Three years ago, Andrew Kossowski left the corporate world behind to buy a metal finishing operation. This year, he is building himself a new one.
In 2020, Kossowski and his wife, Sydney, retired from their careers and decided to purchase DHS Enterprises in Clearwater, Florida. The 5,000-square foot facility — which they have renamed Veterans Metal — was an all-manually-operated finisher specializing in Type II anodize, Type I and II chem film, and Type 2, 6, and 7 stainless steel passivate.
This year, they are building from scratch a $2.6 million, 15,000-square-foot facility in Largo with nearly all new equipment and fixtures just a few miles down the road. Kossowski says it was time to modernize the operation.
“It’s a shop that is very long in the tooth, but it has great potential and a good customer following as well,” he says. “Those customers wanted more, but the previous owner really didn’t want more, and he was happy where it was. But I definitely want to take it to the next level.”
Using Top Finishing Equipment and Supply Houses
Taking it to the next level is a substantial understatement, as Veterans Metal Finishing has brought in numerous top finishing equipment and supply houses to help with the transformation of the new facility:
- Corrotec designed, engineered, and is installing the anodize and chem film line, as well as the waste treatment plant.
- ESMA is putting in the stainless steel passivate equipment with support from Best Technologies.
- Evoqua is in charge of putting in place a reverse-osmosis water system along with a DI System for the QA lab.
- PSA Laboratory Furniture is installing all the quality assurance lab essentials.
- Compressed Air Systems is putting in place a low-noise Kaeser Air Compressor.
- Servi-Sur supplies the titanium racks and custom frames, and Endura Racking has the titanium small-parts racking machine.
- SteelHead Technologies will be installing its software for quoting, scheduling, and traveler cards.
“It’s a 100% transformation,” Kossowski says. “We are not bringing one thing from the old shop to the new one. We are getting equipment coming in from eight states and also Canada.”
Which begs the question: aside from having a built-in customer base, why didn’t Kossowski just build a shop from the ground up instead of buying someone else’s company?
He says he and Sydney were looking for a business to run — possibly a machine shop based on his prior manufacturing background — and saw DHS Enterprises was available; metal finishing was something he had experience with during his career in the Air Force.
Becoming More Modern in a Bigger Space
And once they began working in the shop, they quickly realized the shop had far more potential than they realized, but that they would need to go into a more modern, bigger space.
“It’s not just the potential of the new equipment — or the efficiency factor — because time is money,” Kossowski says. “But we also talked to our customers and asked them what their growth plan looks like. It all pointed to building something bigger.”
He says he quickly realized the shop had very loyal customers, all with very strong contracts with the military contracts for parts; in fact, 80% of the parts the shop was doing were military. Kossowski actually sat down with each of them and looked at their potential, especially to get their feedback on what they needed from a finisher.
“Even though we are doing Type II anodized, now we’re also adding Type III into the new shop because our customers are saying, ‘We have a big demand for Type III, and we’re shipping it out of state,’” Kossowski says. “They asked, ‘Can you add it to your new shop?’ So we needed to make that happen.”
Kossowski has a history with the military and parts manufacturing. He is a decorated U.S. Air Force veteran with over 12 years of active duty service and several deployments, first as an Electro-Environmental Specialist with the 67th Aero Rescue and Recovery Squadron and later as a Developmental and Operational Tester in the manufacturing of the Boeing C-17 and E-8C aircraft.
After leaving the military, Kossowski worked as a senior executive in the telecommunication industry, rising up through the ranks to become Chief Information Officer for the third largest telco in the world. Sydney had an extensive career, too, working for many years in the banking industry.
But Veterans Metal isn’t Kossowski’s first stab at entrepreneurship; in 2016 founded a successful fintech startup where he served as its CEO and is now a board member. He holds a bachelor’s in Professional Aeronautics and a master’s in Computer Information Systems.
He was also recently voted into the Board of Directors for the Bay Area Manufactures Association.
Air Force, McDonald Douglas, and Boeing Veteran
While in the Air Force, he was part of the developmental test team for the C-17 aircraft, first for McDonald Douglas, which was eventually bought by Boeing. He says he got to see the first six planes built from the very first rivet, which got him interested in manufacturing and understanding mill specs.
“When I went into the corporate world, I sat behind a desk for almost 20 years, and I kind of wanted to go back and get my hands dirty again,” Kossowski says. “And so that’s why I was drawn to something in manufacturing, either actually making parts or finishing parts.”
When he first saw the DHS plating operation when he was doing his due diligence, he almost immediately knew that the manual operations needed to be modernized.
