“Let us help you build your ideas” is a recurring theme on the Creative Iron Arts website. The San Francisco Bay company specializes in metal fabrication – turning the images in a customer’s mind into a handwrought, steel reality.
For this Small Business Success Story episode, we talk with company co-owner Francisco Rangel about his challenges, his family, and how his firm is seeking to expand.
No Slowing Down
Tell us about yourself
My name is Francisco Rangel and I am one of the owners of Creative Iron Arts, a family-owned and operated business. My father immigrated to the U.S. back in 1989 when I was only a toddler – being his first son and without proper documentation has been an uphill challenge throughout my life. I went through school and started community college, desiring to become an architect, but could not accomplish this because of my legal status as well as my lack of financial resources.
So, instead, I followed my father into the ornamental/structural steel industry, climbing up the ladder to become successful in this field. Once I received my legal paperwork to work in this country, I applied for a contractor’s license, and went through all the necessary schooling and testing. I received my license in September 2015 and I have been in business ever since. Today, our company operates out of two locations here in the Bay Area with 10 employees – and we have no intention of slowing down!
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
My father and brother are in business with me. We all invested equal shares and play a role in the company – my father, Chris, is shop foreman and oversees all shop operations; my brother, Miguel, is our field project manager; and I am the office manager.
What does your company do?
We fabricate ornamental and structural steel such as I-beams, moment frames, spiral stairs, and railings. Plus, we have recently expanded into glass guardrails and stainless-steel cable guardrails. The majority of our customers are homeowners seeking our services for new home construction or renovation.
Where did the idea of your company come from?
My father used to forge when he was a young man in Mexico – he worked in this industry since he was 19 years old. When he emigrated to the U.S., he sought out this particular profession.
Unique in the Market
What sets your company apart from its competition?
We are family operated and we pay attention to the fine details. All of our forging is done at our shop and it is all done by hand – we are the only shop in the San Francisco Bay area to still hand-forge.
How do you market your business?
Most of our marketing is word of mouth. We also have a long list of general contractors that have been doing business with my father for more than 10 years. And we now have a Facebook page of current work we have done – we’re able to share photo samples of similar projects with customers so they can see our process and know what to expect. Next on our to-do list: updating our website with new photos and additional company details to provide an even better online customer experience.
How do you “wow” your customers?
We always do a bit extra, going beyond what the quote/proposal says. If we can make it better and it doesn’t hurt our pockets much, we will do it at no additional cost to keep our customers happy.
What are one or two strategies for gaining customers that you have been successful with?
We supply customers with samples – small “mockups” of the items that we’ll be fabricating for them. For example, if we’re going to be making a guardrail, we first fabricate a small, handheld version that shows the material that we’ll use and the proposed finishing.
How do you compete with competitors that are bigger than you?
We don’t think of anyone else as “competition” because we believe we are unique in our industry – the projects we get are specific to us. There’s no competition at all since everything we do is custom fabricated.
Being Smart About Money
What is one of the biggest challenges you have had with your business –and how did you overcome it?
When we started the business, putting together the necessary working capital was certainly one of the biggest challenges. It took us about 1-1/2 years to save enough to cover all the licensing, permitting, and location costs.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I believe all is going better than planned – to be honest, the only thing I would do different is start earlier in this field.
What is the one thing you would do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Save for rainy days! That’s the key to financial stability.
Is there a book that you recommend our community should read?
Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki – it’s provided a lot of insights, including being smart about how money is spent and utilized.
Expanding the Range
Can you speak to your growth to this point? Why do you think it will continue?
We’re focused on growing every year, and we have managed to accomplish that goal every year since we opened. We’ll continue to grow because we keep integrating new ideas and offering different options all the time. We are in the process of opening an office and shop closer to home, so that we can offer our services to a larger range of customers – in 2021, we’re looking to expand our service radius from its current 100 miles to 150 miles.