Growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, Dr. Ellen F. Reinig, Founder, Owner and General Manager of JAS Powder Coating, always dreamed of living in the Sunshine State. When she graduated from college, she made that dream a reality and moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1986. After teaching business and marketing at the high school level for several years and taking some time off to raise her three children, Ellen worked with her husband, Mike, on the back-end operations of his business before stumbling upon an incredible opportunity.
“At the time, we were living in Fort Myers,” Ellen said. “We had moved there in 2006 to raise our kids and to have access to more land for a ranch with livestock and horses. I was teaching at the local college, while also finishing up my degree and assisting my husband with his business. When the economy sank in 2009 and 2010, his work dried up and we went looking for new opportunities back in Ft. Lauderdale/Broward County. Long story short, a friend of ours – who owned a bank – told us about a warehouse in Fort Lauderdale that he needed to sell. He asked if Mike could help him clean it up and sell it. It was a powder coating shop that had been closed for a while.”
Ellen continued, “After Mike got a chance to check it out, he called me and said, ‘I think we should buy this place’. At first, I was not onboard. It was a bad time to buy a business. However, it was a great opportunity that we could not pass up and the sale included all of the existing equipment to start up the operations.”
In May 2011, the Reinig’s took possession of the warehouse and began to work on rebuilding the powder coating business. They reached out to previous customers and brought in a friend who previously owned a powder coating business in South Florida as a consultant.
“He showed us everything,” Ellen said. “He worked with us for a year and we were able to pick his brain about pricing, short-cuts, equipment and many other aspects of the powder coating business. Nevertheless, it’s been a lot of trial and error. There’s no manual or training program on how to run a powder coating business.”
Ellen continued, “Initially, Mike was in Fort Lauderdale and I was still in Fort Myers because we did not want to uproot our family. Since we couldn’t afford to hire somebody, I was commuting back and forth. When two of our kids graduated from high school and left the house, I made the decision to move with our third child to be closer to the business. That was around 2015. Since then, I’ve been full-time on the business and we’ve never looked back.”
JAS Powder Coating provides powder coating services to other businesses that fabricate, build or restore steel or aluminum products. Ellen shared that powder coating is a type of environmentally friendly "green" metal finishing system. They use a special powder to cover the metal objects and bake it on to cure the powder to a finished state.
Ellen explained in more detail, “The powder coating process uses a solvent-free mix of dry plastic resins, pigments and fillers that melt and fuse together when heated. The solid particles of coating are electrostatically charged in a spray gun and carried by a low velocity air to the surface of the item to be coated. The electrostatic charge holds the powder particles in place while the part is cured in an oven at the optimal temperature. The heat in the oven causes the powder to cure, creating a highly durable and perfectly even finish.”
In the world of powder coating, JAS is unique in that the business is 100% woman-owned and operated and both locations are family operated. Ellen’s daughter, Sam Reinig, recently joined the Fort Lauderdale team after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business and Marketing. They also now have two facilities – one in Fort Lauderdale and the other in Edgewater – each using about 20,000 sq. ft with large capacity ovens up to 40 feet long. Ellen shared the story behind the addition of the Edgewater facility, a location that offers sandblasting services and is managed by Ellen’s oldest daughter, Abby Reinig.
“About three years ago, a large customer kept driving large orders down to Fort Lauderdale from Edgewater to bring us powder coating and he asked if we’d be interested in opening a facility in Edgewater,” Ellen said. “At first I said no. I wasn’t interested in commuting again. However, Mike was intrigued. We met with the owner of an awning and sign company and immediately hit it off. That’s when we decided to drive up there and look around. We found another bank owned property that the bank was desperate to unload. We were in the right place at the right time, so we bought the warehouse property in 2017 and the awning and sign company moved in with us. I moved to Edgewater in Volusia County for a year and Mike took a year off from his projects to get that shop built out.”
Ellen added, “When someone is knocking at your door, you only get one shot and then that opportunity is gone. That’s how we’ve always looked at things.”
Ellen shared that a challenge throughout this whole process has been finding key employees willing to stick around. There’s no training program for someone in this industry and often times the work can be physically demanding. Nonetheless, for someone willing to work hard and be open to training, employment with JAS can be a rewarding experience.
“It was tough in the beginning, but our teams now are very tight knit groups,” she said. “We go above and beyond the standard employer/employee relationship. We also work with people coming out of rehab facilities looking for steady employment. With us, they get much more than that because of the family atmosphere in our shop. That’s something we are very proud of. We care about these people and their well-being and they appreciate that sometimes more than earning a paycheck. Some of them come and go, but they all work hard and earn a new found support system while they’re here.”
Looking ahead, Ellen, who thoroughly enjoys taking a new piece of metal that has been fabricated and putting on a finish color of powder to delight her customers, is focused on continuing to develop their customer base throughout Volusia County. They recently expanded their Fort Lauderdale facility to allow for more parking and warehouse space and plan to add a second oven to their Edgewater facility in the near future.
What advice does Ellen have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Be prepared for a roller coaster ride and also make certain that you are financially prepared for the new business,” she said. “Stick it out at least five years when starting a new venture. Do not focus solely on money but on developing relationships, honing your reputation and getting you and your company name in front of the right people. Realize that this is a lifestyle choice. It requires no vacations, limited funds, and unbelievable sacrifices to get to the point where your business is flourishing. Be patient, tough, flexible and it will be worth every bit of effort. The pride in building a business is immeasurable.”