A Cut Above the Rest
Craftsmanship and Caring Make Good Neighbors
When it comes to fencing projects, quality in every step of the process—from manufacturing to specification to installation—is something that Salvador “Sal” Chavarria, Owner and President of Viking Fence Co., strives for. Since its founding in 1972, the Texas-based fencing contracting company has handled residential and commercial projects of various sizes and scopes, custom-tailoring each fencing job to meet the specific needs of customers.
Viking Fence, with offices in and around Austin, Round Rock, Dallas and Fort Worth, is a registered Western Red Cedar manufacturer that operates its own lumber mill in Austin. Western Red Cedar, which is transported to the mill shop from Canada by railcar, is a highly durable wood that is naturally resistant to rot and decay and repels insects.
“Western Red Cedar is a high-quality building material, and you can only get this type of red cedar from Canada. It lasts longer and requires less maintenance than other products, which is why it’s our only wood fencing product,” says Chavarria.
From designing and installing wood fences, traditional and custom iron fences, chain-link fences and gates to repairing existing fences, the Viking Fence team endeavors to bring quality and commitment to the fencing business—no matter what the project entails. Once a customer explains his or her fencing needs, Viking Fence manufactures everything according to the customer’s exact specifications, then builds and installs the product. The company even has a machine equipped with CNC (computer numeric control) technology to help customize and complete iron projects in its Custom Iron and Gate Division, run by Tom Burns as Custom Iron Manager.
“The business that we are in is a referral business. You have to make sure you do a good job with every client so they will refer you to someone else. But above all, our focus is on quality,” says Chavarria. “Our estimators, installers, quality control division, counter personnel, service crews and staff are excellent at what they do.”
Throughout his life, this ambitious and forward-thinking man has found ways to improve not just himself, but also the lives of those around him.
A Journey of Ambition
Originally from El Paso, Texas, Chavarria grew up always working toward a bigger goal. “I ran a paper route when I was 12. I used a bike to run my route at 5 a.m. every morning, and then I saved up enough money to buy a go-kart to run two routes,” says Chavarria. Years later, his hardworking nature led him to earn a bachelor’s degree in finance with a minor in English literature from the University of Texas at Austin. After completing an internship with Dell Technologies Inc., he worked full-time in the computer company’s finance department for 16 years, and even did an 18-month stint overseas at one of Dell’s European divisions.
“Dell turned out to be one of the fastest-growing integrated IT businesses of all time, starting as a dorm-room start-up in 1984 to becoming the world’s largest PC maker by 2005,” says Chavarria. “I learned a tremendous amount about the financing structure of a business during my time there.”
Then, eager to step out of his comfort zone and try something different, he made the jump into becoming a business owner with his purchase of Viking Fence in 2006. When he took over operations there were just 25 employees; now, Chavarria has around 100 employees.
“About 80 percent of those who worked with me 10 years ago are still here today because they did good work and took pride in doing the right thing for the company and our customers,” he says.
Chavarria likes to maintain a relaxed, but productive, atmosphere at his company. He proudly states that his team takes quality workmanship to an elevated level, often going above-and-beyond to ensure that every customer is satisfied with every job, from start to finish.
“Seeing all of the finished work around the city, and hearing that customers are satisfied with how we conduct ourselves, are two of the greatest rewards in this line of work,” says Chavarria.
But one thing the company owner values most isn’t noted on a customer’s testimonial or in the company’s ledger, and that’s helping others maximize their potential in life.
Recognizing and Growing Potential
The company president has a knack for noticing promise in people, and believes that it is important to give employees the opportunity to grow and develop. A decade ago that intuition led him to train a helper in the field, Jesus Lumbreras, to become a Quality Control Manager.
“I could tell that he was somebody who really cared about what he did, and he showed a lot of potential,” recalls Chavarria.
Back then, Lumbreras knew very little English, but Viking Fence obtained language-learning software to help him learn the language. “Within three to four months he had a working English vocabulary and was writing emails to people, and after a year he was fluent,” says Chavarria. “He’s been with the company for over 10 years now and is one of our biggest success stories.”
“I’m very happy I was given the opportunity to do this and always do my best to help Sal because he is a good boss,” says Lumbreras. Today, Lumbreras serves as Branch Manager of the company’s Austin Rental Fence Division. “From the time Sal bought the company it has grown and [gotten] better,” he continues. “He helps everyone and not just inside the company but outside too.”
Another employee who has benefited from Chavarria’s altruism is Jimmy Clanin, a Commercial Estimator at Viking Fence. Like his colleague, Clanin emphasizes that Chavarria is “a great leader to work for.”
“Sal saw something in me, and it is gratifying to have your hard work noticed by someone,” shares Clanin. Originally, he worked for a company that sold supplies to Viking Fence; later, he was offered a position at the fencing company, where he has been for the last six years. “One of the amazing things about working for Sal is having the autonomy to make our own decisions and that he trusts us enough to do so.”
High Hopes for the Future
Chavarria’s dedication to improving the lives of others is not limited just to employees. A year ago, he started a pilot program at his company that brings temporary foreign workers from Mexico to the U.S. to learn the fencing trade.
At the company’s expense, the firm spends several months training these individuals who would not normally have the opportunity to attain craftsman skills. This training allows them to return home and find viable jobs to support their families—and possibly even pay the favor forward to others down the line, confirms Ruben Rodriguez, General Manager of the company’s Garland branch.
To date, a total of 12 foreign workers have participated in the program. Chavarria hopes to one day expand this initiative to include people from other countries as well.
Whether he’s building up an employee’s confidence, or creating opportunities for individuals in the local community and abroad, Chavarria’s enthusiasm to help others will undoubtedly inspire hope for a brighter future.