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Employee retention: Discover this Hudson Valley Manufacturer’s Winning Formula

Martin Kolt and Ethan Kolt brothers and owners of Newburgh, N.Y.’s Active Ventilation

 

Active Ventilation: In the ‘unsexy’ sheet metal welding business, and fabrication of roof vents, Newburgh’s Kolt brothers solve a problem others struggle with: employee retention.

How?

They do so by building a business that excels at creativity and fair employment practices

Creativity: Diversifying a product line.

Martin Kolt founded Active Ventilation in 1997. His brother Ethan joined him in 2002.

Together, they have created a successful consumer product line and built a company employing over 55 sheet metal fabricators in a warehouse on First Street in Newburgh, N.Y.

Along the way, they have more or less re-invented the vent.

This year, Ethan Kolt tells us, the brothers plan to add new products to the over 700 models of roof vents sold by Active Ventilation Products Inc.

“We’re looking to buy new machinery to make new projects,” he says, “which will have a pitched flange, something we have never offered before, and add pitched curbs and roof curbs. It deepens our line.”

If just the thought of over 700 models of roof vents makes your brain go a bit numb, Kolt completely understands.

“People care about what they come into contact with. These are a commodity. They’re not even having a direct effect on the air inside your living space, just keeping your building materials from degrading.”

This year, Ethan Kolt plans to add new products to the over 700 models of roof vents sold by Active Ventilation Products Inc., the Newburgh-based manufacturing company he runs with his brother Martin.

“We’re looking to buy new machinery to make new projects,” he says, “which will have a pitched flange, something we have never offered before, and add pitched curbs and roof curbs. It deepens our line.”

If just the thought of over 700 models of roof vents makes your brain go a bit numb, Kolt completely understands.

The shipping manager readies a vent for shipping.

Recent adaptations

“The most recent adaptation of the Aura Ventilator has been to transition to a solar power version. It’s the Aura Solar Fan,” writes Martin on his LinkedIn profile. “This new product has had tremendous success from its first conception.

Designed for the US Army, this product is now being sold to the construction industry and the general public.

The Aura Solar Fan combines the wind performance with an excellent roof fan design to provide attic ventilation at an economic price.

It’s available in the same sizes as the Aura Ventilator and is specified in the larger sizes by Fortune 500 companies.”

Expertise, and cooperation.

As the company was beginning,  Ethan found himself at a trade show in Louisville, Kentucky.

The show featured high-end manufactured homes.

“The homes that they were showing were beautiful homes, you know, the industry has changed so much over the years, he says, “I’m looking at all the beautiful faucets and fireplaces and kitchens with iPad inside the panels, I’m looking at all the bells and whistles.”

Being a roof vent specialist, the obvious question that came to Ethan Kolt’s mind was, “ok so what’s on the roof?”

Beautiful homes; ugly roof vents; epiphany!

A hike to the far end of the trade show offered Ethan an epiphany.

Kolt noticed an aesthetic mess of vents of different sizes, different angles, and different materials.

He figured out the bottom line of what it was costing home manufacturers to obtain various vents from various suppliers.

Kolt reasoned by offering the market one-stop shopping experience including a line of beautiful products he’d be offering convenience and tremendous savings, plus aesthetics.

Workers on the factory floor.

Sales are important, product delivery even more so.

“I was bringing in millions of dollars in sales and I said to Martin, all right, you wanted the sales. I got them. You have to make this!.

“Martin has a gift. His gift is, he can make my vision work. We could figure it out, he could figure it out,” Ethan explained.

And, he did.

A cooperative partner.

Martin, a true partner, exhibited an eagerness and willingness to work together.

This willingness to change in order to weather market while exercising business acumen in pursuit of innovation, for Ethan, represents resiliency and takes a kind of genius.

“Every business owner who succeeds and survives several recessions, every owner, or person who can weather the storms, has that aspect of their personality. You know, a flash of genius. Each of these people, men, women, it doesn’t matter. Race, creed, religion, none of that matters,” Kold explains.

Besides creativity, flexibility is key to prospering

“Flexibility is also key for sure.” He says. “We own patents. Martin does more of the engineering, but both of us invent,” says Kolt.

Their father, Stanley Kolt, is no longer involved in the business. But the senior Kold but was an innovator in the ventilation world in his own right and the originator of the Aura Ventilator.

That ventilator displaced the outmoded Turbine Ventilator within the round vent market.

Starting small and building a workforce.

Active Ventilation got its start in a smaller building on Clinton Street in Newburgh with a small handful of employees.

But the Clinton street building was destroyed by a fire forcing a move to the 63,000 square foot First Street building.

A building of that size comes with a higher tax burden, and that pressure made it necessary for Active Ventilation to scale up.

“The building forced us to make this a real company,” says Ethan. “We went from six people to over 50. So I came up with marketing ideas.”

Everything done in-house

Everything, from design to finishing, is done in-house.=

By the time of Active Ventilation’s 21st anniversary, in 2018, it had over 300 metalworking machines, a full spinning department, a tool and die department, two powder coating departments, and a full staff of machine operators and assemblers.

Some WWII era equipment is still in service.

 

Product on the factory floor.

Distributors are household names.

The list of available products includes attic fans, solar fans and well over a dozen types of vents ranging in diameter from 3 to 48 inches, and they’re sold to everyone from DIY homeowners to major builders and distributors such as Beacon Roofing Supply, ABC Supply, Dave Carter & Associates and Allied Building Products, as well as major online retailers like Home Depot, Walmart, eBay, and Amazon.

Products conform to the International Building Code, and the majority are UL (Underwriters Laboratory) certified.

What counts when making a hire is attitude.

As a roof vent marketer who is acutely aware that most people never give roof vents a second thought, Ethan Kolt gets his joy out of the people he encounters, whether those people are major customers or entry-level employees, a group the Kolts value and eagerly invest in.

The investment is made by careful hiring and by offering a stellar benefits package.

There’s one major qualification for admission to the Active Ventilation meritocracy: attitude.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m looking for entry-level maintenance or senior level, attitude is 98 percent of what gets you hired,” says Kolt. “A great work ethic.

Your IQ doesn’t matter; I’ve seen people who are not especially bright go far and I’ve seen bright people implode.”

A compelling “old-school” benefits package designed to get workers to stay.

People who get hired at Active Ventilation are, he says, often shocked at the old-school benefits package. “Employees get a 7 percent match and 3 percent gifted 401K contribution,” says Kolt.

“And truly stellar health insurance from Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield. When someone enrolls in our program at age 20, they’ll be set.

People are amazed to hear this. Employees with good attendance get three weeks vacation time their first year.

When I say I care about people and that’s my passion, I put my money where my mouth is — it’s how we get and keep talent.”

Satisfied customers speak out.

“I was glad I found you when I searched for roof ventilation products.

Not only do your Aura vents work effectively without allowing moisture into the attic, but I was glad to be able to support a local business,” says a satisfied customer from Stormville, N.Y.

“I now have enough ventilation to run the whole house fan I installed and as an added benefit I noticed that the upstairs ceilings no longer seem to radiate heat into the rooms – even on days when I don’t run the fan!”

“We find these to be of superior quality and durability for the climate that we live in here in Nova Scotia,” writes a representative from Mader’s Roofing & Masonry Ltd., going on to describe 140-mph winds and three-foot snowstorms as tests the Aura Ventilator has passed.”