For Rick Nelson, getting into the gate-making business grew from a need to build a gate of his own, which he sold after completing it. More than a decade later, he still talks of what his own gate will look like once he builds it.
Nelson owns Ornamental Gate & Fence, in Mead, with his wife, Jeannette. He operates the business out of a roughly 2,500-square-foot shop on property he owns at 11901 E. Midway, a short distance from east Mount Spokane Day Road.
The company began operating in 1998 and builds custom gates and fencing for residential and commercial customers. Nelson says it also fabricates signs.
It has two full-time employeesa fabricator and an installer, in addition to the two owners, who also help in fabricating. He says it's also looking to hire two more full-time workers soon.
He says employees are licensed electricians, since gate installation typically involves electrical wiring.
"It's a vital part of doing these gates, having that electrical license," Nelson says.
Nelson says he previously worked at a pizza bakery here owned by H.J. Heinz Co. subsidiary Crestar Food Products Inc. before it went out of business in the late 1990s.
"I had a chance to move away or find something else," Nelson says, adding that he chose to start up Ornamental Gate & Fence.
Nelson says he's worked with metal in some form throughout his childhood, and continued doing so while working at Crestar Foods, where he had handled equipment assembly for the factory on occasion.
"I was good at the automation with the equipment, and had that artistic touch," adding he thought he could turn his love for metalwork into a business.
Since opening, the small company has built about 150 ornamental entryway gates. Nelson says it also services gates, and adds that during the spring when it sees more inquiries, it can receive about 10 service calls a day.
Servicing includes repairing electrical, mechanical, and communication components, and welding, he says.
Gates are constructed out of metal, wood, stone, and beveled glass for accent, Nelson says. The company began making three-dimensional gates about 10 years ago, he says, adding that it began by putting flowers and leaves into walkway gates and over time started putting such visual features in driveway gates.
"It's kind of bending the rules to see how far you can take something," Nelson says.
In addition to the more unique gate options, Nelson says the company also constructs regular metal powder-coated driveway gates.
Nelson says its customer base is split evenly between residential and commercial customers.
"We were swamped with gated communities until 2008," Nelson says, but when the recession hit, the company saw demand for its products drop. He says business has been picking up again slowly, and he's seeing more customers looking at gates for security purposes. Because of that security-focused trend, he says, the company is mulling adding a video surveillance component to its gates in the future.
Gates typically cost between $6,000 and $12,000, he says. The price of a gate depends on factors such as gate size, quality of the entry system, whether a telephone system is wired into the gate, acting as a call button to the house, and whether it includes keypad tracking systems that tracks when codes are entered. He says another available feature is vehicle detection loops that can be installed in the ground on either side of the gate. They operate similar to metal detectors, opening the gate when a car approaches or keeping the gate open while a car is in its path.
Nelson says on average it takes about a week to build a gate, but the overall process takes about four weeks from start to finish when factoring in the time needed for on-site installation.
He says gate posts are installed first, and vehicle detection loops are installed nextwhen orderedand covered with dirt and gravel. Gates are constructed at Nelson's shop and then transported on site once complete.
Ornamental Gate & Fence recently won a gold award from the National Ornamental & Miscellaneous Metal Association for nonforged gates and driveways, the second consecutive year the company took home gold for driveway gates, Nelson says.
This year's award-winning gate was a key-entry automatic gate built for Nelson's parents, who live in the Wandermere area north of Spokane.
The metal-and-wood gate features a replica of a 1941 Farmall tractor situated in the center of the gate, bordered by metal grass, with rock used as an accent. The gate also uses stained wood slates around the tractor centerpiece.
The tractor is a replica of one that has been passed down in the Nelson family from his grandfather. He says his dad wanted the tractor feature in the gate to be a two-dimensional metal image, but Nelson chose to construct a small-scale version of the family heirloom.
The prior gate for which the company won national recognition also was three dimensional. Constructed for a customer, that automatic gate was fabricated out of metal and features an older-style motorcycle with functional headlight and taillight situated between metal tree stumps and silhouetted in trees.
"It was for a guy who has collected vintage motorcycles for years, and I think they were pleasantly surprised with what they ended up with," Nelson says.
That gate was installed near Mica, Wash., south of Spokane Valley.
Nelson says although a majority of its customers have been located in the Inland Northwest, the company has fabricated gates for customers on the west side of the state, and in Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, and Nevada.
The company has been making metal signs since it opened, but Nelson says the gates are the focal point for the business. Ornamental Gate & Fence has made signs for Chief Garry Park in Spokane, and the Biltmore Apartments at 2525 E. 53rd, among others.
Nelson says of the three-dimensional gates or signs that he'd eventually like to fabricate, at the top of his list is a gate or sign for an excavation company with a backhoe bucket reaching over the front, and one featuring an older-model John Deere tractor.
"You can't make them for no reason at all," Nelson says of why he hasn't created them yet. "You have to wait for someone to call."
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