Heavy Metal

Displayed on the walls inside Nix Welding Service’s front office is a hanging tribute to the evolution of metal. Taken in 1977 by then Courier & Press photographer Robert Burke, the black and white photographs depict Carl Nix, the second generation Nix to own the family-operated welding company, stoking a forge and standing with tools he made himself.

A row of aged welding equipment — saved throughout the company’s century-long lifespan — sits against the back wall. An old anvil used to form hot iron and a sandstone grinder for sharpening and polishing tools date back to the 1800s. Down the row is a trip hammer, which eventually took the place of the anvil, and the company’s first welder sits at the end. Carl, who worked his way through the business hierarchy from the time he was a small boy in the early 1900s until he died 30 years ago, bought the then state-of-the-art machine in 1942.

Even today, as the company is led by fourth and fifth generation Nixes — Carl’s grandson, Charles William, and great-grandsons, Matt and Adam — the purchase of that welder is praised as an important business move. “It was probably one of the most pivotal moments in our company history,” says Matt. “You have to be innovative whether it’s 1942 or 2012.” That same innovative spirit mixed with brand loyalty is what continues to drive the younger owners, who, like their great-grandpa, find growth in change. 

Family Tradition

Located on Endicott Street in downtown Poseyville, Ind., Nix Welding’s lineup of metal shop buildings have grown from 4,800 total square feet to 24,000 in just the last four years. Such rapid progress is a testament to the company’s forefathers.

When German blacksmith Charles Nix moved to Poseyville in 1900, he began operating a downtown blacksmith shop shoeing horses and forming iron. After him, his two eldest sons carried on the tradition for years, until they passed it on to younger brother Carl to open the first International Harvester equipment dealership in town. Eventually, Carl moved the small, dirt-floor business from its original spot to its current location just four blocks down the street, where he and his son, Carl Jr., built the first shop in 1957. That’s when the current nameplate, Carl A. Nix Welding Service Inc., was created.

Along with Burke’s photographs in the 1977 newspaper story, Carl spoke of his deep-rooted passion for being a blacksmith. At the time, he was 72 years old and crippled by illness and age. Still, his loyalty was to the family trade, continuing to work three to five hours each day building coal fires in the forge and shaping steel gate hooks with a hammer and anvil.

Fast-forward 35 years and that same determination is reflected in each of Nix Welding’s present owners. The equipment, technology, and square footage has changed, but the bloodline remains. Carl eventually handed over company reigns to his son, and down the line they continued, now resting with Carl Jr.’s son, Charles William, and his son’s sons, Matt and Adam.

Like all the men before him, Matt, 27, has been working for the company since he was a boy. “One day, Dad had a project and he needed little hands,” says Matt. “Someone came to the babysitter and picked me up — and I never left.” His younger brother, Adam, also has pitched in at the shop since childhood, but never seemed interested in making it a career. The 25-year-old even received a marketing degree from the University of Southern Indiana to find his own path. “A year before I graduated I wanted to come back and work at the shop,” says Adam. “I realized how much I loved it.”

Predominately staffed by male family members, Caroline Eickhoff, Charles William’s sister, started working for the business 25 years ago to help with management. “That lasted about 30 minutes and I was out in the shop,” she says. Because of company growth, Eickhoff has since gone back to management full time, handling the accounting, inventory, and purchasing. The only other female employee at Nix Welding is Matt’s wife, Lindsey, who started in May to help market the shop’s new painting and powder coating business currently under construction. Expected to be in full swing by January, Matt says the new service will be state-of-the-art when complete. 

Welding in Progress

Offering complete welding and machinery repair services, Nix Welding’s capabilities are nearly limitless within the industry. Historically, agriculture has been the company’s niche. “There used to be a farm on every corner, so naturally we did a lot of agriculture repair,” says Matt. “There are less farms now and the ones that are left are larger operations. But we still service the agriculture industry, and this remains the core part of our customer base.”

Over the years, especially within the past 10, the company’s areas of expertise have progressed — most notably in customization. “If you can draw it up, we’ll try it out,” says Adam. So far, their realm of custom fabrication ranges from fashioning a 12-inch hook out of hot iron to developing luxury boats, as well as portable coal mine buildings, stairs, and landings.

Currently, the biggest project underway is a 70-foot long, 18-foot beam yacht housed inside a 2,800-square-foot space. It’s tight, but it’s a veteran assignment for Matt, who was instrumental in the development of the company’s first custom-built yacht four years ago. New Harmony, Ind., native Joe Morris, owner of the first boat, was a returning customer at Nix Welding when he approached Matt in 2008 about building a yacht. “I had been using the company a lot of my life,” says Morris. “There was no other option; they were my choice and they were first-rate throughout the 2 1/2-year process.”

Due to the massive workload that goes into building a yacht from the hull up, Matt took a leap of faith by hiring the first employee outside of the family for Morris’ boat. Since then, nine more unrelated employees have joined the Nixes, whose brand has always been centered on family and tradition. Still, Matt sees it as a business move, much like great-gramps’ welder.

Today, a crew of company employees and private contractors man the current boat, owned by Richard Hoover of Eldorado, Ill. “We are continually trying to improve the company,” says Matt. “Our goal is to just do a great job with every project.”

The success rate is reflected in Nix Welding’s clientele; returning customers comprise more than 80 percent of the company’s business. Many are local third and fourth generation families. “It’s very rare that we add a new customer and don’t make them a returning customer within a few months,” says Matt. But as business increases, the company’s focus remains on each individual product.

“It’s not about the size of my buildings, the number of employees, or the dollars of business we do,” says Matt. “My goals are to continually improve day by day on the product we deliver to our customers, maintain the reputation our business has earned over the last century, create one of the best employment opportunities in our town, and leave this business to the next Nix generation better than I found it.”

Nix Welding is located at 21 N. Endicott St. in Poseyville, Ind. For more information about the company and its services, call 812-874-2422 or visit www.nixwelding.com. Also, learn more about Joe Morris’ yacht in Evansville Business April/May 2010 story, “Maiden Voyage.”

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