By Adam Burroughs
The backstory of Ideal Group is almost too fantastic to believe. It started in 1979 with a lucky raffle ticket that won Frank Venegas Jr. a Cadillac Coupe DeVille, a car he drove for just nine days before selling it for seed money to start his own company: Ideal Steel & Builders’ Supplies.
Frank Venegas, Jr. describes the early days of his business as “Chaotic. Crazy. Impossible. Every day marked a new chapter.”
“I started my business to serve the customer,” says Frank, CEO of the Ideal Group. “The very first flyer I created said, ‘We are a new company for the ‘80s and we are waiting to serve you,’ and that is exactly the Ideal culture.”
Putting service at the center of the company’s strategy would pay off.
“When our customer base began to grow, we grew with them,” says Loren Venegas, Ideal Group president and Frank’s brother. “It was all about quality and doing good work. Getting that reputation going helped a tremendous amount.”
Jesse Venegas, Ideal Group vice president and Frank’s son, describes his father’s entrepreneurial spirit as ambitious. As evidence, he points to the company’s gradual expansion from a single company into several companies: Ideal Shield, Ideal Contracting, Ideal Setech, Ideal Setech Share-the-Spare, Ideal Surplus, Ideal Utility Services and Ideal Steel.
The formation of these businesses was mostly customer-driven, born from identifying opportunities to help existing customers solve problems. Whether it be maintenance, repair and operations, material management, construction services or guardrail, handrail and bollard covers, Ideal Group touches almost every industry.
The diversification of its businesses has led to an overall strong performance for the company in recent years. Not only do its varied lines of business meet diverse demands in the market, the product diversification within each company also helps Ideal Group appeal to customers across a wide spectrum.
“On the Ideal Shield website, there are many different types of products that are diversified into just about any industry in the United States,” Loren says.
And while the general success of the company can be attributed to customer service and the quality of work it produces, those characteristics are products of the people Ideal employs. Engaging that workforce to create solutions for the company is about empowerment.
“We empower people to make decisions, to be accountable for what they do. As people gain more responsibility, whether they’re in charge of a group or a portion of a company, they’re empowered to be part of the solution,” Loren says.
“Empowerment is important,” Jesse adds, “but also making sure that people understand their connections to the business and how that affects its success. It’s important for everybody, whether they’re driving a truck for us or doing receivables in the Accounting Department, to understand their impact in the business.”
Launching Southwest Detroit operations
Hank Aguirre, a former Detroit Tigers pitcher, convinced Frank to move his business to Southwest Detroit. Frank Venegas, Gonzalez Design Engineering, Muñoz Machine and Uni Boring formed the Hispanic Manufacturing Co.,(HMC) in 1995.
“We moved to the Southwest Detroit neighborhood,” says Loren. “When we came down here, there was a lot of crime and gangs.”
Seeking to establish a peaceful work zone, Frank, a priest and the HMC partners met with local gang leaders. To his surprise, all that the gang leaders asked for were steady jobs and career growth opportunities. Frank and the HMC accepted and hired over 80 employees from five different gangs.
Today, Ideal Group and its companies occupy the nearly 18-acre campus, along with two community gardens.
Big ideas, big plans
As the company looks ahead, Linzie Venegas, Ideal Group vice president and Frank’s daughter, expects Ideal will continue tapping into the needs of its clients, and potential clients, to solve problems and grow the business.
Ideal has the ability to come up with big ideas and big plans and execute them quickly, and Huntington has stayed right there with the company.
Linzie says, “Huntington really takes time to get to know the organization and the ownership, and build a relationship.”
Knowing their neighbors
Ideal Group works closely with Holy Redeemer Grade School and Detroit Cristo Rey High School, with which it has formed a close relationship, providing students with various resources.
“The company does a lot of outreach within the Southwest Detroit community,” says Linzie. “We are very in touch with our community; we know the people. We know our neighbors, the businesses, the educators, the nonprofits, and we all work together.”
For more information, visit weareideal.com.