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Couple expands metalworking business

Staff writer

When Sarah and Troy Dawson when moved their metalworking business, Prairie Oaks Designs, from Cedar Point, “why Florence” was a question they heard frequently.

“It’s really because this is where I grew up,” Sarah said.

It wasn’t only about the location, the timing for the move made sense too.

“Within the last year, a couple stores that my product was in were closing their doors,” she said. “So that was what got us thinking we needed to open our own store so people knew where to find a lot of my product in one place.”

The Dawson’s creations are cut from large metal sheets, and can be phrases, silhouettes or any number of custom designs.

When the time came to relocate, multiple options were available. Some customers wanted the Dawsons to move to a larger city.

“People have wanted me to go to Wichita and have my store there, but it’s a lot harder. We’re thinking in terms of getting metal trucks in, unloading metal and just the rent in Wichita is so high.”

Despite not living near population centers like Kansas City or Wichita, customers travel from as far as Oklahoma to purchase the Dawson’s intricate and personal art pieces.

“People are willing to travel just to come to my store,” Sarah said.

The shop is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. They work in the back more often though, receiving custom orders almost every day, August to January.

“We don’t want to come up with one set size and one set price,” Sarah said. “We want to accommodate all people.”

While the process is called plasma cutting, the torch is incinerating the metal at 14,000 degrees, Troy Dawson said.

“It’ll cut through a magnet, there’s not much it won’t cut through,” he said.

While they have experience from the previous plasma cutter, and Troy’s 15 years in welding, the new machine is far more intuitive.

According to Sarah, the machine aligns itself. She can cut out parts from a sheet, and the machine will remember where to pick up the next day.

The software is very precise and can trace outlines as intricate as someone’s signature. One client sent a relative’s signature and she recreated it in the program.

One of the options they plan to start offering is guided tours and demonstrations of the facility.

“We’ve had several people contact us, even schools, who are wanting to come bring tour groups,” Sarah said. “I actually have a group coming in December because they want to see the process.”

While the workshop at Cedar Point was conveniently located next to their house, it had several drawbacks.

“There’s no heating, no air conditioning and so working in those conditions was hard for us to cut metal,” Sarah said. “So we needed to find a location. We either needed to build a building somewhere or just relocate our working facility.”

It did not have internet access either, so they frequently made trips to the house while working.

“Where we were, we didn’t have phone and we didn’t have internet, so every time we had a problem, we had to go down to the house and make a phone call or get online,” she said. “So it was very frustrating trying to learn the system.”

While they are an established business now, the idea was not a planned move.

“She had seen a whole bunch of metal art stuff in a magazine and she wanted to know how to do it,” Troy said. “Me being in the industry, I’ve been around machinery like this a lot.”

From the start, the reception they received was positive and convinced the Dawsons to continue pursuing the endeavor.

“When we put ourselves out there for our first show, we were overwhelmed with the response we got from people,” Sarah said.

Last modified Aug. 23, 2018

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