During its 40 years in business, Stiles Custom Metal Inc. has weathered many ups and downs in the metal door manufacturing industry.
But the Great Recession, which halted construction projects across the United States, proved particularly painful for the family-owned business. With relatively few American projects seeking custom-made metal doors, Stiles started competing for international contracts.
And it landed a big one.
“This month, we shipped our first 250 doors and frames to Hong Kong,” said company President David Stiles. There will be plenty more such shipments during the next two years, as at least 3,000 Ceres-made doors will be installed in Hong Kong’s subway line extension. “This is well over a $2 million contract for us.”
That’s good news for the company and its 80 employees. Stiles figures the Hong Kong orders created enough work to keep about 10 of his full-time workers busy.
“We’re still not back to full employment here,” Stiles said. “But we’re proud to still be in business and to have survived the economic downturn.”
If things go as planned, his company will win the subway’s next contract for an additional 3,000 doors and frames, which would keep his manufacturing facility hopping for years to come.
“Getting these jobs depends on our ability to compete price-wise,” explained Stiles, noting how it must beat out Chinese manufacturers to get those Hong Kong contracts.
Fortunately for Stiles, Ceres is relatively close to West Coast ports and “water freight is remarkably inexpensive” these days.
“We can ship doors to Hong Kong cheaper than we can ship (over land) to New York,” Stiles said. The trek across the Pacific Ocean takes about four weeks.
Stiles’ subway contract, however, requires him to deliver those doors only as far as the shipping container here in California. Another company takes over from there, handling all the international transportation, regulations and installation.
This Hong Kong project, nevertheless, is the second-largest job Stiles’ company ever has landed, and it will become the biggest if it wins the order for the second phase of subway construction.
Back before the recession, Stiles filled its largest order when it created 40-foot-tall frames for storefronts in Las Vegas’ massive City Center project. The $9.2 billion casino-hotel-apartment project, which was the largest privately financed development in U.S. history, opened in 2009.
Stiles said he hopes his company soon can participate in large construction projects closer to home, perhaps like the new courthouse planned in downtown Modesto.
Stiles started the company with his late father, Denby Stiles, and now is partners with his brother Steve Stiles and son Sam Stiles. The company specializes in built-to-order commercial steel doors and window systems. Its 600-foot-long manufacturing facility is on Kinser Road.