People-Driven Fabrication Firm Flies Like An Eagle

by WOHe

People-Driven Fabrication Firm Flies Like
An Eagle

By Daina Darzin Manning


KEYPORT, NJ”Anybody can make a plastic countertop,” declares Eagle
Fabrication president Phil DeCaro. “It’s how you do it, and how you
bring it to market, and the relationship you have with the end user
[that determines your success].”

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.”

Humble Beginnings
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
personally.”

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
to 
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.”

Eagle Fabrication 

LOCATION: Keyport, NJ
PRINCIPALS: Phil DeCaro, 
president
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.

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