People-Driven Fabrication Firm Flies Like An Eagle
By Daina Darzin Manning
DeCaro clearly knows something about success: His people-first, relationship-driven approach to business has garnered Eagle double-digit growth, even during these times of economic strife. In fact, even the tragic events of September 11th failed to make a dent in the burgeoning fabrication business, which approached sales of $4 million in 2001.
"It wasn't easy," laughs DeCaro. "We did see a drop in the fourth quarter, [especially] on the residential side." But he adds that doing a diversity of jobs helps to keep the firm strong, explaining that the company does a 40/60 split between commercial and residential work, which gives the company's work flow balance and consistency.
The other key to Eagle's success? DeCaro emphasizes service over price, striving to brand Eagle Fabrication as a company that people want to do business with. "We're trying to bring our relationships and service to the end user and make them feel comfortable," he elaborates. "It all boils down to relationships. If people trust you and there's a mutual respect, that takes care of 90% of the deal. You survive no matter what the product is and how the economy is doing.
"I try to instill that with everyone here," he continues. "We
spend a lot of time on customer service, [offering] specialized
training in critical thinking and communications. I try to empower
people and create an environment where they're not afraid to make a
decision with a customer."
Eagle Fabrication came from humble beginnings, with the firm starting out in a two-car garage in 1985. "I hired another employee after three months because I couldn't pick up the [Corian] sheets by myself," DeCaro jokes. "I have zero business background and no formal business training everything has been by the seat of my pants," he adds.
Formerly a construction worker and kitchen cabinet installer, DeCaro took advantage of the relationships he developed during that time to jump start his com-pany. "My favorite customer is the remodeler and kitchen dealer who gets involved with things himself," he notes. "I really enjoy those guys. In the beginning, I built the business on remodelers and a plumbing wholesaler."
After a few years, the company moved to a larger 8,000-sq.-ft. space. ("We were doing about a million dollars a year in sales with no salesperson," DeCaro recalls.) Eagle then converted to its current digs in 1995.
At one point, DeCaro reluctantly gave up fabricating countertops
himself, an activity he really liked. "That was one of the hardest
things I had to do, leave the shop and not touch the material," he
remembers. "The reason I started this business was, I enjoyed
making something, looking at it and having someone else say, 'hey,
that looks pretty good.' Over the years, I've had to learn to get
that feeling from what the business does, not what I do
Investing in People
To make his new, larger company as effective as the smaller one, DeCaro took pains to surround himself with the right people and made an effort to keep them. Some recent recruits have been business associates for years; other relationships were cemented through a commitment to employees.
"When I look at employees, I see their families their kids
standing around them," DeCaro says. "It's my responsibility
see that we have a future. I'm at a point where I can affect my employees' lives, and that makes me feel better than making a countertop. That's the fun part."
Eagle offers special programs such as English classes for the firm's Spanish-speaking workers, which the workers may also bring family members to. "The response to that was tremendous," he notes. "I paid them for their time, and I made it clear to them that if they learned to speak English, they could go further in the company. I'm really interested in keeping people. I don't like to take ads in papers or hire people who [haven't been referred by someone]. I'm more interested in someone's character than whether they can sand a countertop."
As the company continues to expand, change to larger quarters is
indicated, but DeCaro plans to hold down overhead by maximizing the
use of his current space. "I don't want to go to a bigger shop, so
we're using every square foot of this one," he says. "We're
changing our processes" by attending DuPont's instructional
programs for fabricators and also taking advantage of New Jersey's
manufacturing extension program: NJIT, which analyzes a company's
processes and helps with cost controls and developing more
efficient or "lean manufacturing."
Eagle is also reevaluating its office systems to make them work more efficiently, with particular focus on computerization, DeCaro reports. Additionally, the company recently invested $170,000 in industrializing its shop, including purchasing new CNC link machines, DeCaro adds.
However, Eagle has made the decision not to get into granite fabrication at this time, since DeCaro estimates the set up cost for stone fabrication to be half a million to a million dollars. Still, he's quick to note that the company does have relationships with granite fabricators and installs granite in kitchens where customers want more than one material, for instance, a Corian sink area and a granite island to help give the client his or her "ultimate kitchen."
In the end, it's all about service, and as DeCaro concludes , "I'm looking to do a countertop I'm going to get a referral from."
LOCATION: Keyport, NJ
PRINCIPALS: Phil DeCaro,
EMPLOYEES: 28 full time, two part time
SHOWROOMS: "Product display room" geared to wholesale customers: 900 sq. ft. Fabrication facility: 16,000 sq. ft. Office space: 1,800 sq. ft.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m. - 5 p.m.
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: DuPont Corian (fabrication and installation), DuPont Zodiaq (installation only)
DESIGN SOFTWARE: AUTOCAD
SPECIALTY: Residential and commercial fabrication and installation of countertops and other solid surface applications.