MARSHALL ? Throughout the Marshall area, people can see the products created by Bend-Rite Custom Fabrication, including the arches and fencing at Memorial Park in Marshall and a bridge for the bike path in Ghent. But since taking over Bend-Rite on Sept. 1, 2001, owner Bill Maertens has seen his business branch out further than he could have ever imagined, with many customers nationwide and even a few on an international level.
"The business really blossomed in about 2004 and has grown every year," Maertens said. "I think a lot of it is word-of-mouth, through networking through our metal suppliers. You get to meet a lot of people who refer you or connect you with different businesses. We have stuff in a lot of different states. It's kind of cool."
When previous owner Syd Horne started Bend-Rite in May 1998, Maertens said, the business was geared more towards residential and commercial duct work, but then it grew a little bit more into the metal fabrication side.
"The metal fabrication blossomed more than the duct work did, so we just kind of ran with that," Maertens said. "It's definitely been our strong point. We still do a little bit of duct work, but not a lot."
About a year ago, Bend-Rite picked up business from a customer in Australia that designed a waterless gravel screener. Bend-Rite built 15 conveyors.
A company in North Dakota also receives conveyors, along with cylinder parts, from Bend-Rite.
"We do a lot of stuff for ethanol plants, like safety platforms, some small tanks, pretty much just about anything they're after I guess," Maertens said. "We do a lot of work for a company that builds water wastewater treatment plants. They're kind of all over the Upper Midwest."
Another project involved building trailers for Northstar Homes, so it could haul motel rooms.
"They built a motel up in Williston, North Dakota, and they hauled it, two rooms at a time on these trailers, Maertens said. "We built six of these trailers for them. They were over 60 feet long."
Bend-Rite employees have also built staircases, an enclosure for a Honda motor, a planter axel for International, a flatbed for an old collector pickup, a part for a John Deere combine and an ice fishing auger case that fits on a snowmobile.
"We do a little bit of everything," Maertens said.
A business in Portland, Ore., ordered products for their air duct system.
"One of the pieces was about 42 feet long and seven feet tall," Maertens said about the air duct. "It starts as a flat sheet, so you have to roll it in a circle, five feet at a time, and weld them all together. Those were 90-degree elbows so they could turn it."
Along with flat bars, rounds and angles, Bend-Rite has different sheet metal, such as galvanized, aluminum, stainless steel and mild steel.
"We have full sheets so we can cut to any size piece that somebody needs," Maertens said.
With the business expanding the way it has, Maertens said adding on to Bend-Rite was inevitable. Those additions included employees as well as building space.
"At the time I took over in 2001, the previous owner and I were the only two on the job," Maertens said. "Now we have nine fulltime employees, so it's grown a lot."
In November, those employees had the opportunity to move into a new shop, which was built over the previous parking lot location. Until November, Bend-Rite employees worked out of the original shop, which now serves as a storage area.
In 2007, Maertens said, a 60-by-80-foot warehouse was built because the business was outgrowing its original building.
"Then, last winter, we started kicking around the idea of adding on again," he said. "We went out on a limb and started all over. So now we have about 27,000 square feet, with both buildings. It's been interesting."
Maertens, who said the new shop is connected to one remaining wing of the warehouse, appreciates the newest facility.
"The ceiling in the original building was only 12-feet tall, but now they're 24-feet tall," Maertens said. "We also have one-and-a-half times more space. It's really open now. And I love having windows on every side of the building. It was so dark before."
Along with impressive lighting, the new Bend-Rite shop has an air and dust collection system.
"It makes it clean, with no fumes," Maertens said. "It's so much better for the workers."
Making everybody happy is part of Maertens' job. While he inspects most of the incoming projects, orders materials and allocates who is going to do which project, Maertens also deals with customers who come in the door.
"They might have questions or want to try some design," Maertens said. "A lot of times, a project comes in on a piece of scratch paper. People say, 'can you do this?' or we do a lot of stuff with bigger companies where they send their blue prints. We also do a lot for the corn plants that's all to their specs."
Return customers are what keeps the business going strong.
"That's how we built our business, by trying to do the best turnaround we could, while a lot of places will tell you two weeks," Maertens said. "We try to sneak people in to make everybody happy."
Bend-Rite still does a lot of local business to go along with its expanding customer base. The business built a number of structures, including a 72-inch wide air duct, hoppers, a tower for a smokestack and a water filter for corn plant companies in the area. They also sell Snow Boss snowplows.
"We repair a lot of stuff, including farm equipment," Maertens said. "We did the kitchen at the Hunan Lion, all the stainless steel on the walls. We also did the driveway archway for Cal Brink, of the Chamber of Commerce."
A lot of yard signs and other Christmas type gifts are also made at Bend-Rite, made easier now with the addition of a computerized plasma table.
"We can program any design or shape into it and it can cut up to 1 and 1/8-inch thick," Maertens said. "It's all controlled by computer. It's amazing."
While there have been a lot of changes over the last decade, Maertens said he likes where the business is at.
"It's kind of like a rollercoaster ride, but it doesn't ever stop," he said. "It's busy, but manageable. It's rewarding and stressful and everything all in one. I love it."
And if more space is needed in the future, Maertens said, the new shop does have the capacity to extend out another 100 feet.