Already an in-demand custom metal fabrication business, Odessa-based Willis Manufacturing has added a second facility and new services to help the company develop, enhance and diversify its burgeoning Eastern Ontario customer base.
Once it’s fully operational by the end of fall of 2017, the new 7,000-sqare-foot space will mean the solving of some growth-related logistical and storage issues. It also presents the opportunity to add a dimension to the suite of services the company can offer, making it a veritable one-stop shop for those looking for fabrication solutions that are fast and of superior quality and workmanship.
“The owners [Don and Jeff Willis] had been talking about expanding over a number of years, but it’s only been in the last year or so that the owner of the other property decided to list it. We had been in talks since the beginning of the year, telling him that we wanted the space. It was important for us because it meets a lot of our needs,” said Chris Emmons, Sales and Marketing Associate for Willis Manufacturing, speaking on behalf of the company.
“Being a custom metal fabricator, we have a lot of high-end equipment; a lot of machinery that needs a good footprint. If you imagine a building that started out as a small automotive garage, you can understand the challenge to make everything fit. We added another 3,000 sq ft of space to the initial structure, and now this second facility gives us the room to expand our operations.” The total square feet of both facilities combined is approximately 17,000 sq ft.
The most crucial aspect of the expansion is the addition of a powder coating bay which features a custom batch oven with an interior space of 12’ long by 8’ wide by 7’ 10” tall. A standard 10’ long x 8’ wide x 8’4” tall oven will act as a secondary oven for increased production and redundancy. The powder booth itself will be a 10’ tall by 10’ wide by 12’ deep space. This acts as a complement to the existing CNC laser, punch and waterjet cutting services, meaning there is comprehensive solution available to clients for precision metal products with finishing services near Kingston.
“Now we are offering some basic finishing services. In our industry, if a customer shows up at your door with a CAD [computer assisted design] drawing, and says, ‘I need this quantity of this product in this time frame, can you do it?’, we take a close look at the project requirements and our capacities, and do our best to generate a quote as quickly as possible. From there, we take that drawing and turn it into a tangible product. More often than not, they want it made from stainless steel, aluminum or mild steel, and occasionally want it galvanized or powder coated. Before, those finishing steps would have to be outsourced because we didn’t have it on site,” Emmons explained.
“For powder coating, depending on the size of the product, we might have to send it to Ottawa or Toronto and that of course not only adds to the cost but also the lead time. Pretty much any shop you go to it’s a five-day turnaround for that work, so that’s basically another business week. We are also seeing more and more jobs go with powder coating over galvanizing. By bringing powder coating in house, we are going to be one of the few fabrication shops between Ottawa and Toronto who actually have a proper powder coating set up. We are not only going to be a turnkey solution for those types of projects, but we’re hoping to service everybody between that region who is typically in the same situation that we were, of having to ship it out.”
Even before the facility was up and running, Emmons said he and his colleagues were hearing from both existing and potentially new customers that were very much supportive of the endeavour.
“The feedback we have received has been fantastic. We keep hearing more and more from our customers who are saying they will be sending us more work because of this, because they need the quick turnaround and the finishing steps to be done. So we know that there is lots of work out there, and it’s going to be a good thing for us when we get it in place,” Emmons said. Currently there are 17 employees, a number of whom are being cross trained for the new services. Depending on how busy things get, Willis Manufacturing may increase their staffing to accommodate the work.
Willis Manufacturing has been growing steadily since it was founded in 1999. It’s an example of a company that brought together extensive experience and expertise, as well as a passion to do quality work and to serve their customers as well as possible.
“Don is an expert tool & dye maker and with over 40 years experience, so he has a keen eye for detail and accuracy. Jeff Willis is a welder by trade, who is very experienced with sheet metal, but also with the processes and equipment operating on site. He acts as the company’s CWB supervisor, as well as business owner. He is the one who keeps his thumb on the pulse for shop operations and quality. The business has thrived primarily off of word of mouth and returning customers; there hasn’t been a whole lot of advertising over the years,” Emmons said.
“They really did build their success based on quality, price and just good customer service, with the service aspect being paramount as they have always tried to help everybody execute their projects as they see it and keep it within their budget. Really, for our customers there are three key areas that people are concerned about – quality, price and lead time. We try to keep those things at the heart of every deal and make sure we stay focussed on what matters. This new expansion is just one more step where we can do something more for the customer to cut down on those lead times and costs.”
For most of their time in business, Willis Manufacturing has dealt with clients from the Kingston, Belleville and Brockville areas, but over the last few years has been taking orders from places such as Hamilton, Montreal and across the border in Rochester, New York.
Being located in Loyalist Township has its advantages, not the least of which are the cost of land and associated taxes and utility costs, which are substantially lower than they would be in larger urban centres closer to the GTA.
“The talent pool for skilled employees is pretty good around here too, plus we are pretty close to the border and being pretty much right off Highway 401, we have access to Toronto and Ottawa and all of southern Ontario. There are so many potential customers within two or three hours in any direction,” Emmons said. With the recent closure of Dowling Metal & Fabrication, Willis Manufacturing successfully onboarded several of their employees including the initial owner, Kevin Dowling. “We are really trying to target the construction industries and manufacturers. Basically, wherever there is specialized metal fabrication work needed.”
For more information on Willis Manufacturing, visit www.willismanufacturing.ca.