Let’s meet Dan & Metallon Steel Fabrications!
Functional metal designs made using high-quality Australian steel.
Metallon Steel Fabrications is a specialist metal fabricator with an amazing story. Founded by Daniel more than a decade ago as a one-man operation with a little help from his Dad, Metallon has now become a home-grown success story in the world of Australian made fire pits and metal fabrication.
This week we sat down with Daniel to talk all things metal fabrication, running a manufacturing business in Australia, and how working closely with customers and suppliers allows him and his team to make their very best work.
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Okay Dan, tell us a little bit about yourself and Metallon Steel Fabrications.
Well, I’m Daniel, founder of Metallon Steel Fabrications. I started this business about 15, 16 years ago, started in a very small shed. When it rained, we used to have to cover up the laptop with a tarp because, we just didn’t have walls, had to build a door and just built up from there until I outgrew it. I then moved into a larger shed, which is this one here, and then once again, I couldn’t afford the whole shed. So I had to sublease some out and then I grew from there and now we’ve grown to next door.
Before I actually started Metallon Steel Fabrications, I was working for the Brisbane city council. I did a few jobs after that. Every two years I’d change jobs because I got bored. I worked over in Germany for a short time building cable, water, ski lifts and that sort of thing. I came back to Australia and worked in steel sales, supplying everyone in the local area. I got a bit tired of that, so I went back to fabrication and started building trailers, and horse floats and all other custom pieces.
A shed popped up nearby, which I could get on my own, moved into that, left my job, and went out on a whim. I started with just a welder, a drop saw and a toolbox. I built the workshop up so I could serve customers, and then when things weren’t busy, I’d sit around and wait for more work. To keep me busy, I started working on a trailer for myself, but I never got to finish that trailer cause I just got too busy because of my great customers. I ended up selling that trailer as a half-finished job. Things have just grown from there, really, as we’ve outgrown this warehouse and have now moved into next door as well.
Custom jobs and your customers generally are really important to the work that you do. Tell us a little more about that.
Well, I love the customers that I have as return customers. I never advertised at the beginning, and not really at all until last year. Every job and client was always through word of mouth, which seemed to work because customers always came back. One of my initial customers said, treat everyone exactly the same because you don’t know their background or what they’re going to bring you. You might do the smallest job for someone, and it just grows exponentially.
They’ll bring something bigger and bigger and bigger and keep going until you can’t do the job for them anymore. So, I’ve got some great contacts. Some customers are actually friends. Now I hang out with them outside of work, whether to go water skiing or just to hang out. I try to know someone in every industry as a bit of a gamble. If I need to call on someone, I call on someone local without having to use someone that I don’t know, and make sure that I get a good job every time.
Over the past few years, Metallon Steel Fabrications as a business has grown rapidly, but those small jobs are still really important to you. Why?
The smaller jobs are always important, in my mind. Obviously, we’ve got big jobs. We’ve got the big customers, but you still want to look after the small guy. So I still get my mate’s dads coming in, and I get my dad’s friends that I look after. And it’s all those little jobs that you’ve still got to get to get your name out there.
Those small guys are the guys that are going to back you up when something goes wrong or gets a bit quieter. If you look after the little jobs, they’ll keep coming back. That’s where word of mouth comes into it again, because if we don’t look after those guys, praise goes a long way, but leaving a bad taste in someone’s mouth will even go further. So you look out for everyone exactly the same, and they’ll look after you far as I’m concerned.
So, tell us about all the things you now make here at Metallon Steel Fabrications?
We make all sorts of things here at Metallon. We do a lot of hospitality and restaurant fit-outs which have components like custom tables and chairs. We do wall fittings, such as making tiles out of metal.
To be honest, we can make basically whatever our customers can dream of. One of my customers said, “I had a dream about this design last night. I want you to make it.” We made it happen at work. We also do a lot of gym equipment, like pull up bars, rigs and people like to lift heavy things, steel is heavy, and it’s a great thing to lift. We also do a lot of commercial work such as our post and beams, which is standard in the industry, and some of that work includes having built a service station in Everton Park.
That includes all the columns, structural steel, and domestic work as well. That can include house stumps, stair stringers. We’ve done a lot of custom balustrading, where a customer can pick a design that they like, and they can just make it happen if they can explain roughly to me what they want. I can make it. I can always find out exactly what they want with a few small conversations and get it sorted.
We’ve also moved into doing a lot of fire pits lately. Obviously, steel holds really well. We’ve now moved into a lot of flat-pack Australian Made fire pits for more travelling. People want to take the fire pits with them, which we can now make a flat-pack version so they can carry it in their car or caravan and take the Metallon wherever they go. We love seeing feedback on social media. So when they tag us in posts, we can see exactly how far we’ve travelled.
So, you’ve grown a lot since the early days and now have a good amount of staff working with you. What’s it like going from a one-man operation to now having your own team?
When I first started, it was just me, and my dad used to give me a hand every now and again. He’s worked in an office his whole life, but it’s always good to have that helping hand to hold something or set up a job and then they can help you out. So you can just keep working, and with more orders coming in, naturally, that meant I needed to build a team.
There was a time early on when I had three staff who weren’t tradesmen and offered them apprenticeships, but that didn’t work out. So now I’ve employed tradesmen. These guys know their job, and they know what to do. I don’t have to give them as much information about the job so they can get the job done while I can focus on something else and create more work for them. Without them, I’d be nothing.
