The year 1937 came amid obvious economic problems, yet marks the creation of Gilpin Inc., now celebrating its 75th anniversary. Weathering historic financial setbacks, from the Great Depression to the 2008 housing crisis, Gilpin may owe some of its longevity to a strong core of family leadership.
Brothers Hubert and Forrest Gilpin founded the company, which makes and markets railing and fencing products. Forrest Gilpin's son, Paul, took over the company in 1995, succeeded by his son, Todd, in 2009. Paul Gilpin, 67, is currently chairman of the company's board.
Steel products are manufactured in the Decatur plant with aluminum products made in Baltimore, Ohio. All products are sold through wholesale channels, such as Lowe's, Menards and Do it Best. Georgetowne Place, a retirement home on Maplecrest Road, uses Gilpin's higher-end aluminum railings on its balconies, Paul Gilpin said.
“(Gilpin Inc.) has a product that is easy for the guest because they don't have to customize or engineer anything,” said Joshua Lytle, supervisor for building materials at Menards on Illinois Road. “I've been selling their stuff for seven years…and personally have had no issues with them.” Menards typically uses Gilpin's railings as a repair to match older ones, said Lytle.
Paul Gilpin said the company is competing with China, and so far have been successful. “When someone like Menards brings in Chinese products, an imitation of ours, at a lower price…we have to meet their price, which cuts our margins and makes it harder to pay our (35) employees a fair wage.” He added that Menards quickly took out these products after unspecified defects were found. This was confirmed by Lytle who said he didn't recall the exact product the company had discontinued, but that he “switched right back to Gilpin.”
Gilpin has upheld conservative business practices, which Paul Gilpin relates to its ability to stay afloat and maintain profits. He said they “do not spend money on fancy buildings or fancy vehicles…we don't overextend ourselves so that we can withstand the bad years.”
Hubert Gilpin first opened the company in his 12-by-16-foot garage, soon moving into a 16-by-32-foot manufacturing facility with a mere $90 loan from First State Bank. Paul Gilpin didn't want to give exact figures for the current locations, but said the original loan “just shows how much inflation we've had.” The company temporarily shut down when most raw materials were allocated for World War II, but reopened in 1945 and soon moved to a new plant on Washington Street.
“It was a slow growth from then on,” Paul Gilpin said. Introducing some innovations in the mid-1950s, the company began selling through retailers and dropped their installation service with the rise in “do-it-yourself” installation. During the 1950s and 60s, Gilpin Ironworks ventured into other metal products, such as snow shovels and awnings. In 1961 they moved to their current location at 1819 Patterson St. in Decatur.
Future plans for Gilpin Inc. include a new type of twisted spindle railing, or a traditional porch railing, called the Patterson, which will be available through retailers next spring.