Flange maker nails down spot as biggest in the west
Mike Fite, president of Pacific Coast Flange Inc. in Mound House, proclaims himself the “Flange King” of the western United States and the name is no empty claim.
After purchasing its West Coast competitors over the last decade, Pacific Coast Flange is the only industrial flange manufacturer west of Houston and Fite’s protective about a sales territory that extends from Colorado to the Pacific Ocean and includes a bit of western Canada.
“I think of the western United States as my yard and stay the hell out of it,” he says with a hearty laugh. “I protect it like a pit bull protects his yard.”
Fite, 52, has never lacked confidence. The self-proclaimed “Flange King’s” start is as humble as it gets: Thirty years ago he answered a help-wanted ad for an industrial salesman placed by Continental Manufacturing in Ukiah, Calif.
“They asked me if I could sell flanges, and I said, ‘you tell me what it is, and I’ll sell it.'”
Fite hadn’t worked in sales, but in a few years he was named manager of Continental’s California division. Weary after three management changes, Fite expressed his frustrations over dinner with a big customer, Dennis Rinearson. Rinearson offered to
finance Fite in the flange business.
Pacific Coast Flange incorporated in Ukiah that year, and three years later Fite purchased Continental Manufacturing. Rinearson, who owns California Pipe Fabricators in Dixon, remains Fite’s only partner and still is a top customer of Pacific Coast Flange.
In 2000, Pacific Coast Flange purchased the flange division of Ukiah-based Retech Systems LLC, leaving the company as the only flange manufacturer in the West.
“Freight becomes the natural barrier between me and my Houston competition,” Fite says. “It is ludicrous of me to ship our heavy product.”
Fite says many companies import finished flanges, but these products typically require modification.
“Flanges have to be modified to accommodate specific pressures and flow. You can’t just take one right off the shelf,” he says.
Pacific Coast has 30 employees, 21 of them working in production. Fourteen of the current staff moved with the company from Ukiah in 2005.
Pacific Coast also contracts as a machine shop, and about 10 percent of Fite’s business comes from machining for other companies. Pacific Coast recently invested $1.7 million for the largest metal lathe in the state it can turn parts to 24 feet housed in a new 10,000-square-foot building.
When the company moved from California it started with 30,000 square feet. Today, Pacific Coast occupies 30,000 square feet in warehousing space and 40,000 square feet for manufacturing between four buildings. Sales volume increased by more than $1 million in 2007.
In addition to providing flanges to join sections of large pipe used in municipal sewer or drinking water systems, the company provides flanges for piping for the petrochemical industry. That business is growing as companies invest the proceeds of $100-a-barrel oil.
And another market recently opened: wind power. Fite says most wind generators have several flanges that attach the wind tower to a concrete footing and join individual sections. The largest are 18 feet in diameter hence the new lathe; Pacific Coast previously could only turn flanges to 12 feet in diameter.
“I wasn’t about to have the people in Houston do that and I couldn’t,” he says. “Now I have the largest capacity in the United States; no one can make a flange bigger than me.”
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