Suter Fencing is a survivor.
J. Richard "Dick" Suter founded Suter Fencing in 1965 when he separated the fencing business from Suter Hardware, a Union Avenue business founded by his father Lloyd S. Suter in 1923.
Suter Fencing unofficially goes back to the mid-1940s as Dick Suter had been building chain-link fences while working at the hardware store.
Employee Rick Smith moves chain-link fencing at Suter Fencing, 2419 Union Ave., Altoona.
After graduating from Penn State in 1971 with a degree in forestry, Jim Suter, the company president today, joined his father, Dick, and became a partner in the business in 1973.
Suter Fencing is the oldest fencing company in central Pennsylvania, Suter said.
"We have outlasted all who came in before us and all who came in after us," Suter said.
Today, Suter Fencing comprised of Jim, his wife, Eileen, who does the bookkeeping and Rick Smith, the "warehouse guy," sell chain-link fencing, chicken wire, ornamental aluminum fencing and railings, and vinyl fencing and railings and miscellaneous welded wire fencing products and accessories at 2419 Union Ave.
Suter Fencing uses subcontractors to do their installation work.
The company sells about 40,000 feet of fencing a year and since 1967 has sold 3,771,751 feet of fencing of all kinds.
Residential sales make up about 75 percent of the business with the other 25 percent to commercial customers, Suter said.
Suter Fencing sells a lot of fencing to do-it-yourselfers.
"I take pride in saying that if you bring in a sketch to me, I can give you everything you need. You can buy an individual bolt or nut. I won't sell you anything you aren't going to need.You can buy exactly what you want here," Suter said. "We will load it on their truck or deliver it. I also give them instructions on how to build it."
Suter admits that Lowe's, and to a smaller degree Home Depot and Tractor Supply, have hurt his business.
"Since Lowe's moved to [its] new place, they took a big bite out of the do-it-yourself market for me. Installation hasn't changed. We do as much installation as we ever did," Suter said. "Before Lowe's, I would have people standing outside the door on a Saturday morning. The big box stores hurt the small independent guys."
However, Suter Fencing has survived.
"We've weathered the storm of Lowe's coming in and we picked up a lot in installations. They [customers] are buying the expertise that we provide," Suter said. "We've adapted and added new products over the years, such as vinyl and ornamental."
Reliability and reputation have been important to the company's survival.
"This place hasn't changed much since the 1970s. We try to keep overhead as low as we can keep it. We've outlasted a lot of people. Fence guys come and go, but we are still here," Suter said. "I sell experience and product. There are few places where you can go and talk to someone who can give you an answer. That counts for a lot."
Members of the Suter family owned and operated both Suter Fencing and neighboring Suter Hardware until 1984 when the hardware business was sold to David Mason by his uncles Ken, Sam and Pete, who ran the business at the time.
"My grandfather got laid off from his job at J.C. Penney Auto Care and decided he wanted to have his own business," said Matt Mason, who manages the store today. "Pap kept the name because it was well-known. He added Mason Locks, the locksmith part of the business."
Suter said it was tough to sell part of the family business.
"There was a tradition there. It was tough to sell. We had to give it up. Something had to give, they [uncles] did what they needed to do," Suter said.
Suter said he and the Mason family have maintained a good relationship.
"We get their calls and they get ours. We share a parking lot," Suter said. "I go in there occasionally and still find things priced by my mother."
Mason said the business hasn't changed much since the sale.
"If you walk in, it still looks a lot like it did when they opened the doors. We still have the same fixtures, it is like a time machine," Mason said. "If the items have black crayon on them, Mrs. [Irene] Suter wrote on them."
Suter said he isn't sure about the future of the fencing business.
"I am 62; eventually I won't be doing this. It could be another five years, eight years. My dad worked here until three months before he died, and I don't want that to happen."
"My kids don't want anything to do with it," Suter said. "We may have one big giant fence sale, or I will sell it and someone will step in and take things over. I am the last Suter on the block; there are no more Suters to come in here."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.