Midwest Fence and Manufacturing: Carrying on the Legacy of Quality
Thomas Corrigan Sr. was born and raised on a farm in Rosemount, Minn., where he loved farming and planned to take over the family farm from his father. As Corrigan Sr. was the only boy in a family of six children, his father relied greatly on his help to run the farm.
However, Corrigan Sr. got sick every winter and for several years the doctors couldn’t figure out the cause. They thought it was allergies connected to something seasonal like Christmas trees. Finally, he was diagnosed with an allergy to cows. Since the cows were out to pasture in the summer months he was fine, but when they were in the barn during the winter months, the concentration of livestock caused him to get sick.
Eventually, he left the family farm and tried his hand at several jobs, from working in a plant that manufactured lawn mowers to selling insurance. He didn’t enjoy any of these occupations and wasn’t happy.
Around the time when World War II broke out, Corrigan Sr. had a revelation. He knew that most U.S. steel production was allocated to the war effort for military equipment and supplies, including weapons, ammunition and combat vehicles. Domestic steel products were in short supply, leaving farmers in dire need of items such as steel posts, fence, barbed wire, hog panels, corn silos, and steel siding and roofing for pole storage buildings. He knew exactly what the farmers needed; he just had to figure out how to get it to them.
Armed with a selection of barn-building materials, steel products, horse fence, barbed wire and fence gates, in 1947, Corrigan Sr. launched Midwest Fence and Manufacturing Co.
He first bought a piece of land near the South St. Paul stockyards to store his wares. He sold the materials out of a car and kept his cash box in the trunk. Farmers from across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa traveled to the South St. Paul stockyards to sell their livestock. After they’d emptied their trucks of barnyard creatures, they would purchase much-needed fencing materials from Midwest Fence and Manufacturing Co.
By the 1950s, the supplier was on the cutting edge of the fencing materials market, introducing a product to the region that customers soon fell in love with–the residential chain link fence.
“In the ‘50s, the first rings of suburbs were developing,” says the founder’s son, Thomas (Tom) Corrigan Jr., who is Midwest’s current President and CEO. “Guys were building homes and needed fences to keep their babies safe and their dogs inside the yards.”
Though the company already had an established reputation in selling and installing chain link fencing, Corrigan Sr. went on to develop a new product line that would eventually take the country by storm. The idea was spurred by one of his installers who was putting in a special fence for a customer that wanted a fenced-off sleeping space for the family dog.
“Our company invented the first pre-panelized dog kennel in this market,” Corrigan Jr. says. “We came up with the style and design.”
Lessons From the Leader
Corrigan Jr., his brothers and all their friends began working for his father after school and during the summers.
“It was a fun job,” Corrigan Jr. recalls. “We were young kids. We’d work Saturdays and in the evenings after school and all day during the summer. We’d get to drive a forklift. It was the perfect job for a young guy.”
Corrigan Jr., who learned about the fencing industry and how to run a company from his father, had found his calling. Some of his knowledge was gained through conversations with his dad, but most of it was acquired simply by working beside Corrigan Sr.
“We worked side by side until the day he died,” Corrigan Jr. says.
Corrigan Jr. took the lessons he learned from his father and expanded the business, all the while holding to the patriarch’s core values of being honest, using the highest-quality materials and putting the customer first. Today, Midwest serves as one of Minnesota’s oldest and largest fencing companies.
To ensure the highest quality of service and products, Midwest inverts the business model of typical fencing supply distributorships. Where many other companies order based on projects—which creates delays—Midwest orders the highest-possible quality materials and stores them until a project calls for them. This ensures every customer receives the best product without excess markup.
“My dad’s motto years ago used to be, ‘You get the best for less at Midwest,’” Corrigan Jr. says. “That’s what we try to do. We may not always be the cheapest, but everything we sell is the best we can find, which keeps us competitive in this market.”
For instance, Midwest builds quite a few six-foot-tall privacy fences. It is one of the few companies that insists on using clear board because it is the highest-grade material for this type of application and has no knots.
Comparatively, he says that other companies usually only specify red cedar because it is a less-costly material. While Midwest also offers this building material option, it’s the only fence company in the country that takes the extra step of pressure-treating all red cedar posts without increasing the cost to the customer, notes Corrigan Jr.
Moving Into Commercial Success
In the 1970s, Midwest began crossing into building fences for government agencies, businesses and civic organizations. That process began with jobs on athletic fields, parking areas and tennis courts. Soon, the team was constructing fences for government buildings and ornamental fencing for commercial properties. Under Corrigan Jr.’s leadership, the number of commercial projects has grown exponentially.
To best meet the needs of customers, the company has also diversified its offerings to include alternative types of fencing, such as vinyl, ornamental iron, wood and most recently composite.
Midwest’s storied history, along with Corrigan Jr.’s earnest desire to serve each customer in the best possible way, fosters loyalty with customers. Generations have returned again and again to Midwest for fencing products.
Many of the employees at Midwest have worked there 20, 30, even 40 years. They’re a family that cares about each other and the customers they serve, notes Corrigan Jr. When customers call on Midwest, they often encounter the same employees they worked with before and grew to trust.
Sales Manager Steve Wilson says, “This isn’t just a job. We get to the Christmas party and see the roster and it’s amazing how long the employees have worked here—from the sales team to the installers to the office staff.”
“We are very proud of the satisfied customers we’ve had over the years,” Corrigan Jr. says. “We’re proud of our reputation. We’re proud that the torch has been passed to us and the goal is to do even better going forward.”
He adds, “We have the most experienced workforce in the Twin Cities area, and the proper equipment. Our customers know that they’re going to get an excellent product with excellent installation at a competitive price.”