What do you do when your largest customer, 65% of your business, closes its doors for good? How do you save the jobs, the work you take pride in, and the legacy your company has built? These questions and many others confronted Ed Baldassi with the closing of the GM plant on Ontario Street. Like many businesses in the area, Offsite Industries depended on the General Motors plant churning out vehicles they contributed to. Offsite Industries was responsible for painting or powder coating parts for the dominant force of the St. Catharines manufacturing base. With it now gone and no return possible, Ed was faced with a choice, either wind the business down or regroup, refocus, and reinvest and create an entirely new phase in the company’s history. Choosing the latter, Decora Powder Coatings was born.
The automotive business was a high volume, lower margin business that involved a great deal of repetition and worked like a well-oiled machine. With no other industry offering that type of single volume customer, Ed spotted an opportunity in the architectural field. The use of powder coating for both internal and external building materials had become popular in Europe, but North America was slow to shift from more traditional materials. Offsite, now Decora, would invest in equipment to allow them to compete in this space, which required sharper precision and quality control than previously needed. Technology this specialized and accurate would not come cheap however, and would take a big commitment from Ed, family and staff.
Ed took the plunge and invested over $5 million in equipment to transform their 75,000 square foot space on Benfield Drive, making them the only supplier of their kind in Canada. The once never ending line of car parts, while still having some presence, has been replaced by doors, door frames, paneling, interior and exterior wall coverings, fences, decks and fixtures of various kinds just to name a few. The high definition and texture of the pieces makes it hard to tell the difference between them and traditional materials without a trained eye and close inspection. Their light weight and durability make them an attractive option to anyone wanting a traditional look, but modern convenience.
For the technically inclined, the powder coating differs from external painting by being worked into the substrate of the metal being used, whether it’s steel or aluminum. Decora employs an etching process which makes the metal porous and then the powder is baked into it, giving it its durability. To prove their ability and obtain certification, they have had parts put through a rigorous 5000-hour salt spray to ensure their work will stand the test of time. To help with this, Decora partnered with Brock University and worked with physicist Fereidoon Razavi to find the best cleaning method for substrates prior to fabrication of powder coatings, to develop tools to quantify the coating’s adhesion and study the microstructure. They used the Applied Research and Commercialization Grant Initiative to fund the project.
The new company direction has meant significant changes with staffing. Where many companies employ technology that replaces workers, in Decora’s case the new model has increased the need. Architectural powder coating requires expanding the team to include inspectors, quality managers and team leads. In 2015, twelve new employees were added to the team and Ed expects ten more in 2016. The new staff, in addition to the training of existing employees, has meant a significant investment in the people that work at Decora.
“We have great, hardworking people here and the investment in them is as important as the investment in new technologies and processes. Without a good team all the technology in the world won’t help you.” Ed said.
Two more Baldassis have also joined the team in recent years with sons Brock and Blake heading up the paint and decorative lines, respectively. It means the family business will stay in the family and continue to grow under their watch.
“We grew up around our father’s business and it’s a great source of pride for our family,” said Blake, “it’s something we want to build on and carry forward together.”
Another source of pride is the eco-friendly nature of the powder coating process. The difference between traditional paint and powder coating is significant, with few harmful chemicals and a minimal amount of waste.
“A great feature of powder coating is the product creates no VOC’s, uses no chromes in pretreatment, and we’re able to reclaim 85% of what’s left over afterward.” says Brock, “Part of creating a legacy as a company is being environmentally friendly and sustainable.”
Moving forward the company expects to make further inroads into the architectural market and achieve ambitious growth targets. They’ve achieved 20% year-over-year growth in the last 4 years–a far cry from the humble beginnings starting out in Ed’s basement. With work being done and quoted as far away as Phoenix, Mexico City and Australia, the name Decora will be known around the world as well as in St. Catharines.