its own doesn’t make a sustainable business—hence the need to
diversify beyond the automotive aftermarket with MetalFab Group.
Two Businesses, Too Many Doors
Having two businesses under one roof is now baked into the metal manufacturer’s long-term strategy. It employs two production
managers who juggle the resources the two businesses share, including laser cutting, bending, and robotic welding. The flow then
splits into two separate value streams at manual welding and assembly.
The current building has been expanded six times. The original
hot rod shop now is the shipping department; you can still see the
checkered black-and-white stripe around the perimeter—still appropriate, considering the shipping department is the finish line
Although exhaust products and other sheet metal assemblies cross the finish line, the race to the checkered flag could be
smoother. Sources explained that achieving smooth part flow can
be challenging, and not because the shop lacks good planning. It
just lacks the right facility.
“It’s so chopped up,” Kohler said. “I swear that I’ll walk around
a corner and find yet another door that I didn’t even know was
there. It’s very departmentalized.”
Hence the strategy of moving to a 65,000-sq.-ft. building with
several acres to spare for future expansion—room for an entirely
separate factory dedicated to one business, either Stainless Works
or MetalFab Group. The thinking is that in the future, while the two
organizations would continue to share ideas and collaborate when
it makes sense to do so, they would share few if any resources for
When the companies move to their new facility in November,
though, they will continue to share fabrication and automated
welding equipment. But with the open layout, flow will be much
smoother, and workers will have much better lines of sight. People
will know where jobs are coming from and where they’re going.
Although layout is in its early stages, as of now the company
plans to have the flow start on one side of the facility, with shared
laser cutting, press brake bending, and automated welding. Flow
will split into separate manual welding and assembly areas dedicated to either Stainless Works or MetalFab Group, and then come
back together again at the shipping department.
Handling the Growth
It’s not unusual for a fabricator to grow to, say, $10 million in annual revenue and then falter a bit operationally, particularly if
sales growth remains rapid. The shop gets too large for muscling
jobs through without established, agreed-upon, and documented
This situation wouldn’t be surprising at Stainless Works and
MetalFab Group. After all, both sides of the business continue to
grow rapidly. Year-end revenue in 2016 was $6.5 million, and projected revenue for 2017 is $8 million. The company expects custom fabrication to grow 50 percent this year and the automotive
aftermarket business to grow 30 percent.
So are employees feeling the growing pains now?
“Not really,” Kohler said. “We have ISO certification and process
documentation. And yes, when we grow past $10 million, we know
that any company becomes more difficult to manage, and at some
point, we’ll break the two companies apart.
“But we’re ready. In fact, when it comes to growing pains, by far
the biggest pain was going from $500,000 to $5 million [in annual
The company employs 15 welders, all of whom know the gas tungsten arc process. Manual welders work solely with either the Stainless Works product lines or with make-to-order assemblies
for MetalFab Group.
ing and sales staff, as well as a marketing
team that has successfully gotten the Stain-
less Works name into various media out-
lets. Watch the Discovery Channel’s “Street
Outlaws”, and you’ll see cars with exhaust
systems from Stainless Works. In fact, hav-
ing the Stainless Works brand has helped the
company gain the broad recognition that a
typical custom fabricator couldn’t achieve. All
the same, a good marketing opportunity on