Staying Power: Thirty-Five Years Of Capco

Posted by Poppy Behrens on Jan 26, 2021 12:00:00 AM

“From humble beginnings come great things” is a saying that isn’t attributed to anyone in particular, but it is definitely fitting as the motto for this story.  

On Sept. 17, 1985, Charles Plunkett founded Capco Steel, Inc., at the age of 25. Thirty-five years later, the company is still going strong, thanks to Plunkett’s fortitude. But to truly understand the company, its core values, and its decades of success, it is imperative to delve into Plunkett’s past.     

Seeds Of Success
Long before the blood, sweat, and tears that went into forming the self-storage industry’s oldest company focused primarily on the construction of storage facilities, Plunkett was toiling days away to make ends meet. As a young teen, he sacrificed his leisure time to help his family put food on the table. After his father, a minister who earned a meager wage, was severely injured in a car wreck, it was up to Plunkett to tend to the family’s 1.5-acre garden for approximately two years while his father recovered. He was responsible for hoeing, tilling, planting, and watering the garden, as well as picking the numerous vegetables and assisting his mother and sister with the food preservation.

To say it was hard work would be an understatement, as he managed the garden around his schoolwork and football practices and games. Though tedious and tiresome, those two years taught him countless lessons and enabled his family to survive a difficult time in their lives.

So, like his father, Plunkett was raised to contribute to the family. “This provided me with a great foundation,” he says. “His ethics, combined with his drive for hard work, taught me the values that I built my life and this business on: hard work, integrity, honesty, giving people their money’s worth plus some, doing whatever you do 100 percent minimum, and being the best you can possibly be at whatever you do.”

Later, at the age of 15, Plunkett worked in a welding and fabricating shop in Northern Louisiana. He put in as many hours as possible, working after school, on weekends and holidays, and all summer long. Plunkett did any job that needed to be done, such as sweeping floors, gathering scrap metal, and cleaning the bathrooms. He even quit playing football in his senior year to work at the shop during school hours through its work program.

When Plunkett graduated from high school, he was already a journeyman welder and master fitter. “You could give me a set of blueprints and I could fabricate anything that you wanted out of steel,” he says, adding that he became the shop foreman six months after his graduation despite being the shop’s youngest employee.

Plunkett left in 1979 to attend seminary school in San Antonio. However, during his studies he realized that he didn’t want to become a minister. Nevertheless, he still finished the four-year program and earned a degree in theology. All the while, he worked for a welding and fabrication facility, moving up the ranks from estimator to sales and sales director before taking over as vice president and general manager following his college graduation.  

The Start Of Capco
After spending two years as the vice president and general manager of that company, Plunkett decided it was time to become his own boss. With plenty of welding and steel experience under his belt, including the manufacturing and installation of metal framework, partition walls, roofing, and hallway and door systems for self-storage facilities, he resigned.

Despite being a young entrepreneur with few resources at the time, Plunkett was determined to get his company off the ground. He borrowed a car to purchase proposal forms and used a borrowed typewriter to draft proposals for two self-storage projects a developer he had worked with previously was getting ready to start in Kansas City, Mo. The developer called Plunkett the day after he presented his proposals to him. Because Plunkett had worked with that developer for four years, he awarded him with the contract. That was the real beginning of Capco Steel, which now also does business as Capco General Contracting.

A month later, CAPCO Steel, an acronym for Charles A. Plunkett Company, was officially incorporated on Sept. 17, 1985, with Plunkett as the newly founded company’s only employee. Working dawn to dusk, he managed all aspects of the new venture—from billing and filing to fabricating gates and supervising the labor installing the buildings. “I had no business credit, no money, no employees, and didn’t even have a vehicle to drive,” says Plunkett. “I figured it out and simply dug the business out of the ground.”

