ST Fabrication Inc.

For ST Fabrication Inc., every project is more than just work, President Jesse Cherian says. “We don’t look at jobs as one-offs,” he says. “We look at developing relationships [with clients] so that we have long-term relationships where we are doing one job after another [for them].”

Based in Federal Way, Wash., the company specializes in custom steel manufacturing. Initially, ST Fabrication started operations in 1971 as a boat and trailer weld shop, Cherian says.

Over time, the company grew to develop a portfolio of structural and miscellaneous steel projects for clients worldwide. However, in 2002, Cherian and Vice President Eric Hildebrandt bought the company after working as engineers at Boeing.

At the time, the two brought “21st century technology” to ST Fabrication’s operation, Cherian says. “Prior to our arrival, everything was done via pencil, paper and fax machine,” he recalls. “We brought in T1 lines and created a website.

“[We also] began standardizing the bidding process with electronic databases and things like that,” he continues, noting that the company today employs a staff of 30 and has additional offices in Anchorage, Alaska, and Tiyan, Guam.

In addition, ST Fabrication specializes in a wide variety of projects, ranging from commercial work to military and government jobs. “[We do] everything from ornamental hand rails, trellises, canopies and balconies to full-on structural steel solutions for multi-story buildings and large industrial buildings,” Cherian says.

Last August, the company also was certified as an 8(a) general contractor, and it will provide these services through its new division, Jabez Construction. With this added role, “There are opportunities to expand the business and be more than just a fabricator,” Cherian says.

Whatever it Takes

Cherian, who was a material scientist at Boeing for 10 years, says he enjoys the construction industry. “At my core, I’m a businessman,” he says. “I enjoy putting together deals.

“I enjoy the interaction with people and making projects go,” he continues. “Construction is really a [marriage] of the engineering sciences and business, and I like that aspect of it.”

To maintain strong client relationships, ST Fabrication’s staff provides a high level of service, Cherian says. “Our focus is [always] what does the customer need to get the job done,” he says.

Although this dedication sometimes results in a short-term loss of profits, Cherian notes that the company will accept it in order to develop a relationship based on trust. “We’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done so the customer is not left [with] loose ends,” he says. 

Cherian adds that he also is proud of the team that he and Hildebrandt have helped assemble at ST Fabrication. “Everyone who works here feels like they’re part of that team,” he says. 

To maintain a close work environment, ST Fabrication holds monthly company functions where its members of management can talk to staff members. “We meet with them on a regular basis, whether it’s a lunch, barbecue or going fishing and get a sense of where they’re at and what their needs are,” he says.

“[We also] let them get a sense of where their company is, so we can all make more intelligent decisions,” he says. “We’re trying to foster a spirit of [community here].”

Making Changes

Recently, Cherian says, ST Fabrication has noticed a tightening of margins in its industry. “The room for errors is really, really slim,” he says. “It has caused the industry as a whole to be much more competitive than it was three years ago.”

In addition, ST Fabrication is coping with the rising costs of materials, as well as an increased number of project delays. “There’s a lot of projects that seem to get going and then they are stopped because of budgetary considerations,” he says. 

Additionally, with the increased competition, “You have to bid more than you used to,” he says. “There’s so much pressure [to win] the existing jobs.” 

However, Cherian predicts that ST Fabrica­tion’s movement into general contracting will help it with these challenges. “In some ways, we’ll become our own customer for certain projects,” Cherian declares. “It enables us to have other ways to bring in revenue other than steel.”

Cherian asserts that he expects ST Fabrica­tion to stay successful as it grows and maintains its customer base. 

“The division of Jabez Construction will also enjoy similar success to what ST Fabrication has,” he says. “We believe that the same attention to detail for customer service and can-do approach will enable it to become a successful general contractor.”

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