Fischer Tanks completes move to Kaleva

Doug Fischer (left) is operations manager at Fischer Tanks and Mark Fischer is the owner of the business. (Dave Yarnell/News Advocate)

KALEVA — When Mark Fischer decided to start refurbishing propane tanks in 2005, he had no idea that within eight years he would own the largest such business in the United States.

He and his son Doug Fischer, who is Fischer Tanks’ operations manager, smile as they talk about the success the company is enjoying.

Through many years of the business’ existence, however, they faced significant challenges. Before it moved to its new 40,000 square foot building on a 96-acre site in the Kaleva Industrial Park, the company was at odds with Norman Township zoning officials. That trouble started in February 2010 when the Norman Township Zoning Board of Appeals ruled that the township’s zoning administrator had issued two permits for the plant that was near the intersection of M-55 and Seaman Road in Wellston in error.

Both of the Fischers are pleased that all that is in the past. In fact, Mark Fischer has sold the Wellston property and it’s going to be used as an automotive repair and salvage operation.

According to Doug Fischer, the move to the new plant required hiring 10 more employees, bringing the total to about 60. He said that when a second production line is added in September, another dozen will be hired.

Mark Fischer indicates he wasn’t pleased to have to remove about half of the number of people employed in his native Wellston, but he was happy to achieve his goal of keeping the jobs in the Kaleva Norman Dickson School District.

The company had considered sites elsewhere, including in Baldwin and Grant.

“I wanted to make sure the jobs stayed in this school district,” Mark Fischer said. “Almost half the people who once lived in this area are now gone, so keeping the jobs here was important. Having the plant here is a good deal for the area.”

Fischer Tanks refurbishes everything from the small 20-pounder grill-size tanks to thousand-gallon residential tanks.

“There are six companies like ours in the country, and with our current output, we’re the largest in the country in refurbishing the larger tanks,” Doug Fischer said. “Our best production in Wellston, when we were running three shifts, we got somewhere in the area of 75 tanks per day. With both lines going for two 10-hour shifts now, we’re doing over 200 tanks per day.”

The move allowed the company to design a more efficient plant.

“At Wellston, we worked around what we had in the existing building,” Mark Fischer said. “When we came up here, we built what we needed. As far as efficiency, it’s a lot better.”

The company completely removes all the propane from each tank and seals it before it comes into the building to be cleaned and painted through a powder coating process. The propane taken from the tank is used to operate the powder coating ovens and will also be used to heat the building.

Fischer started the business as a side to his other company, Fischer LP Gas.

“The main reason to start it was because I was buying used tanks and repainting them, and then other gas companies wanted me to do that for them, too,” Mark Fischer said. “We’re doing tanks for over 300 companies now.”

Doug Fisher said the company acquires new customers by attending seven trade shows per year. He said management also just returned from North Carolina, where they lined up a lot of business.

“A lot of propane companies have a lot of tanks in their yard,” Mark Fischer said. “It might be because in some areas of the country there’s more natural gas being put in, so not as many propane tanks are needed. It could also be an older company, and they need to start getting their tanks refurbished so they are having us do that.”

“And some older companies, from the 1960s or so, they will trade their tanks in for newer tanks, they want newer steel,” Doug Fisher said.

Mark Fischer said they also work with a local scrap iron processor.

“We’ll pick up all of the 20-pound tanks that people brought there for scrap, and we take them, and process them, and take them back to them without the valves so they can be run through their shredder,” Mark Fischer said.

A big part of Doug Fischer’s job is to keep up with the customers’ demands.

“We’ve delivered as far as Montana, Texas, Louisiana, New York state and North Carolina,” he said. “The orders keep coming in because the companies need to keep their equipment up to date. We’ve even loaded tanks in shipping containers for Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.”

Mark Fischer is optimistic about the future.

“We’re gaining new customers all the time.”

The sign at the entrance to the new Fischer Tanks plant in the Kaleva Industrial Park is, of course, painted on a newly-refurbished propane tank. (Dave Yarnell/News Advocate)

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Posted by Dave Yarnell

Dave was formerly the News Advocate features writer and retired in November 2013.

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