Three of four years after founding the company, Plunkett added general contracting to Capco’s services. And Capco continued to grow, hiring more employees. “That added a whole new dimension to the business,” he says. “That really began to take off in the mid-90s after winning our first Facility of the Year award. There has been a steady growth in that part of the business.”

What’s more, throughout those earlier years, Plunkett met his wife, Julie, who has been overseeing the accounting, human resources, and insurance aspects of the business. The couple has been married for 27 years. Julie frequently traveled with Plunkett to the jobsites early on in their marriage, and he notes that the company wouldn’t be where it is today without her and the numerous sacrifices she’s made over the years. Mainly, she forfeited time with him as he worked long hours at the various sites to ensure that the job was done on time and met his high standards. 

Core Values
Every great company has a list of admirable principles that it follows. Like a moral compass, core values help businesses navigate through changing corporate climates. Capco’s core values include:

*Quality – Striving to provide quality in every aspect of the business, from providing high-quality communication with its clients to developing quality projects that exceed expectations.

*Integrity – Plunkett and Capco believe upholding honest and consistent strong moral and ethical principals provides a foundation for every relationship they create with their clients. They are committed to doing the right thing in the right way without hesitation. 

*Dependability – Plunkett and his employees value the lasting relationships they form with each of their clients. To provide the best service possible, each team member provides thorough, reliable communication, meets deadlines, and ensures proper oversight of each project at all times.

Moreover, Capco’s mission statement is to be the best contractor in the industry and provide construction services of superior quality at competitive prices with steadfast commitment to the best interests of each project.

Well-Rounded Growth
Clearly, Plunkett has worked tirelessly throughout his lifetime to grow his company and maintain an impeccable reputation. And as the years passed by, he began thinking about the future of Capco. Knowing that he’d eventually want to cut back his hours but keep Capco expanding, he went on a search for the right future leader. He found and hired Nicholas Bergmann. Bergmann, who has been with the company for approximately seven years, began his career at Capco as a senior project manager, and two years later was promoted to COO and partner. His previous experience constructing commercial real estate and industrial buildings brought a new perspective to the company.

With Bergmann as a co-partner, handling the day-to-day operations, Plunkett has shifted his role slightly. “Since I have been around for 35 years, I serve mostly in the capacity of helping put deals together,” he says, adding that their reputation of integrity is at the forefront of every bid. “Since we are a metal building company as well as a general contractor, we have to carefully balance that equation. We perform work for other general contractors, so they must have confidence in us that if they ask us to bid on a project that we will not go and try to take the project as a general contractor for ourselves. I truly believe that all in all, the thing that has carried us through the years, through good times and bad times, is our unwavering commitment to the highest ethics.”

Along with that steadfast dedication, Plunkett is devoted to all of his clients. Plunkett, who moved frequently during his childhood, places great importance on fostering relationships with them. “I have built this business on relationships and being totally committed to the best interest of my customers, who every often become my friends,” he says.

And according to Bergmann, Plunkett consistently makes himself available to others, which is one of the countless reasons the company has continued to grow. “He’s available to all his customers, and takes calls anytime,” says Bergmann, who notes that it isn’t uncommon for Plunkett to take calls during the middle of dinner.

Bergmann goes on to say that Plunkett and Capco treat all customers the same and deliver the same level of quality regardless of the project, its size, location, or operator. The company also has a full staff to build any size project on time and to the best of their ability.

All of these qualities fuel Capco’s steady stream of word-of-mouth referrals. “Our success is driven by customers, as well as every single team member,” Bergmann adds. “We have a great customer base and team.”

Of Capco’s growth, Plunkett states that it been constant since its inception. “With being in business for 35 years, there have certainly been many ups and downs,” he says. “I have been through so many cycles of economic growth and shrinking. Throughout all of this, we have maintained a pretty steady growth.”

