Sisters from Downers Grove North High School now run family business
Q. Tell me about the owners of Bales. How did you come into the business?
A: The business was started by brothers Mike and Steve Bales in 1978. Today, Bales Metal Surface Solutions is owned and run by Steve's daughters, Stacey Bales and Sara (Bales) Mortensen. The sisters grew up in Downers Grove, where the business is located, and both graduated from Downers Grove North High School. They have been connected to the town and the community their whole lives. Now they are proud to say they are second generation owners of a company that has been in business for 40 years.
Q: Tell me more about how Bales was started, elaborating specifically on how/why Mike and Steve started the business in a garage.
A: Mike and Steve were raised by their single mother, along with their two sisters. They learned a strong work ethic from their mother and entered the workforce early to help with the household. While working at a chrome plating company in their teenage years, they saw the industry potential and decided to go out on their own, starting the business, like other notable companies, out of their garage before moving into a manufacturing facility.
Q. When did you become owners of the company?
A: Stacey and Sara took over the company after the passing of their father Steve in 2009. They had both been active in the business, and while it was a tragic shock, they had enough base knowledge and loyal employees to continue to operate smoothly. Interestingly, at the time the sisters took over the company they were close to the ages the brothers were when they started the business.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the business. What do you do for your customers?
A: We provide solutions for corrosion and abrasion problems. We apply electroless nickel, hard chrome plating and diamond polishing for a variety of industries worldwide. We are most known for our expertise in plastic injection molds. We refurbish molds that have been in use and bring them back to optimal performance, as well as protect new molds for better longevity. We are diverse in industries from aerospace to packaging, from medical to consumer products.
Q. How many employees are at Bales?
A: We have 36 full time employees. We have eight employees that have been with the company 10 years or more and two for more than 30 years. The average employment with Bales is 8.5 years. We are always looking for experienced platers and polishers.
Q: How has the industry changed since Bales started in 1978? How has it changed since you took over?
A: The manufacturing industry has evolved away from looking for the best deal. Instead of focusing on the price of the work, our customers are more interested in having a partnership that will bring value to their projects. They want a resource that will help them solve a problem and provide support. Not just a company that will get the work done cheaply. Another area that has changed is the workforce. The potential employees are no longer lined up around the block. The days of putting a help wanted sign up are over. We must actively search out every new employee.
Q: What is the biggest struggle for the business? How do you strategically address this area and constantly improve?
A: The biggest struggle is finding experienced employees. We are always working on improving our apprenticeship training to make up for the skills gap of the employees we do have coming in. To try and attract top talent we offer competitive wages, 401(k) and health benefits while being creative with PTO, paid birthdays and company parties to let employees know they are appreciated.
Q: What is one business tip you can share with us?
A: Seek out advisers you can trust and find colleagues and mentors that you can talk to. Get outside of your company when looking for answers. Never stop learning or searching for better ideas, innovation and improvements.
Q: What is one fact about the business that most may not know?
A: Within 6 months of their father passing, Stacey and Sara were put through a tough test when a water main burst under the building causing $1 million in damage. It was an, almost literal, sink or swim moment.
Q: What is one final point you'd like to share about your company?
A: We aim to solve customers' problems and be their technical resource. Sometimes that means we think outside the box and come up with a solution to the impossible, and sometimes that means we are not a good fit and recommend one of many friendly competitors. We like to work with honesty and integrity.