Custom-made metal gallery find niche in Kennewick
Amid pandemic shutdowns and canceled art expos, Knights Welding retooled its business model and opened a Kennewick storefront.
The custom-made metal art shop was grateful for a solid holiday shopping season.
“Christmas was good for business,” said owner Pat Knight, adding that it’s the shop’s busiest time of the year, punctuated by an uptick in custom design requests.
Sales this holiday season were especially critical considering the past year’s setbacks and challenges for the small, locally owned and operated business.
The Kennewick gallery at 4432 W. Clearwater Ave. sells metal artwork ranging from night lights to table lamps, magnets, coasters, tissue box covers, shelf brackets, wall hooks, welcome signs, free-standing sculptures, various sized wall hangings and more.
Many pieces feature these predominant themes: Western- and ranch-inspired pieces, landscapes and Northwest wildlife designs, garden motifs and military insignias.
Knight said if customers can’t find what they’re looking for in the shop, “email me or come in with an idea or photograph of what you’re looking for. There’s not much we can’t do.”
He added, “We have a lot of home décor stuff … we have a lot of useful art. People come in with ideas and it turns into something else cool.”
Knight said holiday sales helped make up for the preceding months, during which he’d had to re-envision his business model.
“Eighty percent of our business was going to shows,” he said.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Knight’s team of 15 sold the art pieces created by him, his father, Larry, and brother, Randy, at the various trade and art shows they regularly attended.
Concerns about stopping the spread of the virus led to the cancellation of many of these expos in 2020 and this year.
With a large inventory already on hand and ready for these events, Knight made the decision to open a brick-and-mortar storefront in May 2020 with the hope of bolstering sales.
He found a move-in-ready commercial space at 4432 W. Clearwater Ave. at the Union Street intersection and quickly set up shop.
While many businesses have been putting off expansion plans and questioning the bottom-line value of maintaining physical storefronts or office space, Knight said it’s been a smart move for his operation.
He runs the roughly 2,000-square-foot store with the help of his wife and one other employee.
When not tending the store, he and Randy can be found in their 1718 W. A St. workshop in Pasco – Knights Welding’s original location.
These days, his father does more overseeing of his sons’ creative process than actual fabrication work.
“There’s not a lot of secret to it,” Knight said. “I do most of the design work all up on the computer and it gets cut out with the CNC (computer numerical control) plasma cutter, and then the guys grind them to make them look smooth and then heat the metal with a torch to bring the color out.”
The latter process, called bluing, depends on how much the metal is heated to determine what natural blue and brown tones will emerge. Some pieces are simply painted black.
All pieces are designed, fabricated, plasma cut and blued, or painted by hand.
Knights Welding prides itself on using all-natural painting methods, in addition to devoting extra time to polishing and perfecting each piece.
Knight said it all started in 2010 when he and his dad – both career welder-fabricators by trade for Lampson International of Kennewick – were building a 17-foot metal gate to span one of their driveways. As a finishing flourish, they decided to add metal art accents to the gate.
“We thought it looked pretty cool,” Knight recalled.
Inspired, the pair attended some art shows not long after. “And then we bought a plasma cutter,” he said.
He said Knights operated out of his dad’s garage for the first several years. After retiring from the Navy, Randy joined the team.
Knight eventually left his job at Lampson to pursue the metal art business full time. “It took me a long time to call myself an artist,” he said.
Their first workshop coalesced somewhat by accident.
“We were actually getting ready to build another shop behind (Dad’s) shop, but the city wouldn’t let us, so we moved into the A Street location,” Knight said. “It actually was better. We didn’t want the extra overhead, but it worked out. We got more foot traffic than we’d ever had before.”
Knights Welding also ships nationwide.
“As far as people coming to see us, don’t forget about the small businesses,” Knight said. “We’re here, we’re open.”
The store’s hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; closed Sundays.