Monday, December 16, 2013

Secrets of Success - G.E.M. Gates & Gifts

George and Laura Ewing owners of G.E.M. Fabrications and G.E.M. Gates and Gifts, a metal craft showroom at 308 Fitzwilliam Street have the perfect marriage of talent and business savy which has continued to evolve over the past twenty-seven years. Each has a unique artistic ability that combined  has allowed them to become the biggest custom gate manufacturer  on Vancouver Island. This week they shared with us, their secrets to success.

DNBIA: How did the business get started?
George: I started in 1987. Fabrication is the key end of what we do. G.E.M Gates and Gifts was a brainchild fifteen years in the making. I used to restore muscle cars out of my shop that I built when I was 18 years old. It turned out it was the metal fabrication part that I liked best. Then, my mom got broken into and I built a gate for her with sun rays and mountains and the neighbours loved it and asked where she got it. I had a friend with a wrought iron business and he asked me to do some work for him. I liked the sculpting and painting part, but it was more the metal work that I really enjoyed.

DNBIA: Can you give us a short description of your business?
George: We manufacture quality crafted architectural and ornamental metal products.

DNBIA: What does G.E.M. stand for?
George: It stands for George Ewing Metal. For me is says something in terms of quality. It gives you a more diverse potential than calling it “metal fabrication”.

DNBIA: Why did you open G.E.M Gates & Gifts?
George: As we evolved we wanted it to remain interesting. After 15 years of fabricating we decided to open a showroom for people to come to us to view photos & metal components. Soon we had other local metal artists asking us to display their metal crafted items. Thus began Gates & Gifts. After six year of renting the character buildings on the corner of Wallace & Fitzwilliam Streets, we decided to buy the buildings and put them back on their feet. We have been twenty-seven years in the fabrication end of the business, and we are always looking ahead, taking the “35,000 foot view”. It all begins as a vision with three, five and ten year projections, it all becomes reality.

DNBIA: Making your vision a reality comes naturally then?
George: We believe if you don’t write it down it won’t happen. We take vacation time every year just to dream, discuss and brainstorm ideas. Laura takes notes while we brainstorm and it all comes down to setting objectives and taking the steps we need to take to get to the next level. Then we put together a schedule and review and revise it.

DNBIA: How many employees do you have?
George:  We have four employees. At one point we were pushing nine, but in order to keep everyone busy we were bidding into mainstream competitive projects. So the quality and uniqueness that makes G.E.M. what it is, suffered. I felt it was better to focus on doing a job well. Meanwhile we have twelve to fifteen projects on the go at a time ranging anywhere from five hundred dollars to sixty thousand.

DNBIA: What is the division of labour?
George: I am the fabricator. Laurie sources the product and meets all the artists. We both attend the shows but she makes the decision about what comes into the store.

DNBIA: What service does the fabrication part of the business provide?
George: Architecturally unique metal craft. It used to be anything; any repair idea, but it wasn’t focused enough for me. Now we are primarily fabricating driveway gates and automation systems. It has gone from being 10% of what we did to 80% of what we do now. So many factors have to be considered. Sometimes we have to change the entire front of a house in order to incorporate the wrought iron design that people want.

DNBIA: What geographic region do you serve?
George: The central island keeps me most busy. I have done two gates in Port Alberni recently and we have gone all the way to Tofino for customers, but it’s a stretch to service later.

DNBIA: What about your business makes you happiest.
George: Seeing pieces that we’ve done around Nanaimo. We did the curved rails at the Caprice Theatre, projects for Boston Pizza, Cactus Club, Fitzwilliam Gate, the rails in Lois Lane downtown and various character security window grilles for businesses all over Nanaimo. Now we are working on the plinths for the public art exhibit for China Steps.

DNBIA: What was your favourite project?
George: One of our most recent projects. I did a gate for a family in Rivers Edge in Parksville where we were asked to incorporate a New Zealand Christmas tree the “Pohutukawa Tree” into the design. When I first met Laura she thought it would be cool to do graphic art. I like teamwork-oriented things and with this project we had the opportunity to work together. I am able to do the gates structurally and artistically I can do it, but I can’t do the drawing – Laura draws on paper and then creates computer generated images that I incorporate into the gates in my CAD drawings.  This gate has seven large panels of steel; three on the back that are flat in silhouette and four in  front; hammered to more three dimensional, painted black with gold highlights. I really enjoy teaming up with my girl and it is great to work together. We have been together for 27 years, there is a clear delineation between both aspects of the business, and together it works.

DNBIA: Can you give us an anecdote that sums up what your business is all about?
George: We collect “sunshine words”. These are words that we excerpt from customer letters and post on our website. We recently had a customer in Port Alberni who wanted a very unique staircase built for her home.  During the building and installation process we knew there were going to be problems with some of the carpentry work that had been done. Rather than just go ahead and install it the way she wanted, I talked to her on the phone and we had a very personal one to one, because I knew she would regret the decision in the end. These are difficult conversations to have because there is more effort and cost involved, but when the rails were done, she was so pleased happy to be part of the decision process that she sent a letter with really nice “sunshine words”.


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