The year 2019 marked the 60th anniversary of the incorporation of Builders Fence Company, Inc. (BFC), a leading manufacturer, importer and distributor of chain link and ornamental iron products and accessories.
Based in Southern California and operated under the direction of president Marshall Frankel, BFC delivers fencing materials nationwide from its five West Coast locations.
Like most of the “legacy” firms in the fence industry, BFC's beginnings were rather modest: it all began with a foldaway clothesline pole!
Marshall's father, Herman Frankel, bought a patent to a collapsible clothesline pole immediately following World War II. The pole — made of 2 3⁄8" and 1 5⁄8" tubing — did not sell well, so Herman was faced with the question of what he should do with the inventory of tubing. The answer was, build fences.
In 1947, Frankel Fence Company started operation in South Los Angeles, employing Herman, his wife, Belle, and Marshall, who at that time was 10 years old.
Marshall said he remembers, even at that early age, cutting posts and learning how to drive a truck (or at least how to start one up, back it up and pull it forward when no one was looking).
Herman took a partner and later sold his share of the business to move to the San Fernando Valley and start Builders' Surplus. The small yard was located on Lankershim Boulevard.
The name changed to Builders Fence Company when Herman moved the family-owned and operated business to a larger yard on Sherman Way.
At that time, Marshall remembers, the San Fernando Valley was the fastest growing region for housing construction in the country. BFC was perfectly positioned to grow along with the industry.“We were in the right place at the right time,” Marshall said.
Soon the company ceased installation and focused on distribution.
Marshall worked with his parents after school and during summers through high school, but never intending to make fences his life's work.
He entered UCLA planning to become a medical doctor, but he returned to the family business.
“It just sort of happened,” Marshall said. “Once I really got involved in the company I saw there's really nothing more creative you can do than own a business.”
The early days were characterized by hard work. Marshall remembered that all BFC deliveries were made by the family using a two ton truck or a pickup. “Mom and Dad would make deliveries at night up to Bakersfield or down to Calexico. At that point we didn't even own a forklift,” Marshall said. “Chain link came in 100 foot rolls, and my dad and I had to maneuver these rolls of chain link fabric – by hand – up boards into the customer's stakeside truck. I thought to myself, 'This has got to go.'”
The next day they called up a couple of forklift distributors.
The evolution from chain link to manufacturing iron panels was a natural progression, Marshall said.
“We had a customer in Woodland Hills who was making and installing ornamental iron fence. Once I was at his shop while he was welding panels. It looked pretty basic, and I thought, 'I can do that.' Then we happened onto somebody who wanted an iron fence. We bought all the materials cut to length from a local distributor, welded it up and installed it. We didn't make any money; actually, we probably lost money on the project, but that was the beginning. We grew from there.”
Gabrielle Frankel is chief operations officer, and Danielle Frankel Kennedy is a corporate auditor and Sacramento branch manager. Like Marshall, the siblings all grew up around chain link and ornamental iron.
“To those in the industry, BFC's commitment to customer service is paramount,” commented James Pearsall, president of USA Industries in Salt Lake City, a supplier for Builders Fence since 1977.
Marshall commented, “When you call for an order, you get an absolute, not a maybe. Taking a customer from initial order through delivery is not always an easy thing.”
“There's no magic formula to running a successful fencing business.
Luck is a big factor, along with solid business ethics, sensible risk management and, foremost, a sense of family.”
“One of the pluses I have,” Marshall said, “is I can't think of anything anyone does in this company that I haven't done, whether it's drive trucks, weld gates, dig holes in the ground, or stretch fence. I've done pretty much everything. It lets me know what's going on, and know how it's supposed to be.”