“Every part was being carried from tank to tank with two arms,” Kossowski says. “Waste treatment was zero discharge, and you had a lot of immersion heaters trying to evaporate liquid as quickly as possible. Of course, they were also trying to use a filter press to compress all the sludge and get all the liquid out of it, so it was more cost-effective.”
As part of the new building, Veterans Metal Finishing is investing approximately $200,000 in a new waste treatment plant that will go live in June. They will be able to discharge 5,000 gallons per day into the city treatment after having filed the lengthy application process.
“We feel our ROI will be realized quickly with improved results of processed parts,” says Kossowski, who adds that planning and implementation for a complete waste treatment plan that allows for discharge took no less than six months to a year to complete.
Vetting Vendors and Visiting Customers
When Kossowski began asking for RFQs from vendors, he wanted to make sure that the companies he selected to work with had a solid track record; they vetted those vendors and even visited several shops around the country to verify the references they had provided.
Going from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet will be a huge change, but also changing is the ceiling height — going from roughly 10 feet of headroom in the old shop to over 26 feet for the lifts and automatic operations to work smoother.
“It allows us to put a complete ‘super structure’ with hoist assemblies and tanks of various sizes of waste treatment,” Kossowski says. “The biggest tank is 4,000 gallons, and so it allows us to have that flexibility and also allows us to grow. With the old shop, we definitely took it to capacity. In the new shop — because of the efficiency and the size — we now have an 8x potential from the old shop.”
In addition to the new shop, Veterans is now working with plater Adtec II in Tampa on an initiative aimed at pooling each facility’s skills to increase the productivity, competitiveness, and efficiency of manufacturers that have embarked on the path to growth.
Both companies bring over 70 years of operations and provide over 20 different metal finishing services, including anodizing, electroplating, and wet paint. Adtec II specializes in numerous plating and barrel finishes; Veterans Metal specializes in anodizing. Both are Nadcap certified.
“Our ability to be a full-service and integrated solutions company requires taking a customer-first and technology-forward approach to all that we do,” says Chris Sorenson, Partner, and President of Adtec II. “Services on a larger scale require a new level of partnership. Our collaboration with Veterans Metal will accelerate this work and empower both our companies to provide quality services that are more efficient and scalable.”
One-Stop Shop for Drop Off, Pick-Up, and Invoicing
A primary objective of this alliance will be to offer their respective customers a one-stop shop for drop off, pick-up, and invoicing of their parts as opposed to having the additional cost and effort of using two separate suppliers.
“Adtec II has the expertise to support our current and future customer needs, along with the proven ability to innovate and expand, making them the perfect partner for us,” Kossowski says.
When the two firms announced their agreement in May to better service customers, Kossowski says the response from each company’s customers was overwhelming.
“In the first 10 days after we announced it, we haven’t stopped,” he says. “We’re trying to meet the demand; when we do chem film, then a lot of those parts get painted afterward. And masking is a big request, and we didn’t get that. But our partner does masking as well, and they just happen to be moving next door into another shop 50 feet from us. So, the timing couldn’t have been better for both companies.”
Kossowski admits that he is still relatively new to the day-to-day operations of the finishing operation — as well as some of the process operations, too — but his vast experience has allowed him to pick it up quickly, and he has also relied on the suppliers he is working with.
“We have some great suppliers who are very willing to coach me and mentor me,” he says.
One consultant he brought, Charlie WIlliams, for the waste treatment system has been doing it for 55 years; Kossowski says he eventually hired him part-time and as a mentor to others on the team, especially their new QA lab lead, Amelia Gustafson, who is currently attending college learning all about chemistry. In addition, Eric Hill was the consultant they brought in to help them get Nadcap for the first time.
From 6 to 14 to 20 Employees
The company has grown from six employees – including Kossowski and his wife — to 14 today as the shop gets ready to open its new facility. He expects to increase that to 20 employees by the end of 2023.
“The great thing is we have the capacity to go to two shifts or three shifts because of where we are and the nature of the equipment,” he says. “We also try to focus also on veteran support, too. Randy Wayand, our plant manager, is a Navy veteran, and Lionel Eubanks — our quality control manager and metal finisher for almost 30 years — is an Army veteran, and I’m an Air Force veteran, so we’re hoping to hire more veterans as we move forward.”
In fact, Wayand previously worked for a parts manufacturer where his specific job was working on getting parts to and from finishers, which Kossowski says will help him in his new job at Veterans Metal Finishing.
“I hired a plant manager not from the finishing industry but from the manufacturing world,” he says. “He’s been in manufacturing for 20 years, and his job was to not only produce the parts but work with finishers. I intentionally hired a plant manager who knew the customer’s pain points.”