Quality, speed of delivery, and customer service are key at Precision Metal Art, a decorative metal sign maker newly located in the Hillsdale Industrial Park. Owner Alan Russell founded the local company on a dream, and has sustained its exponential growth with foresight, pluck, and an affinity for risk taking.
Russell said he had long harbored entrepreneurial aspirations. While visiting his parents-in-law in Florida a few years ago, he realized the pricelessness of financial freedom and lifestyle flexibility, and decided to act on his ambitions.
Russell eased into entrepreneurship by taking on after-hours odd jobs, and in early 2016 began making decorative metal hangers with a friend, selling the pieces on Etsy.
“We were just working on plain-Jane equipment in a pole barn,” he said.
Soon, a wholesaler in Los Angeles discovered their work, and offered to buy their hangers in bulk. Hoping to sell 30 in a month, they agreed to the deal, and achieved their target sales in only a few days.
By 2017, Russell and his friend realized their project had grown into a full-time operation, and on July 5 opened Precision Metal Art in a 3,500-square-foot facility in Jonesville. The business makes pre-designed and custom metal signs and accessories for home use and decor, completing each stage of design and production in-house.
In September 2017 Russell bought full ownership rights from his partner, and by October Precision Metal Art employed three workers, including Ashley Price, whom Russell recruited to oversee customer service and assist with marketing and accounting.
“If you want good people, hire good people. Hire Ashley,” Russell said of Price.
One year later, Precision Metal America boasted 28 employees, and moved into a 36,000-square-foot facility in the Hillsdale Manufacturing and Industrial Park in December 2018. The business has expanded production and diversified its offerings rapidly, and recently began selling internationally.
“We’ve been driving the bus and building it at the same time, and it’s kind of a challenge,” said Price. “We lean on action more than we do planning. It’s been amazing to see what you can get done on sheer gumption and will power.”
Russell has embraced the challenges and risks of growing a small business boldly, and learned metalworking “at an exponential rate.”
“I’ve developed the skill of not seeing barriers and seeing opportunities instead,” he said. “When it’s not a struggle, we’re getting complacent. We always have to push.”
Russell and Price agree that the many “little rewards” along the way has made expansion exciting. Precision Metal Art recently added a laser cutter to its lineup of plasma cutters, allowing the business to amp up production, and just last week set up a powder coating oven. As it expands, the business aims to distinguish itself from similar producers with excellent customer service.
“We’re building a brand on quality; one people can trust,” Price said.
Precision Metal Art directs its resources toward bettering the community, contributing regularly to local charities, including the Jonesville Athletic Boosters Association, the Department of Corrections, and Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness of Hillsdale County. It is also deliberate about sourcing materials from local businesses, such as Alro Steel and Jonesville Lumber.
“It’s nice to be rooted in our home community,” said Price. “Hillsdale’s been good to us.”
The business’s goodwill is an extension of its supportive employee culture.
Elizabeth Hawkins primarily works as a laser operator at Precision Metal Art. Hired on New Year’s Day, she considers her job a holiday surprise, and said she appreciates the business’s family-friendly policies and upbeat environment.
“It’s been a life-changer, like something from Heaven,” she said. “I love coming to work.”
“It’s fun,” Russell said. “That’s the best part about it. There’s never a dull moment.”