Honestly, I’m so thankful for the guys and all the work that they do. I’ve got guys here now that have just stood by me for a long time, and they just keep getting better. We employ other staff to get us through some larger jobs, but my original staff always go above and beyond for me and this business. I try to look after them, and they do right by me. I’ll try and do right by them, the best of my abilities anyway.
If they want something, I’ll do my best to get it for them. If I can’t get it, we find a happy medium and get it sorted. That goes for things like our Metallon uniforms. We don’t just run a normal uniform. We try to go to that next level with uniforms and pants and hats and hoodies, all that extra stuff.
Every two months we try and do something with them just because everybody works well together at work and outside of work. My team probably spends more time with me than they do with their own families at home. So you get to know them quite well. The best part of having great staff is they know what they’re doing, and they can be a part of what we’re trying to do. I can bring on more apprentices and then just keep training them up, and they get to share that knowledge they’ve developed.
Generally speaking, we really need to focus on getting these guys working and getting the trades up to share the knowledge. If we don’t share the knowledge, no one will know anything, and all that knowledge disappears with people when they retire.
That ties really well into our next point, Dan. Why is manufacturing here in Australia in this workshop in Zillmere important to you?
[Manufacturing in Australia is important to me] because we’ve all seen it go offshore. I joked about with friends a little while ago, if there was a war, what are we going to do with manufacturing? How are we going to get parts in that? We didn’t have a war, but we probably had the closest thing to it with coronavirus. It’s slowly coming back together now, but I think we’ve all really struggled with it.
It’s brought to the attention of many people that we need to do something about manufacturing in Australia. It is super difficult when you add up all the red tape, insurance, wages and everything else. But now, it seems like people realise the costs that go into manufacturing in Australia, but that we’re supporting both workers and their families.
What were some of the biggest challenges and changes that happened to that Metallon Steel Fabrications faced as a result of COVID-19?
Well, we do a lot of restaurant fit-outs here, so that was business that we lost when restaurants needed to shut their doors. We had about two weeks where jobs just got dropped. I ended up sending two guys off on a break just for that short term period and had to come up with something to make. In the previous year, I was making Australian Made fire pits. I started making them again just to see if I could, and it happened to work out well. My partner in crime, Caz, came on board. She loved the idea, she got into social media, and we made it happen.
So from there, people were stuck at home, and they needed something to do. We went back to the caveman age and started making fire, whether for cooking or sitting around and enjoying. So we started doing that (making Australian Made fire pits), and it got really popular. It worked out really well for us and everybody else because people had something to do at home instead of sitting around twiddling their thumbs all the time. We were able to grow, bring on some larger customers and move our product even more so to more and more people. Social media has helped us greatly through COVID, because it meant we could get our product to more people.
Your Braziers are also pretty special – I know that you donate $20 to Trek2Health for every ANZAC fire pit you sell. Can you tell us about that?
If people don’t know what Trek2Health is, it supports servicemen and emergency services such as police, fire, and ambulance who’ve finished their service, and gives them someone to talk to. They can join other people in the service who are experiencing the same problems, and they can talk it out in a supportive environment.
If people can talk about they’re problems or talk about their life, they just want to share things, and they’re able to do that, but not only do they get to talk, but they can walk and be out outside in nature, walking, talking, sharing their stories, and that’s all people want to do these days.
It takes a lot off their chest like stress and anxiety can drop, and by helping such a good cause, why wouldn’t you? These guys have served us, so let’s help them out.
By doing that, we’ve raised about a thousand dollars at the moment, so, and we’ve only just started, so we’re just coming into winter now, and we’d love to raise a whole lot more for them.
That’s so great to hear. Any new and exciting developments you can share with us?
Well, funnily enough, I didn’t want to expand too much in the early days of Metallon. I was happy with where I was at with three to four employees. It was comfortable. I made enough money to live. Since my partner has come on board, she’s really pushed me. It’s funny, we talk business all the time. I used to talk about the business after work previously, and I’d just get sick of talking about work, but now I love it.
We’re really growing, and we’ve moved into another shed. We’ve actually started looking at another shed to purchase for ourselves instead of renting sheds and we’ve talked about going overseas. We’ve spoken to a friend actually in France, so if we can expand over there, um, basically just growing and growing, we just want to grow bigger and bigger and bigger. When are we going to stop? We don’t know. So, um, yeah, we just keep growing until we can’t grow anymore.
Final Question. You also make a point to source and use Australian made steel and metal – Why’s that?
Well, I actually only source Australian Made sheet metal. For example, for all the braziers we did last year, we had an order for 6,600 for one customer. For our braziers, we only use BlueScope steel. We did use up both of our suppliers and therefore that all they could offer was Offshore Steel. We rejected that idea, but then luckily, our suppliers were able to source steel from Sydney, and we got the last of that, and we used it to finish the job this year.
We still only use what we purchase from BlueScope. Generally, we try to buy it from the seller. Sometimes we are forced to buy direct from BlueScope, but we are trying to support the other companies as well without missing out on those guys. We still just roll with the Australian steel as it welds better, and we can just work with it a whole lot better. It’s better for the company to use, and it’s better for Australia as well. I’m happy.
To see more of Metallon Steel Fabrications’ wonderful designs, be sure to check out their website using the link here:
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