The Bales Girls are Making Dad Proud

Stacey Bales and her sister, Sara Mortensen, recently picked up a business excellence award from a Chicago newspaper, an honor they would have rather not received.

Stacey Bales and her sister, Sara Mortensen, recently picked up a business excellence award from a Chicago newspaper, an honor they would have rather not received.

Stacey and Sara are owners of Bales Metal Surface Solutions in Downers Grove, Illinois, a firm they both lived in since they were teens. Their dad, Steve, started it with his brother, Mike. Back then, Steve and Mike—who also owned a shop in Harlingen, Texas—were known as the ‘Bales Boys’ amongst those in the industry.

Finishing is an integral part of the supply chain in manufacturing. Once parts are machined, often they need to be cleaned thoroughly. Then folks like the Bales put a corrosion-resistant finish on them before they are delivered.

Bales Metal Surface Solutions specializes in metal coatings for various fabricated metal components, especially mold coating and plating. Stacey and Sara received the award because of their company’s tremendous growth, innovation, entrepreneurship and contribution to their community. Business is good; sales are up and the company has a new website.

But behind the award and the smiles is a story of gritty determination, periods of grief, savvy business skills, and an unstoppable work ethic.

It started right before Thanksgiving in 2009, when Steve didn’t show up for work one morning. Stacey and Sara were told he had passed away, and that quickly they lost both a father and their business owner. To Stacey and Sara, it was a double whammy.

“It was tough,” says Stacey, now president at Bales. “You don’t expect that to happen. He was a young man at 53.”

Stacey had been working full time at Bales for several years, running the office and taking care of bills, invoices and everything else to do with the financial operations. She had worked at the plant since age 14, doing a little of everything, and then helping her dad run the family business as she got older. Sara was doing part-time work, while she was raising her family, having recently had a daughter. When the news came about Steve, they quickly realized not only did they not have a firm succession plan, but Steve did not have a will or a trust in place for the business, which at the time employed 30 people.

After Stacey and Sara grieved over Steve’s passing, they went to work to keep the business running. His brother Mike had long retired from the business, and they had a few other family members working in the shop. But they were Steve’s heirs, and now they were the owners of the shop.

The sisters admit there was tension among family members and a few employees about who would take over the business, but they soon settled on things and went to work. Stacey would be president, and Sara vice president.

While Steve made Bales what it was for more than 30 years, the last few years have been all about Stacey and Sara, and the jobs they have done in one of the most difficult times in corporate America, let alone the plating industry. They took over during the recession—remember? —yet have thrived using brains, fortitude and desire.

“It took about 2 years to get things in order after our dad passed,” Sara said. “But we’ve committed ourselves and this company to really doing well and service our customers.”

The company recently rebranded itself as Bales Metal Surface Solutions and hired a marketing firm to design a new logo, website and identity. It’s not something most finishing companies do, but then again, Stacey and Sara are not your typical shop owners. When others in the business world didn’t want to show them respect, they worked to earn it. When some thought they couldn’t pull it off, they exceeded expectations.

“I go to networking events all the time, and you’ll meet someone standing in the corner, and they’ll complain about how sales are down, and business is slow,” Stacey says. “I’ll think, ‘Do something about it.’ Market yourself. Don’t give up.”

Stacey and Sara did something, all right, and they did it during some of their darkest days. No doubt Steve is proud of them, and they both laugh thinking what he would say about what they have done with the company.

Somewhere along the line the Bales Boys became known as the Bales Girls.