Building Trust & Fences
A-1 Steel Fence Co., Inc. designs solutions
For almost 47 years, the Moreno family has led California-based A-1 Steel Fence Co., Inc. (A-1) with attention to detail and a hands-on approach. It’s paid off with high-profile projects at the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village as well as Google’s new home in Playa Vista.
Known for its quality fence installations, the company is led by President Ted Moreno, who took over the 74-year-old company in 1972. Helping to run the business are Ted’s sons, Vice President Frank Moreno and Controller David Moreno. Frank joined the firm after graduating from Stanford University in 1984 and David came on board four years ago after earning his master’s in business from the University of Southern California.
“As kids, we grew up working summers and after school putting fittings away and cleaning up the trucks and yard,” Frank says. “From the start, our dad has taught us to pay attention to the details, or a project can go south very quickly. We’re a family-oriented company and we are all very hands-on. We don’t just sit in the office. Dad is still at job sites, supervising, checking for quality, staying connected with the clients, and when we’re not looking, he’s operating the core drilling machines.”
Located in Santa Fe Springs in the Los Angeles County area, the firm does all grades of fencing for commercial, residential, institutional and government projects. A-1 has done multiple noteworthy jobs and can work in a design-build capacity, helping clients determine the best products, styles and fence layouts to meet their needs. The Westlake Four Seasons project is a good example of that, Frank says.
A pagoda, built in China using traditional methodology of no nails and only wooden dowels, was disassembled and shipped to the Westlake hotel to be reassembled in the same fashion, Frank says. “The architects and designers wanted a lattice-type steel railing around the pagoda,” Frank says. “We took 1/2-inch-thick solid steel metal and sent it to a laser cutter to cut the lattice design into the metal. The designers wanted the railing color to be black, but my dad recommended powder coating it red to make it pop. The architect took my dad’s recommendation and the railing became the crowning jewel of the pagoda. That was a $500,000 project for A-1.”
Frank says A-1 is no stranger to working on very high-end, high-quality projects. A prime example is the company’s work on various fencing facets within Google’s new location in Playa Vista. The project is 450,000 square feet spread across a converted airplane hangar, built in 1943 by the famed Howard Hughes to house the world’s largest wooden airplane developed during World War II. It is now a four-story office structure.
Google leadership wanted to use a certain type of steel fencing, but Frank and his team advised them to use Alumi-Guard aluminum because of the proximity to the beach. “The steel wouldn’t weather well, whereas Alumi-Guard has a limited lifetime warranty versus the 10-year steel warranty for the product originally specified. It also came in 25% less expensive than what they originally wanted to use,” Frank says.
“The whole project was challenging because the hangar is such an old site that no one knew what obstacles and utilities were underground. We had to reconfigure the fences and gates on multiple occasions once we started digging. The fence’s multiple motorized gates added to the difficulty. We had worked with the contractor on a number of other projects and they knew we were flexible, creative and good at solving problems. It’s one of the reasons they selected us,” Frank says.
When Boeing was demolishing its property in Redondo Beach and converting it into a corporate park, A-1 was brought in to provide the perimeter security fencing. The original request was for wrought iron, but A-1 leadership recommended an architectural welded wire product. The fence not only saved money, but also allowed climbing vines to completely grow and hide the fence. It actually looks like a large, flowering hedge with the aspect of security hidden within, Frank says.
“We enjoy helping clients by being a part of the design process and advising them on the best materials and installation methods to meet their needs,” he adds. “We are very good at solving a client’s problems because we can install all types of fencing, including some that clients have never heard of. There are many instances where other fence companies have told them something can’t be done, and then we are called in.”
“We are the experts and we have to ask the pertinent questions about why the client needs the fence. Is it to keep something in or out? Once the purpose of the fence is established, we can better advise them on a product that would best fit their needs and budget. We don’t necessarily give them what they think they want, but rather what they need. We don’t gouge and oversell to them. That goes a lot toward building long-term trust,” he adds.
Another challenging project was at the Hollenbeck Palms continuing care retirement community in Boyle Heights. The project required motorized gates at a sloped, confined entrance, and other fence companies said they could not do it, Frank recalls. A-1 brought in vertical lift gates that collapse and fold up as they rise so cars and trucks can proceed without gate interference.
Because many of the projects A-1 works on are secure locations, A-1’s employees go through background checks and drug tests, Frank says. Clients such as Google, military bases and various school districts are very particular about who is coming onto their properties.
Frank says A-1 has about 15 employees and several are cross-trained; also, many of them have been on the staff for more than 30 years. “We tend to train [employees] well and make sure we have a consistent workload. Some companies will hire employees but won’t tell them it is for a particular job. At the end of the project they release them. We want to keep them busy and keep them with our company. It ensures consistency in our work,” he explains.
“We’re a service-oriented company and client satisfaction is No 1. We teach our team not to hide from mistakes. We’re not perfect so if we make a mistake, we correct it. That’s not always the norm in the construction industry; it’s not uncommon for a contractor to disappear. We try to keep mistakes to a minimum, and proper pre-job planning is a big part of that. But when mistakes do happen, we are very proactive and handle the issues right away. Our clients are aware of this, and they also know we are always available if they have a concern. They can contact us on our cell phones anytime and that is huge for them. We really try and stay connected,” Frank says.
The minority-owned business is certified through a variety of agencies, which Frank says help his clients satisfy contractual obligations that require working with a minority-owned business. “It’s something we really don’t market, but it is valuable for our clients,” he adds.
A-1 also plays a role in the community by maintaining fencing, gates and motors for charities such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the local Meals on Wheels.
Beyond serving clients, employees and the community, Frank says his goals for the company are to broaden the scope of work A-1 performs. “I’d like to see what else we can provide for our clients and help fill those needs, so our clients don’t need to source as many contractors. It helps us maintain and increase customer satisfaction. We’ve grown to annual revenues of about $3.2 million and I’d like to see our revenues grow even more,” Frank says. “That may mean doing larger projects and increasing our in-house clientele. Once we get our foot in the door, we are there to stay.”