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13 Apr

Gilbert security-door company flourishes during tough times

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

 

That truism stands at the heart of First Impression Security Doors, a Gilbert business that has expanded its payroll, profits and product line during the economic doldrums of the past few years.

“When you walk up to someone’s home, the first impression you have is the front door or gate,” said Tim Cornelius, who owns the company with his wife, Bamie, and his son, Clint. “We’ve always been proud of our product line.”

 

Arizona CentralTen years ago, when the Cornelius family bought the company, it had 17 employees, sold one product and operated out of a 4,000-square-foot leased space.

 

Today, the business has nearly 150 employees, makes a dozen products and owns 50,000 square feet of manufacturing space in four buildings. It has showrooms in Gilbert, Peoria and Tucson, as well as a space at the Mesa Market Place Swap Meet. And next month they’ll open a new showroom in Scottsdale.

Their secret?

 

“It’s really pretty simple,” said Cornelius, who serves as the company president. “If you’re going to be a successful entrepreneur you have to be optimistic rather than pessimistic about the future. My attitude was the glass is always full, not almost full.”

Bamie said that customer service is a big reason their company could expand during an economic contraction.

“We are willing to do anything the customer wants to do, even if we’ve never done it before,” she said, recalling the time some years ago when a customer asked if they could make him a “pizza door,” which would allow a pizza to be delivered without having to open the security door itself.

They’d never heard of such a thing before, but they made one anyway, Bamie said.

Clint, 33, the company’s vice president and general manager, in charge of design, production and operations.

While security doors and entry gates remain the company’s bread and butter, the firm also makes pool fencing, railings, decorative lawn items, spiral staircases and other items, he said.

Tastes have changed since the Cornelius family bought the business in 2002.

Back then, coyotes, kokopellis and cactuses were the most popular design elements. While First Impression still sells a lot of products with those elements, the owners have seen a big shift toward simpler, more contemporary designs, many with a Spanish or Tuscan feel.

Working with a family-owned business has its challenges, it also has its rewards, Clint said.

“I know many people have issues working with relatives, but we work very well with one another,” Clint said. “My father trusts my opinion and how things are being run. And I do the same for him. It works well because we’re both very motivated individuals, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.”

One of the things that Tim, who worked for decades in large corporations, appreciates most about running a relatively small, family-owned operation is its flexibility and nimbleness.

“Making changes in the corporate world can be like turning the Titanic,” he said. “But we can discuss things over dinner and if we want to do something, it’s done. I love that.”

Clint also enjoys seeing his ideas move quickly from concept to testing to production.

“It’s nice to see that and share that with your family,” Clint said. “But seeing each other be successful is the nicest thing.”
Business tips

Tim Cornelius, who worked as a CPA for accounting firm Arthur Andersen for a while, then spent more than two decades in the telecommunications industry, had a few words of advice for those thinking about buying, or starting, a business.

Do your homework. “If it’s an existing business you have to do your due diligence to see where things are in terms of cash flow, in terms of product, in terms of market demand and the feasibility of the business model and how it’s working.”

Ask questions. “When we first looked at this company we didn’t know anything about steel and ornamental iron, but we asked the (previous owners) about everything.”

Diversify your product line. “We do doors and gates as low as $500 up to thousands of dollars for grand entry doors.”

Expand your geographical reach.”Don’t have all your eggs in the East Valley or in Tucson or wherever.”

Market aggressively. “Don’t be afraid to advertize, or start thinking that because everybody is in a downturn (that) they don’t have money to spend.”

Keep changing and improving. “People’s tastes do change. Don’t let your product grow old.”

 

Company information

Open: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.

11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: 1415 N. Mondel Drive, Gilbert.

Details: 800-360-1788, https://www.firstimpressionsecuritydoors.com.