Hampton Sheet Metal, Inc.: Opportunity and craftsmanship

Clifford G. Casey (seated) recently retired after 43 years, having worked with all three Hampton Sheet Metal owners. Roy Croswell demonstrates a lesson that his mentor Ronald T. Nelsen taught him, “He used to hold out his hands and say, ‘What do you see’ and you could say an empty hand, but he would say, ‘that’s opportunity, you just have to see it.’” (Photos by Karen Eure Wilson)

Sheet metal and stainless steel don’t traditionally bring about feelings of welcome, warmth and teamwork. But, Hampton Sheet Metal, Inc. forges beyond the traditional ideas of industrial and construction work to create spaces, embellish familiar places and cultivate long-standing relationships with its people and the customers they serve.

The company was founded in 1978 by Richard Roberson and was incorporated in Hampton as Hampton Sheet Metal Works, Inc. The shop primarily focused on heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems. In 1979, Roberson relocated the business to Newport News. In 1981, the company began offering custom manufacturing of specialty items from stainless steel and aluminum. He sold the company shortly thereafter to Ronald T. Nelsen.

Linda Block, Hampton Sheet Metal vice president, comes into the office daily via this monitor — from her home in Arizona.

In 1982, Nelsen incorporated the business as Hampton Sheet Metal, Inc. and made specialty manufacturing the company’s focus. Linda Block, company vice president, was there from the start of Nelsen’s tenure. She and Nelsen had known each other for years through their work together at Riggins Company in Hampton.

“When he, (Nelsen), was getting ready to buy Hampton Sheet Metal, he asked me if I would be a second hand to help run it and I agreed,” recalls Block. She has been with the company for 38 years. From keeping the books, to working as treasurer and secretary, to meeting customers, she smiles over her unofficial titles of enforcer and gatekeeper.

As gatekeeper, she still remembers the day in 1998 when a young man named Roy Croswell walked into the shop, who years later would become the third owner of the business. Smiles Block, “I remember the day this fresh-faced kid stepped into the office looking for a job. His great attitude, his willingness to learn and his desire to make the most of the opportunity to work here was great.”

Croswell was a young Gloucester native who enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school. He was stationed in California and worked as a sheet metal fabricator. While there, he met and married his love, Carmen. Following his four-year enlistment, they decided to move closer to home and ended up in Hampton Roads.

A newspaper job advertisement for a sheet metal fabricator lured Croswell to the Hampton Sheet Metal Company where he was interviewed, tested and hired on the spot by Nelsen. A year later, Nelson offered him a project management position. While first hesitant, he saw the opportunity and took the position.

“At first, I was a little nervous because I had never done sales, or any type of management, but I figured it was a good opportunity so I took him up on that and it turned out to be a good decision,” says Croswell with a smile. His acceleration from first working in the shop welding, cutting and bending metal to the front office designing and drawing parts, meeting with customers and managing processes from concept to delivery was fast but not surprising.

Croswell viewed Nelsen as a mentor. “He taught me so much about business and his philosophies on business. I say he has the Midas touch and I tried to soak up what he taught me like a sponge,” recalls Croswell.

Croswell bought the company in 2010 from Nelsen and they remain close friends to this day. As the current owner and general manager, Croswell continues to follow Nelsen’s advice to try to be as valuable to as many people as possible and to always have a broad base. Now at nearly 22 years since he first walked through the doors, he still enjoys the work and has no regrets.

“There’s so much variety. I can be working on a prototype for a part that may be used by NASA one day, to the next day fixing someone’s lawn mower blade,” Croswell says. “I never know what I’ll see on a daily basis and I enjoy that. We can be working on ships one day and handrails the next.”

One of their most touching projects was making baby tables for the burn unit at Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters. They made small, shallow baby tables with curves to help reduce the suffering of injured newborns.

Thousands of people unknowingly see work done by Hampton Sheet Metal on a daily basis. Its stainless steel also shines in places like Panera Bread, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Busch Gardens and even on ornate fixtures positioned at neighborhood entrances like the one it created at Huntington Pointe on Denbigh Boulevard.

As one of the Peninsula’s premier custom metal manufacturers, Croswell and Block fully recognize and respect the team effort that it takes to build and maintain the company’s reputation of superior work by a superior team. In addition to the new customers that they receive, their number of repeat customers remains a steady flow of satisfied customers. Says Block, “If you have returning customers, it means you are doing your job well and you’re keeping your customers happy.”

Block worked onsite from the Hampton office for 30 years and after her husband Wayne retired, they moved to Arizona because they are big baseball fans. She’s lived in Arizona for nearly eight years and continues to manage the company through Skype. To remain in synch with East Coast Standard Time, she begins her workday at 4:30 am, Mountain Standard Time, where she welcomes guests as they enter the Hampton office and conducts business 4,500 miles away.

The admiration and respect that Croswell has for Block and for all his employees is evident. “As the owner, I’m the one that’s often recognized but it’s my guys in the shop doing the work, and I really am proud of what they do.” He pauses, “This place will outlive me and I hope to leave a good mark.”

Hampton Sheet Metal, Inc.
Address: 509 Muller Ln.,  Newport News, VA 23606
Phone: 757-249-1629, ext. 301
Contact: Linda Block, vice president
Email: lblock@hamptonsheetmetalinc.com
Website: www.hamptonsheetmetalinc.com

About Karen Eure Wilson 28 Articles
Karen Eure Wilson is a mother, an evangelist, entrepreneur, print journalist, author, speaker and broadcast producer. She entered the world of journalism as a mass media major at Hampton University and honed those skills as a public affairs specialist at Fort Eustis and Langley AFB. In this "second season" of her life, she has coined the term "DIP" (deliberate, intentional and protective) as her map for navigating the adventures and opportunities that lie ahead. Karen wrote for the Oyster Pointer for three years, 2010 - 2013, and happily returns to help highlight the great people and programs of Newport News and the surrounding area.

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