the option to cut massive sheets of material, Jerry says that they are able to complete jobs involving very small workpieces as well. “One day it’s cutting plastic, the next day it’s cutting one-inch aluminum. Before when we got a quote for one-inch aluminum, we couldn’t do it. Now, we can; the waterjet has increased our overall capabilities.”
While Jerry no longer operates the machines himself, he says that his team picked up quickly on the WARDJet: “I think the new one was very easy to learn based on the feedback I got. It has a lot of great features that the old one didn’t, like part tracing and plate alignment.” He also states that, while Whole Shop has yet to require a service visit from WARDJet, the service team is one aspect of the business that stands out to him: “I’m impressed with the service technicians through talking to them. I haven’t had any history with them coming on site, but they have always been great to deal with.”
Whole Shop Inc. currently has over 250 active customers and an extremely diverse manufacturing repertoire. They produce anything from automotive parts to custom art installations, one of the most notable examples being the silhouettes on the Pro Football Hall of Fame bridge that overlooks I-77 in Canton, Ohio. A true “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” story, Whole Shop went from a garage business to one of the longest running, successful fabrication shops in the area after being in operation for nearly half a century. Jerry says that the quality of their work is one of the main reasons they’ve stayed in business for so long: “There’s a lot of competition, but when times are good like this we get more work than we know what to do with.”
For more information on Whole Shop Inc. or to schedule a quote, visit www.wholeshopinc.com or call 330-630-5305.
Photograph by Atyler 15, distributed under a CC BY 3.0 license.