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Mako Steel Inc.Making It All Work

January 1, 1999

5 Min Read
Mako Steel Inc.Making It All Work

Mako Steel Inc.

Making It All Work

By Teri L. Lanza

Who would havethought that a successful company averaging 50 percent annual growth and anticipating $15million in sales this year would have sprouted from some simple diligence and adining-room table? But it did. In 1993, Michael Branon, owner and president of Mako SteelInc., set out to begin a niche company focusing on the self-storage construction market.He was joined a year later by vice president Caesar Wright. The two, who had previouslyworked for four years together at another company, have been making it all work eversince.

According to Branon, when the self-storage industry began to boom in the late 1980s, hebegan to focus on the new opportunity. "I had come from a commercial/industrial,metal-building background," he says, "and discovered that self-storage appearedto have a much greater upside due to its inherent tax advantages, risk aversion andpotential demand. Mako Steel simply developed enough expertise to tap the demand andprovide its clients with a high level of service to ensure repeat business in thefuture." The company that began in the construction of commercial steel buildings,now concentrates almost exclusively on mini-storage. "About 95 percent of what we dois self-storage construction," Branon says.

Branon feels fortunate that the self-storage industry grew beyond his expectations."It didn't take a rocket scientist to look at a business that--at the time--had fewsuppliers and what I forecasted as substantial future demand and figure it made sense toget into that. But I never dreamed that the industry would grow as it has."

Mako Steel, based in Encinitas, Calif., has nine employees and additional offices inYucaipa, Calif., Lake Havasu City, Ariz., and Vancouver, Wash. While the company has builtin 35 different states and does business nationally, it has recently been focusing more ofits attention in the Western states over the past year because of a booming Californiaeconomy.

More Than Just Builders

From L to R: Caesar Wright (vice president), Lee Kleinmaier (office manager), James Bartnick (project manager), Mike Branon (president), Mark Zerlaut (technical Services), Robert Lesko (project manager)

Becoming big boys in the industry has meant experience gained for the owners of Mako,but not only that--it has resulted in a wealth of information available to the customersthat come to them for service. "I think all of our guys here have picked up enoughinformation where they can act not just as builders but as consultants, in a way,"explains Branon. "We work with a lot of builders and even architects who are kind ofgreen in terms of mini-storage. We work with them on the design phase."

According to Wright, "We like working with first-time builders. We offer a lot ofconsultation to them regarding layouts, making them more economical. We offer a lot offeedback to owners; for example, if they show us a design that looks good on paper butdoesn't work from a construction standpoint. Our 'in-house' drafting department not onlysaves time on preparation, but serves as a valuable checkpoint to solve constructionproblems in the planning phase instead of the building phase."

"People buy buildings from Mako," says Branon, "but it's the intangiblesthat come with the building that really matter--consulting, design analysis, competentlabor crews and a helpful, upbeat staff. That's what sets us apart from your basiccompany."

Assisting Innovation

Steel buildings are still steel buildings--it's how you enable them to supportinnovations in design that bring them up to speed. Explains Branon, "I wouldn'tconsider us to be 'cutting-edge' innovators, but I would say that we're in tune withchanging market conditions and architectural requirements. We've become very competent incombining our products to meet these needs." One of those needs, especially in recentyears, is enhanced aesthetics.

"The structures we were building two to three years ago were primarilymetal," says Wright. "Now we're finding that to be changing in a lot of citiesand counties. Architecturally, self-storage is becoming more of a show-piece type ofproperty, with a lot of exterior stucco and tilt-up, which works well with our designbecause we can provide the necessary framing. We can detail and provide materials thataccent stucco and masonry by using architectural panels and pairing nice trim packages tocomplement them. We find that most of the clientele that come to us are being forced to gothat route. We're good allies in that case because we know how to dress up a building, butmake the inside utilitarian so that the customer can maximize revenues."

Mako Steel is also working in multistory construction, which Branon says they arefinding on jobs more and more frequently. The company is currently finishing a four-storyproject in Alaska. "Multistory and boat/RV storage are natural extensions of thebasic self-storage concept," says Wright. "We've helped our clients achieveremarkable success in these areas as well."

Philosophy of Care

"Mako offers the customer the buying power of a big company but the service you'dexpect from a small company, where people actually care about your project," saysWright. "Although we have had phenomenal growth, we like to think that we offer apersonal touch to the owners and builders that we work with. Even though business is aserious matter, we actually have been known to have fun at work. I think our customerssense that we enjoy what we do, which results in a lighter, more cooperative project. Ourhigh level of repeat business owes a lot to the fact that our builders know we enjoyworking with them, and that we want them to be successful."

"For a lot of these guys," points out Branon, "this is their firstproject or the main investment opportunity that they're going to have in their lifetime,and they don't want to get the big company runaround where you make a phone call andnobody returns it for a couple of days, if at all. One thing I'm most proud of at mycompany is that all of our guys here return their phone calls promptly. We look at thingsfrom a builder's perspective. We try to combine the best qualities of a big company and asmall company together--that's how we handle the buying power and the service. That's whatmakes us successful."

For more information, call Mako Steel at (800) 383-4932 or visit their Web site at www.makosteel.com .

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