Forging Ahead: Family Business Reviving Large Industrial Site

Forging Ahead: Family Business Reviving Large Industrial SiteJim Shaffer KELLER ad black

(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 5, 2014)

Jeff Denha was 27 years old when his family bought and put him in charge of a failing metal forging company tucked away in the industrial area of Ferndale’s east side.

“I was young and ignorant when I decided to take on this challenge,” Denha, now 42, said.  “It was a risky venture and we feel very blessed and fortunate that it turned out the way it did.”

The success of Brass Aluminum Forging Enterprises is evident as Denha and his close-knit staff prepare for a major expansion.  Denha has purchased the massive long-vacant factory at 965 Wanda, where he’s already in the process of painting, remodeling, and installing three new presses and a heat-treating line.

The facility was owned by an Argentinian steel company that left is gutted and ignored about eight years ago.  Denha tracked down the owners, made them an offer, and sought Brownfield Redevelopment funding to help with the site clean-up costs, all within a six month window.  Before long the 220,000 square foot building will be rumbling with activity as about 50 employees will be hard at work forging automotive and rifle parts for distribution around the world.

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Though the move is exciting, Denha says he tries to remain humble about it.  “If you let ego get to you that’s when things can go downhill,” he said.  “We went through hard times, and we always have to remember where we were.”

When he started Brass Aluminum Forging Enterprises in 1998, his vision was to make parts for the automotive industry.  “We tried so hard to do automotive.  We tried to get our foot in the door but we couldn’t,” he said.  “We struggled off and on until about 2003.”  That’s when he thought they were going to have to close.

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But Denha was determined not to let that happen. ctechad “Having my family behind me was everything.  Without my father and my brothers I could not have done it.  My heart was set on it and failure was not an option.  My father worked hard for his money, I could not see him lose it.”

Denha’s father came to the United States in 1956 at the age of 19.  He’d left Iraq where Catholic Chaldeans were persecuted, in search of religious freedom and opportunity.  After working his way through college, he grew a successful grocery business that two of his three sons also now thrive in.

Denha leaned toward engineering and manufacturing though, and his father supported him in his passion.  So when times got tough and discussion of closing the business seemed like the most realistic option, Denha took another leap of faith.

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waterwork“I spent my nights doing online research, trying to find what we could make that would be different.  I knew we were losing automotive manufacturing to China, Italy and India.  So where do we look for new business?

“I had to think of what direction manufacturing was going in.  I had to find something that was low volume orders, because companies are less likely to go overseas if they aren’t buying large quantities.  The next was government work, something the government might buy because they do consistent buying even when times are tough.  And lastly we wanting something that people would want made in the USA.  What would people be willing to pay a little bit more to have it be made here?  And today that is exactly where we sit.”

While searching around on Google, Denha found plans for the AR-15 rifle.  It seemed to be exactly what he was looking for.  Without any customers at all and no idea if it would work, Denha created a mold and started making parts.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“We would box up a few of the parts as samples and ship them off the Street-Eatzz-Adreceiving department of companies that made them.  We’d put a little note in the box and then they’d call and say ‘so we got these parts in the mail.’ Finally someone took a chance and tired us out with a 500-piece order.”

From there it was still a lot of work.  “One of those years I was on the road 180 days doing sales,” he said.  “All of my time here was spent doing trade shows, networking, looking for new customers.”

Now he produces orders in the thousands, with rifle parts going to manufactures that do work for the armed forces, police departments, and private citizens.  When he started he had eight employees in the first year.  Now there are more than 50.

“You get so wound up in the expansion of the business, trying to help the customer, that you don’t realize how much you’ve grown.  You look at the balance sheet one day and say ‘oh my gosh, we’re not a mom and pop anymore,” he said.

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Brass Aluminum Forging will keep its original building on Jarvis and will take up 120,000 square feet of the new facility to start.  The additional space will be rented to other local businesses.  The collaborations he’s forged in Ferndale have brought additional value to his business and his life.  “I went to the Mayor’s Business Council and I met other people who are doing artisan type manufacturing and it was eye-opening.  I do business in other cities, but this is very unique the way everyone here works together,” Denha said.

Learn more at http://www.baforging.com/.

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