AerDux, Bellmawr, NJ Here, Robert E. Johnston, Jr. and Maggie Poyatt
By Gus Ostrum,
Talk about phenomenal and steady growth. It may be difficult to top one New Jersey company that has expanded from a three-person home-based business to a sprawling union shop in the Bellmawr Industrial Park — all in a matter of 13 years.
This is the story of AerDux, Inc., one of the region’s first woman-owned union shops. With 103 union-contracted workers, most of whom completed apprenticeships with Sheet Metal Workers Local 19, the company has grown into a highly successful union staffed enterprise.
AerDux President Margaret “Maggie” Poyatt and Vice President Robert Johnston have proven to be an effective ownership team. Together, Poyatt and Johnston have developed a sustainable and high-demand business that produces customized duct work and fabrication for many of the largest commercial and industrial projects in the region. Some of their projects include the FMC Tower, Philadelphia; Inspira Health Network, Mullica Hill, NJ;, The Gallery renovation, Philadelphia, and the Abington Hospital Asplundh Cancer Pavilion in Willow Grove, PA.
Every piece of ductwork fabricated in their facility is customized for each project. These pieces are then pre-assembled into manageable sections, then shipped to project sites for installation. Fabricated and pre-assembled units are manufactured with the assistance of computer-aided design (CAD) in a controlled environment. To keep up with technology and the requirements of their customers, all their draftsman are trained in Building Information Modeling (BIM), and of their 103 employees, approximately 30 have eight or more years of experience with the firm.
Launching the business
When Johnston approached Poyatt and her husband Chris, a Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 19 member, about a new opportunity, she was eager to listen. In 2004, the duo sat down, analyzed the need for pre-fabrication construction, and agreed to form AerDux, Inc., which initially operated out of Johnston’s Mullica Hill home.
To launch the new company, Poyatt gave up her position as an emergency room nurse at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden where she had worked for 15 years. She had earned her BS degree in Nursing from La Salle University in 1987 and was also certified in advanced life support.
“The nursing and health care professions were very good to me, and it was difficult to give it up,” she said. “But Lourdes had a very busy ER, and I was burned out and wanted to move on.”
As part of their business plan, Poyatt and Johnston decided to develop their new company at a slow pace and carefully control their growth. That fundamental decision was perhaps the most important of their new venture.
“We started out small with just one employee, and outsourced all of our fabrication,” said Poyatt. “Bob (Johnston) and I were very careful about this because we always wanted to be in control of our operations.”
Johnston, President of the Sheet Metal Contractors Association of Philadelphia and Vicinity with 35 years’ experience in labor, concurred. He points out that 25 to 35 percent of all Local 19 labor is spent in fabrication facilities similar to AerDux.
“We knew the demand for our products would be there and we also knew we had a built-in labor force through Local 19,” said Johnston. “But the equipment and overhead costs were unbelievable. We knew we had to develop a client base that would pay us promptly and consistently. We knew we could be out of business right away if we weren’t being paid.”
Cautious growth strategy was the right call
Bill Dodd, a respected CAD designer, was their first employee. With a team of three, the small firm quickly built enough business to move into their Westfield Avenue facility in Pennsauken, then expanded again within the Pennsauken complex to a second location. In 2013, they moved to their current 60,000-square complex in Bellmawr.
“Through Bob’s (Johnston) contacts, proper planning and a lot of hard work by Billy (Dodd), we grew slowly, and at just the right pace,” Poyatt said. “When we moved out of Pennsauken, we felt it would be easier to continue growing in Bellmawr. And yes, it has been a lot easier to transport our products out of our new facility and just to expand in general.”
The growth of AerDux has been nothing short of phenomenal. Although their business plan stressed slow, careful growth, Poyatt and Johnston have been able to purchase major pieces of machinery and CAD equipment to complete projects for large corporations.
Some of the equipment purchased in recent years through companies such as Vicon Inc. and Mestek Machinery includes a six-station coil line, two dual plasma tables, a waterjet acoustical liner cutter, elbow collar machines, whisper lock machine, a TDC Notcher and a Cornermatic. Many of these machines typically cost over $100,000 apiece and require skilled union labor contractors to operate and maintain them. These machines speed up duct fabrication and increase productivity.
“We are doing all we can to make all the air-related duct products here and ship them right out,” Poyatt noted. “We need to have state-of-the-art equipment and facilities to do this – and it is expensive!”
Software design equipment is also a key component of the AerDux operations. Dodd and his staff typically use Navis software and receive ongoing training through EastCoast CAD CAM workshops in Marlborough, MA, to sketch and design projects for major corporations such as Temple University, Inspira Health, and FMC Corporation.
Dodd’s team takes architectural designs and fits ductwork components and related objects made by his company into the designs provided. Ductwork units are specifically designed for projects like high-rise buildings, health care facilities and university buildings.
“I worked by myself for many years and did all of this without the help of computer software,” Dodd said. “Now I have a staff of six, and we always work as a team to complete these major projects. We are very proficient at our work because our clients demand it.”
Although Poyatt has been president for 10 years, it was only in 2015 that she applied for and received certification from The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the largest third-party certifier of businesses owned, controlled, and operated by women in the United States
Now that 13 years of operation have been successfully completed, it appears there is no end to the growth of AerDux, Inc. And Poyatt directly points to the workforce as a major reason for her company’s success.
“We have the greatest workforce in the world,” she said. “We know our workers receive tremendous training through Local 19. When they complete their apprenticeships, and come to us, we know they are ready to step in and do great work. And our clients appreciate this.”