McHENRY – Supplying and installing steel I-beams for new home foundations was the bread and butter for Adams Steel Service Inc. in McHenry.
Then the housing bubble burst.
"We used to do 100 foundations a week, now we do maybe 10 to 15 a week and have to travel farther," said Michael Chambers, president and owner of Adams Steel. "McHenry County is still very slow. It's very soft footing right now.
"We have half the employees we used to have," Chambers added.
For the past four years, Adams Steel has been in transition. "We've been transitioning more into the fabricating of other things for manufacturing and relying less on the housing industry," Chambers said.
Last June, the company moved into its new, 15,000-square-foot building at 1903 W. Route 120 in McHenry, about a mile east from its old location.
He said the new facility has allowed the company to buy equipment to help the transition into other areas.
In one of the outbuildings, the company does machining jobs. "We pride ourselves on fast turnaround. We're kind of the Jimmy John's of the steel business," Chambers said. "You can walk in the front door and walk out with the piece of steel cut to size, or have holes punched. We cater not only to builders but the homeowners for home projects. We can help take your ideas from concept to production.
"We also do a fair amount of ornamental iron work. There's a job leaving that they're loading up right now for Del Webb in Huntley," he said. "A lot of people are asking for railings to help get in and out of the house. With the baby boomers all getting older, our ornamental irons are coming back quite a bit."
Chambers said Adams Steel has one of the largest inventories of structural steel in McHenry County. "We not only sell and fabricate steel, stainless and aluminum, we also deliver and install," he said. "We can provide a wide range of the structural and miscellaneous fabrication repairs and installation on location," Chambers said. 'We have a fleet of trucks equipped with hydraulic cranes ad portable welding equipment plus two mobile-welding service trucks."
The business also carries welding equipment and supplies. "A lot of fabricating shops, a lot of welders, they all come here for their supplies," he said.
Chambers said competition is dwindling. "To be quite honest there's nobody that's in the business that covers all the different areas that we do. We're kind of a little niche."
Adams Steel employs 10 people in the shop, and four in the front office.
Office manager Heidi Howerton has been with the company for 21 years. General manager Peter Kasper Jr. started with the company 40 years ago. Kasper has worked for all three owners, including brothers Richard and Dan Adams. Chambers bought the business 16 years ago.
"We were doing steel at the time but the business was called Adams Brothers Radiator Service," Kasper said. "Then it grew, and we started doing more steel and welding, and started doing basement beams. It just kept progressing from there."
Chambers' wife, Mary, joined the company last November as marketing director. "She's helping us acquire new business in some new areas," Chambers said.
"Our biggest key to surviving this downturn was the fact that we were very conservative and we never overextended ourselves," Chambers said. "By being conservative it helped us through the thin times."
Chambers and his employees built the new building themselves. "Things were so slow that I figured it would give five employees and myself something to do for six months, just thinking for the future," Chambers said. "Everything really paid off well."
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Adams Steel open house:
Adams Steel Service is having an open house from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 1903 W. Route 120, McHenry. Its full-service welding and fabrication shop will be on display along with Miller Electric's trailer to demo its products. For more information, call 815-385-9100 or visit www.adamssteelservice.com.