Detroit has undergone seismic changes during the last 70 years. Ferrante Manufacturing Company, on the other hand, has changed very little over that same period.
Through years of unassuming, consistent labor, the custom fabrication and installation company has done interiors in some of the Detroit’s iconic buildings, with little fanfare. It’s seen the best and the worst of Detroit, all while being operated by the same family out of two locations on Gratiot Avenue. And it continues to contribute durable, stylish work to the city’s wave of new construction and redevelopment.
Ferrante Manufacturing was started in the late 1930s by Domenic Ferrante, who immigrated from the small Italian town of Supino. Initially, the company made just cabinets. But it slowly expanded its services to all forms of woodwork, eventually becoming a complete, one-stop shop for interior fabrication and installation. The only part of an interior they don’t install is flooring.
As their services expanded, so did their need for production space. In 1947, Ferrante Manufacturing moved next to Ajax Metal Processing on Gratiot Avenue, and then across the street in 1966 to its current location.
For the last 50 years, the company has done more or less the same work. Sure, it’s upgraded some machinery and refined some of its methods, but overall it’s the same place.
“We don’t like to change,” said Daniel Friedel, president of Ferrante Manufacturing. “We know what works. Our customers know they’ve bought something that’ll last a lifetime.”
The company’s leadership has been as stable as its product. Dominic Ferrante, Friedel’s grandfather, entrusted the future of his company to Friedel’s uncle, in the late 1980s.
Friedel took over the company a little over a year ago, but has been working there nearly his whole life. When he was just eight years old, Friedel did odd jobs in the shop—sweeping floors, picking up screws—every Saturday during the school year and most days during the summer. “Nothing has ever been handed to anybody at this company,” said Friedel. “I started at the very bottom, and me and my uncle had to work in every detail of the shop to gain knowledge of it.”
Those details are myriad and intricate. Most of the company’s 65,000 square foot production facility is dedicated to its specialty: woodwork. But Ferrante Manufacturing also does upholstery, glass, metal, stone, and anything else an interior might require (some of which they do through subcontractors). Not only that, but they assemble the entire design in the shop first, to make sure it has the right aesthetic and dimensions, before transporting everything to its destination.
Those destinations include the redesigned lobby of the First National Building, large portions of The Qube, Motor City Casino, and Comerica Park. Ferrante Manufacturing does commissions everywhere in the United States, but especially New York City, including a recent redesign for so-called “Best Restaurant in the World,” Eleven Madison Park. In fact, the company does so much work in New York that Friedel has an apartment in Manhattan.
Part of Ferrante Manufacturing’s success can be attributed to customer satisfaction.
“Around half our clients have called us back for more work,” said Friedel.
It’s one reason why Ferrante Manufacturing has never done any advertising, instead relying on word of mouth to attract new work.
If Ferrante Manufacturing’s leadership has been all immediate family members, its 42 employees are a kind of extended family.
“Our employees generally stay for the long-term,” said Friedel. “Some have been here 25-plus years starting when they were 17 [years old].”
Employees stay so long, in part, because of the pleasant working conditions on the shop floor. There’s few intrusive, loud noises. Aside from the astringent smell when a finish is being applied, the facility has an agreeable wood odor. And the floor itself is wood, which is much easier on the joints and back than concrete.
Another reason, is because Friedel clearly esteems the work.
“This is a skilled trade,” he said. “This work is nothing to be frowned upon. To do it well you need to be artistic with a production line sense, capable of using your mind and your hand.”
That type of respect for work well done says a lot about Ferrante’s longevity. It’s also a
pretty good example to follow as Detroit pursues its broader resurgence.