During a recent walk through the second-generation company with TMA, Lovelace reviewed QFI’s foundational policy: providing what the customer needs.
Lovelace pointed to an active project on the shop floor and said, “Everything’s got a story. On this, the company’s design required a three-part section that needed welding,” Lovelace said. “We figured out a way to fold the product from one sheet of metal. We improved it and lowered production costs and time for the client.
“Often, one of us sees something that could be done easier or better. We discuss it here, and then sometimes we approach the customer with a different idea,” he said. “It’s about building relationships.”
When distance grows between the manufacturer and the customer, feedback and ingenuity suffer, he said.
“We think building a relationship with our customers is important so we can reach out to them with new ideas,” he said. “Sometimes the customers are just looking at the price and making a decision based on that alone. They’re saving 20 cents, or a dollar, or even a hundred dollars, but they may be missing it in the long term because they’ve not built a good relationship with the provider.
“A great relationship can be cultivated into a great partnership, and that’s what we work to develop with our customers,” Lovelace said.
That close working relationship is nearly impossible to develop when clients turn to providers overseas – something of which every American manufacturer is keenly aware.
Ordering overseas forces some clients to order large containers of parts from overseas at a discount price. QFI works at scheduling the customers’ needs at the times they need delivery. In the long run, working with nearby companies can save time, money and convenience.
Quality Fabricators is a full service metal fabrication, precision machining and assembly facility, rooted in building customer relationships – an emphasis that was the company’s founding principle in 1973.
Back then, Tom’s father, Jim Lovelace, launched Quality Fabricators by connecting manufacturers that came into the bar where he was serving drinks. He would listen to his customers vent about what they needed and couldn’t find for their businesses, and what they produced and sold. The elder Lovelace would then connect people and resources he knew could help each other.
Jim Lovelace soon realized that if he got into making the parts himself, he’d get his customers their orders faster and with more dependability. He says he counted on his wife Annette’s counsel as he moved forward.
“I started out with $10,000, more money than I ever could imagine, and then I told my wife Annette we needed to go into debt for $20,000 more to get some machines,” he said.
“When he brought the subject up to me, I told him ‘No,’” Annette said. “He told me he’d never do anything I said ‘Yes’ to right away,” she said with a chuckle.
Before long, the Lovelaces had a business going out of the family’s car trunk. Tom, one of Jim and Annette’s four sons, says he remembers helping his mom deliver parts.
Now as Quality Fabricators’ CEO, Tom and his brothers Mark and Brian lead the company’s daily business of meeting their customers’ needs and building relationships.
QFI grew from a car trunk to a 3000 square foot shop through a four-building phase and ten years ago, they brought all the company’s segments under the roof of an 124,000 square foot building in Addison. There, 85 employees that work in the shop and 15 in the office have expanded QFI into a $20 million a year business.
Along with its focus on customer relationships, QFI offers an impressive array of manufacturing services, from engineering and metal pressing to coating and assembly.
Tom Lovelace and Victor Comacho
Victor Comacho is QFI’s operations manager, and has been with the company for decades. Tom Lovelace credits Comacho with a major part of the company’s excellent reputation for on-time work and product detail quality and accuracy.
“Victor’s come up with ideas to solve issues clients didn’t realize they had with their products,” Lovelace said.
And while it’s very likely another generation of Lovelaces will continue QFI, the Lovelace Family has invested in developing a new generation of skilled workers in their shop, as well.
One young machinist, Bradley, is 21 years old and is learning the trade under Quality Fabricators’ on-the-job mentors. “He’s just got the right attitude,” Lovelace said. “We’re working at bringing in younger people into the shop.”
There’s no question that most everything at QFI has a story, as Lovelace likes to say, and the story of Quality Fabricators is one of family, creativity, patience, humor and commitment.
Quality Fabricators is located at 1035 W. Fullerton Avenue in Addison, IL 60101 and on the web at http://www.qfi-usa.com.
First published in Technology & Manufacturing Association’s “People You Should Know” series