Circle J Fabrication co-owner Justin Jones leveraged his experience manufacturing backyard firepits to expand into a market he knew well — industrial tank heads.
Justin and his father, Joe Jones, were both working as firemen when they decided to follow a family tradition in metal fabrication in the early 2000s.
Circle J Fabrication set up shop in a 20,000-square-foot facility on land that has been in the family since the 1930s. The Joneses had a long-term goal of manufacturing tank heads — as Joe’s father had worked in the industry for 40 years — but first cut their teeth on a definitively Texan product: fire pits.
“When we started making tank heads, we had to have something to practice with,” says Justin. “Well, you couldn’t afford to just consistently and constantly buy material and practice, you had to do something with it. So, we started selling fire pits and barbecue grills, and that became our primary focus for many years as we were trying to break through into the head industry.”
The business took off, and Circle J Fabrication now ships more than 5,000 fire pits, cookers, and grills annually. The company distributes through a network of about 30 dealers, as well as selling directly to the consumer. Fire pits sell for $599 to $2,295.
“That has done nothing but grow its own brand on its own,” says Justin. “It just keeps going. We’ve been nothing but blessed on that. We thought at some point we would saturate the market, but what we’re seeing is customers coming back two or three times and buying additional units for weekend houses, lake houses, hunting ranches.”
In 2015, the company stealthily expanded into tank heads and has since seen it supersede the fire pit business. “There are barriers to entry in the tank head industry,” says Justin. “People don’t just randomly decide to hop up and go build tank heads one day. There’s a reason why there’s not a tank head shop on every corner: There’s a heck of a learning curve.”
But 15-plus years of experience made for a smooth transition, and now Circle J’s tank head business is thriving. “A good 70 percent of our business is from the tank head side, whether it be code, non-code, or ASME,” says Justin. “We have had amazing year-over-year growth.”
Heads range in diameter from 20 inches to 120 inches with thicknesses up to ¾-inch. Applications are in oil and gas as well as food and beverage and pharmaceuticals. Many customers use the heads for fuel tanks and industrial silencers.
“We really don’t do any outsourcing when it comes to the manufacturing process,” says Justin. “For the majority of our work, we receive plate, we’ll actually burn the blanks, we’ll do the dishing, the flanging, the beveling, and — top to bottom — handle all aspects of manufacturing in-house.”
About 25 of the company’s 30 employees work on the manufacturing side. Lead times are typically shorter than eight weeks, rather than the industry norm of about 10.
“We rely on a network of good, collaborative vendors,” says Justin of the supply chain for steel and other raw materials, highlighting a labor-only option. “We have clients that actually send us their material, whether it be plate or actual cut blanks, and we will process their material for them. It actually works out great for both parties.”
Circle J Fabrication is involved in education by selling to schools via MyFirePitKit.com as well as organizing the annual Cowtown Welding Challenge (CWC). The former “is a real-world opportunity on how to learn how to manufacture and fab in these educational settings,” says Justin. The CWC is “a charity welding competition” that has awarded $100,000 to Texas high school students since 2017.
Challenges: “You’re always going to have a hiring challenge if you’re looking for quality people,” says Justin. “We’ve got guys that have been with us for nearly 20 years, and we consider them family. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Opportunities: “I think the biggest opportunity we have before us is cultivating those existing relationships,” says Justin. “Everybody talks about the cost of customer acquisition, but nobody really thinks about customer retention cost. We have realized that it’s a much better model for us to look at building more components and offering more items to our existing customer base before we just go out there and try to take over the world.”
Needs: Space. Circle J Fabrication shares its facility with another manufacturer, Texas Foundation Supply. “We are very tight,” says Justin, noting that the company could use “a few extra acres” for a larger lay-down yard.