If he had it to do over again, Fred DeMaio Jr. would, only sooner.
Looking back over four decades since he and his father bought a shelving company and named it Tri-Boro Shelving and Partition Corp., DeMaio said “there’s no telling where I’d be now” if owning the business hadn’t been his second career.
He was a New York City police officer for 17 years. “I got into this business because of a parking ticket,” said DeMaio, 75.
On the beat in Manhattan one day in 1964, he was writing a parking ticket when “this portly woman ran across the street trying to stop me from giving her a ticket, and fell on her butt. I was very embarrassed. When a police officer in Manhattan gets involved in anything, it draws a crowd.”
Among those gathered was the woman’s husband, Henry Zeisel, who happened to own B&Z Steel. “We became good friends,” DeMaio said. DeMaio had “always had a business on the side,” and he was interested in manufacturing.
“When Tri-Boro Shelving came for sale, he (Zeisel) was going to be my partner, and he took me under his wings. He helped me. He showed me the ropes.”
But then Zeisel’s wife said he had too many irons in the fire, and DeMaio bought the company in October 1971 with his father instead. B&Z Steel is still going, by the way, in the same place on Greene Street, with Henry’s son Robert at the helm.
Tri-Boro is a family company as well. Fred’s wife, Toni, leads the administrative arm of the business. DeMaio is very pleased that his son John has been in business with him for 25 years, and two grandchildren who are studying to be engineers could be the company’s fourth generation.
“We’re straight shooters. It’s always been my word is my bond,” DeMaio said. “It’s on handshakes. This company is honorable and we’re going to keep it that way.”
The company has grown from four employees and one location to nearly 50 employees in several buildings in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Farmville, Va.
His father, Fred Sr., who had lived through the Great Depression, was “very conservative and cautious in his business dealings. He thought I was reckless.”
But the risks Fred Jr. took have paid off. The biggest expansion to date is planned to be up and running by early next year at their Virginia site. The nearly complete 70,000 sq. ft. building will enable the company to introduce some new complimentary product lines, enhance the shelving post capabilities and increase production capacity, all while creating 30 to 35 new jobs.
Nelson Cantillo, a material handling products sales and marking veteran, has also been brought on board this year to help develop the Tri-Boro Storage Products brand.
“It’s a big step. It’s a lot of money,” he said. “I’m going upstream, the opposite way” by expanding during the recession. “I thought this was a good time. I’m not a scaredy cat. I just keep plugging along.”
Mary Glindinning is a freelance writer who has worked at daily and weekly newspapers for more than 20 years. She lives in rural Shullsburg, Wis. You may contact her by e-mailing email@example.com.