Bigger space


Design Specialties Inc., a designer and manufacturer of aluminum and steel fireplace enclosures, is preparing to move to a new 40,000-square-foot facility in Milwaukee’s Granville Business Park at 11100 Heather Ave.

The exterior of the new building has been completed and crews are finalizing the office space and the layout of the manufacturing floor. Design Specialties expects to move in late December.

The company has leased 19,000 square feet of manufacturing and office space at 7664 N. 81st St. for the last six years but has grown significantly and offers new products, said Patrick Gengler, president and owner of the company.

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“When we moved in here, in a short time we knew we had outgrown the space,” said Karen Gengler, the company’s corporate secretary and Patrick Gengler’s wife.

The Genglers searched Milwaukee’s north side and Menomonee Falls for an existing building to move Design Specialties into for two years. None of the buildings they found were suitable for a modern manufacturing facility, Patrick Gengler said.

“The modifications got to a point where it’s almost the same cost as a new building,” he said.

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Design Specialties has grown from fewer than 20 workers to 30 full-time employees since it moved to its current facility in 2002. The company doubles its work force with seasonal workers between October and March.

The company’s emphasis on short lead time, product variety and ability to produce custom pieces has helped it grow, pushing it into a larger facility.

“We do some real unique stuff – anything from standard (products) to one-of-a-kind artist designed doors,” Patrick Gengler said. “(A lot of people) look at it as the jewelry of the room that makes it sparkle, stand out or more unique. And people are willing to pay for that.”

Three years ago, Design Specialties began offering powder-coated aluminum and steel fireplace doors, which has become a significant growth area. The company’s current powder coating area is now tucked into a small corner of its facility, but it will become a fully automated line that will be about five times the current line, Patrick Gengler said.

“We need expansion room, and we couldn’t shoehorn it in here,” he said. “If we wanted to grow our powder coat (line) it meant we needed a new building.”

The company expects its full time employment to remain relatively stable for the time being, but will increase production capacity with a more cellular layout and automated equipment.

Patrick Gengler came to the realization that his company needed a new building this March, but also realized that the building needed to be done by the end of 2008 so his company could take advantage of current tax credits for the $600,000 in new machinery it will install. To get the job done, he turned to his friend William Luterbach, president of New Berlin-based Luterbach Construction Co. Inc.

“There’s a level of trust here,” Gengler said. “It’s all been on a handshake – nothing is written down. Bill and I have known each other for 25 years, and there’s no second-guessing.”

The $2.7 million project has been financed by TCF Bank, where Gengler has long-standing relationships with commercial lenders Mike Klemz and Mark Pietrowiak. The lenders introduced Gengler to the Milwaukee Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), which gave the company a loan of $500,000 for the new building.

“TCF has been supportive the whole way,” Gengler said. “The loan was approved just the way they said it was going to be.”


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