Part of the company’s growth can be attributed to Plunkett’s motivation to continue to educate himself and others. In addition to personal interests, such as obtaining a commercial pilot’s license and being an ordained minister as well as a former competitive water skier, among other things, Plunkett has served on the boards of various entities, including the Texas Self Storage Association as the longest serving vendor representative. “In each case, I decided to not continue on the boards as I felt it was time for someone else to take the position and give it a fresh look,” he says.

Even when Plunkett decides it’s time to hang up his hat, he is confident that Capco will continue to thrive under Bergmann’s lead. “I could not have asked for a better partner in business,” says Plunkett. “We are of one mind and one accord. We both have the same objective of putting customers first and always doing the right thing.”

Upholding Values
Capco’s growth has enabled the company to attain recognition while helping others along the way. For starters, with its focus on quality, Capco has received Mini-Storage Messenger’s Facility of the Year award 14 times, sometimes winning more than one award in one year. In fact, the company received two awards in 2019 for their involvement with two fantastic facilities: Key Storage – Sonterra in San Antonio, Texas, and Extra Space Storage in El Paso, Texas. Capco also won the Aon Build America award for a project under $5 million; the national award is presented by the Associated General Contractors of America.

“I have been immensely proud of many projects that we have constructed,” says Plunkett. “As time goes on, owners keep pushing the envelope and developing more and more complex facilities with more challenges.”

Obviously, by focusing on quality over cost and not cutting corners, Plunkett has pride for every project he has worked on, but there are two facilities, in addition to the two mentioned earlier, that he is most proud. One is now a Public Storage facility at the entrance to Ansley Park in the metro area of Atlanta, Ga. The other is a five-story Stor facility in Austin that was built on the side of a mountain, and it won Capco the previously mentioned Aon Build America award as well as a Facility of the Year award.

“We have built hundreds of projects in 32 states and have constructed just about every shape, size, color, and configuration of self-storage that you can imagine,” adds Plunkett, who estimates that the company has constructed more than 70 million square feet of self-storage facilities. “As long as it’s perfect, that’s good enough for me. I realize that we are probably never going to achieve perfection, but we constantly strive for it. I am normally my own worst critic, and nothing makes me happier than to look at a project and be immensely proud of what we delivered.”

Still, Plunkett and Capco reach excellence on a frequent basis through their charitable giving. There is a culture of giving that stems from Plunkett’s generous nature and desire to brighten the lives of others. Moreover, having struggled during his childhood, Plunkett has made lending a helping hand a priority as well as a company philosophy.

“The foundation of Capco’s giving as a company is a reflection of my personal tendency to give … I have always been a giver,” he says, “and I love to help people who are truly in need.”

Capco has participated in and/or provided financial support to numerous organizations, including:

  • Construct a Kids Christmas Gala
  • Salvation Army’s Angel Tree
  • San Antonio Food Bank
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Feed My Starving Children
  • Global Orphan
  • Shriner’s Hospital
  • Texas Foundation of Hope
  • Arc of San Antonio
  • San Antonio Life Academy
  • Wreaths Across America
  • Atascosa County Livestock Show
  • Various charity drives supported by business customers and partners

“This year, with COVID, it became apparent that many people were suffering and in need of food,” says Plunkett. “We feel that people should have the basics like food, so we made a sizeable donation to the San Antonio Food Bank to help provide for those in need.”

Additionally, Plunkett and Capco helps its employees and kids further their educations and even pays its employees to volunteer their time to charities of their choice. Each employee is allotted 16 hours of paid time off per year to make a difference. Capco also hosts company-wide teambuilding volunteer events such as building houses and assisting the food bank with donations. Serving as a shining example of philanthropy, some of Capco’s wonderful contributions have been featured in past articles of Mini-Storage Messenger

True Success
Despite countless successes throughout his career, Plunkett remains humble and grateful for all his blessings. “My greatest success is finding a great wife who has been an immense help and support to me, and having two great children,” he says. “Second to that, my greatest accomplishment is stepping out on a wing and a prayer and starting this business that has led to such a rewarding life.”

Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada.