Though Jerry Lee came to the United States
to study computer science, it was his interest in metalworking that brought
his company, Complex Industries, to stardom. With three manufacturing
facilities in China and a 200,000-square-foot distribution center in Memphis,
Tenn., the company offers a variety of products in the building products
and home décor markets.
The company began by selling iron lighting and lamp components to manufacturers.
From there, it transitioned into iron fencing, an idea company owners
received from its lamp parts customers.
“In the process of calling on iron fence customers [three years ago],
one of them said, ‘You’re in the iron business; I can’t find anybody that
builds a good iron door. I can sell them, but the quality is bad and the
lead time is poor,’” says Randy Miller, eastern regional sales manager.
“With input from this particular customer we began making doors for him
and once we were comfortable with our process and product started marketing
The company’s building products division includes iron doors, fencing,
security doors, mailboxes and some decorative iron casting parts.
Miller explains that the company has a catalogue of items that it stocks
in Memphis. If it’s in the catalogue, it’s a stock item, but the company
produces custom doors as well.
“Custom projects are about a nine-week lead time. That’s a little unusual
in this business. If a customer orders one iron door, we don’t wait to
fill up a container [of doors],” Miller says. “We have other items that
need to come in; we’ve got stock doors, home décor, fence and a
variety of products, so that door gets made, put on a container, and it’s
Answering the Competition
Asked how Complex Industries competes against North American-based companies
that might argue it’s more difficult to gain satisfaction when products
get damaged, Miller has a simple answer.
“Certainly in extreme cases, there are domestic manufacturers we could
turn to for help to repair things or have a door made. There’s ways of
accomplishing that,” he says. “There are a certain number of days that
it takes to float a ship across the sea, and there’s not much you can
do about that. Can we hurry up the manufacturing process a little bit?
Yes, we can.”
Dave Rizk, western regional sales manager, says the company also has skilled
and talented employees who can weld doors, who can re-glaze glass and
move hinges around.
“The doors are basically indestructible. You can scratch them or dent
them, but they are fixable,” Rizk says.
“The boat would almost have to sink to have a catastrophic situation,”
To manufacture its products, Complex employs 45 in the United States and
45 in China.
Miller is willing to answer questions from those who may fault the company
for manufacturing in China.
“Being a United States based company we would naturally prefer to manufacture
our products domestically,” he says. “Unfortunately, the market conditions
are not such to support this method. In an ideal world, we could
market a ‘made in America’ product and command the necessary premium;
however, this has been proven to be an unsustainable proposition in today’s
building products industry. That said, we are very proud of the
45 domestic jobs created by our activities and of the various downstream
jobs, logistics, distributors, dealers, installers, etc., associated with
Up to the Finish
The company uses a variety of machinery in the manufacturing process of
its products. “We use steel, so we use machines that can bend it, for
the radius-top. Probably the most important aspect of our process isn’t
machinery, but the way we coat the material—paint it and finish it,” Rizk
explains. “Once the door is welded up, it’s in an open warehouse and has
rust on it, so you have to do a good job of cleaning the door and getting
it ready for the final finish.”
The door also goes through a series of baths
as an assembled door—not in parts and pieces—and before it is foam-filled.
“Different chemicals prepare it for the e-coating which is where the paint
is electronically charged and the entire door unit is dropped into the
bath,” Rizk says. “It gets into every nook and cranny of the door to prevent
future rust. Past that, we come back and powder coat it and take it to
the oven for a final finish. I don’t know of anyone that has a more durable
finish on their product than we do, just because of that extensive finishing
Through the Looking Glass
When it comes to glass, Miller says the company can ship its doors one
of two ways–either with glass supplied byComplex
(which it stocks in a clear glass and a hammered glass), or without the
glass installed, if the customer chooses to use a different type of glass.
Despite some misconceptions about iron doors and their energy efficiency,
Miller says the company uses insulating glass in its doors, which are
“It’s an iron door, so there is some heat and cool transfer. It is fully
foam-filled, but there’s not really a thermal break so to speak. Normally
when someone starts to really question us about U-values and R-values,
we usually look at them and say that they probably don’t really want an
iron door. Most people want the look and we do things to make them as
efficient as possible,” Miller says.
But how do the company’s doors differ from competitors?
“We use thicker steel than our competitors
do,” Rizk says. “We use 14-gauge for the door and frames, where many use
18 gauge. It’s a 5/8-inch bar, where most of our competition uses 4/8-inch
bar. We use 5/8 inch solid steel for the scroll work and most use ½-inch.”
Miller says the doors only require two people for installation, despite
their heavy weight. “It was designed that way; it didn’t just happen.
It also allows us to package it in a very damage-free manner and ship
it less-than-truckload,” he says.
The company tries to be accommodating to customers not just in installation,
but in the whole ordering and shipping process, and sometimes that means
going “beyond the call of duty” for a customer.
“There have been times we’ve shipped a door the same day we’ve gotten
the order. There have also been times we’ve gone out to the jobsite and
refinished the door to factory-finish quality because somebody got acid
on it or the brick masons messed it up,” Miller says.
The company has a variety of means to help its customer base, which includes
two-step and one-step distributors, pro lumberyards and OEMs, promote
“Beyond the website, catalogue and exhibiting at the major shows, we have
a ‘no obligation’ display program that we offer to our dealers. We’ll
set a display for a timeframe, and if the customer doesn’t like it, he
can bring it back, but if he likes it, he can keep it. We don’t ask for
a commitment up front. We make it easy for people to get in the business,”
Company Officials: Jerry and Anne Lee, Owners; Dave Rizk, Western Regional
Sales Manager; Randy Miller, Easter Regional Sales Manager; Jade
Tang, Iron Door Assistant
2008 Revenues: More than $20 million (company total); Slightly under
$5 million for Building Products
Number of Employees: 90
Facility Size: 200,000 square feet in Memphis, Tenn.; 280,000 square
feet in China
Samantha Carpenter is a contributing
writer for DWM magazine.
© Copyright 2009 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.