Lenoir welder Dennis Spann makes a bet on his future

Mar. 26, 2013 @ 08:52 PM

About two weeks ago Dennis Spann took a leap of faith and moved his welding and manufacturing business out of a 40-by-60 shop behind his house to something with nearly 10 times the space —- a 20,000-square-foot industrial building at 511 Creekway Drive.

He notes wryly that every previous tenant of the building, behind Action Sign Creative, went out of business.

Maybe he’s just whistling past the graveyard when he says that, but he says he started out 11 years ago with just $1,400 in the bank, and he has put aside that amount so that if Spann’s Enterprises fails he at least won’t have lost any ground.

“I still don’t know if it was the right decision, but if I hadn’t tried, I’d never know,” he said.

For a man who makes his living working with metal, Spann has pretty big soft spots. When discussing the start and growth of his business — he has three employees and hopes to grow enough to hire five more over the coming year — he keeps deflecting credit to others. He especially credits the late Bill Abernethy, who had a welding business and was something of a mentor, and Bernhardt Industries, where Spann worked for several years in central maintenance and learned many skills by a kind of trial and error.

The seeds for his business were planted in 1994, when Spann bought a welder in order to build some four-wheeler racks for himself. Eventually he started repairing trailers, plows, almost anything made of metal.

Then a cousin asked him to build a dump bed for a truck. That was the first he ever made, but now custom beds are a cornerstone of his business. Regular customers for them include dealerships in Asheville, North Wilkesboro, Hickory and Charlotte, and he has had individual buyers from as far away as New Jersey.

“It’s a nice feeling to be on vacation and see a truck go by and it’s got your mud flaps on it,” he said.

But Spann emphasizes that he isn’t after just large projects. Sitting in the building’s work area on Monday was a trailer for carrying two Sea-Doo watercrafts — the trailer had a broken axle to be fixed. Spann stays open until 8 p.m. to make it easier for working people to stop by with such things, whether trailers, bulldozers, Bobcats or golf carts.

“We’re not just a manufacturer. We’ll work on anything they’ve got,” he said. “We’re after any kind of metal fabrication work we can get. … We try not to turn nothing down.”