Case Studies

David Hebig – Shannon’s Inc.

Minnesota plumbing and HVAC contractors offer tradition and technology

It was an ordinary doughnut shop in International Falls, Minnesota—part of the Tim Hortons chain and a place for people to come for a snack or linger over coffee with friends.

The shop was also part of the portfolio of plumbing and HVAC mechanical contracting services provided by Shannon’s, a family-owned business based in International Falls.

But about three years after the shop opened, Canada-based Tim Hortons closed it as part of a wave of U.S. store closures. Soon after, owners of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises were ready to move in.

David Hebig | President | Shannon's Inc.

David Hebig | President | Shannon’s Inc.

However, the shop needed interior renovations to bring it to Dunkin’s brand standards and design, and that also required shifting underground plumbing connections for their new layout.

Shannon’s was able to help the owners immediately, says company President David Hebig. That’s because as part of the Tim Hortons construction, the company used 3D technology to map its work, including showing underground pipes.

Those illustrations were part of the reason Dunkin’ Donuts contracted the company to remodel the store—Shannon’s knew where to dig to extend new underground pipes.

“We could tell them exactly where everything was in that building,” Hebig says. “They responded that the Int’l Falls project went the best of any of their Tim Horton projects.”

Way up north

International Falls is a challenging place to own and operate a business that serves Minnesota as well as portions of Wisconsin, Hebig says. Canada is just across the Rainy River, and Shannon’s isn’t licensed to work across the border. There’s more water to the east, as well as Voyageurs National Park. In fact, to go any distance to the east, people need to drive an hour south first.

That’s hardly been a deterrent for Shannon’s, which was founded in 1955 by Len and Kay Shannon and sold to their son in 1971. As it has grown, the company has expanded from a sheet metal shop in a garage to a converted elementary school. There’s also an office in Duluth, but Hebig says the company’s jobs frequently require two-hour commutes.

David Hebig | President | Shannon's Inc.

Among notable projects Shannon’s has performed is providing the HVAC system for the University of Minnesota’s Soudan Underground Physics Laboratory. The lab was built into an old iron mine about 40 years ago with apparatus to study the decay of protons.

Shannon’s workforce is unionized and Hebig says the company also works with the Red Lake Nation with projects on tribal grounds and employs its members.

“We’re more of a family than a business,” Hebig says, “And we grow with the industry. Our motto is ‘You can’t do today’s work with yesterday’s techniques and be in business tomorrow.’”

A fitting approach

Hebig says Shannon’s enjoys a competitive advantage due to the pipe fabrication facility it opened about eight years ago. Construction seasons in Minnesota are typically brief, especially for excavating because the ground freezes.

The fabrication facility can operate year-round, and delivering pre-fit pipes to job sites saves time on on-site work. Combined with the 3D mapping detailing to within 1/16 of an inch, Hebig says installations that may normally take two weeks can be completed in three days.

“We can help get a project back on schedule by having a short installation time,” he says.

David Hebig | President | Shannon's Inc.

Shannon’s has also built strong relationships with the local and state inspectors who will provide the occupancy permits for completed projects. Hebig says it’s important inspectors know the company doesn’t cut corners when it installs plumbing and HVAC systems.

“We’re one of the first and last contractors on any job because some of the last things that go in are plumbing fixtures and the registers,” Hebig says. “We make sure inspections aren’t delayed.”

Speaking freely

Shannon’s success is also due to its open culture. Hebig says its relationship with the union is strong. He’s a trustee of the pension fund and company owner Alton Shannon sits on the joint apprenticeship committee that helps build the workforce.

To promote the apprenticeship program, Hebig visits local schools at least once a year and works with administrators to identify students well-suited for trade careers. Shannon’s recently recruited two students for the five-year program that includes nine months of classroom work annually to complement the hands-on job experience.

“When we recruit, groom and grow apprentices, they turn into life-long employees,” he says.

David Hebig | President | Shannon's Inc.

Employees are encouraged to speak up about jobs they’re working on, whether for good or to point out improvements that should be made. Hebig says that’s always done respectfully, but it can be a bit disconcerting to new hires.

“It requires building trust, but it’s never personal,” he says. “If I can’t handle someone telling me I’ve made a mistake, it’s my problem. My weakness is somebody else’s strength, so let’s talk about it so we can have people doing what they enjoy and are good at.”

Staying on course

Hebig is a Minnesota native, albeit from the southern part of the state in Rochester. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Winona State University and worked in banking before joining Shannon’s in 2015. He became company president in January 2018

While he may have lacked industry experience, he had worked with contractors on financing projects.

“I have a mechanical mind and can visualize what’s being discussed,” Hebig says.  “What really makes Shannon’s successful is our fantastic team.  We rely on each other to be the best.  We can accomplish way more as a team than we can as individuals.”

David Hebig | President | Shannon's Inc.

As he chatted with Blueprint in August, Shannon’s had just obtained its license to operate in North Dakota, too. While this presents new opportunities, it also means business as usual.

“We’re always keeping sight of the company’s family values as well as the path and traditions that got us to where we are today,” Hebig says. “We want to keep delivering high-quality work through building on the past and enhancing our methods, products and services.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IX 2023 Edition here.

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