This article was the cover story in the November/December 2020 issue of NOMMA’s O&MM Fabricator magazine. It is reproduced here with their permission.

Story by SHERYL S. JACKSON

Quality Components and Sound Advice Help Fabricators Create Custom Work

D.J.A. Focuses on Solving Problems, Not Just Selling Items

Successful companies in any industry find a way to stand out from the crowd, and for D.J.A. Imports, that means offering more than a catalog of items. The company’s secret weapon is its founder, Joe Pietrocola, who started his fabrication career with the opening of Pietrocola Iron Works with his wife, Gina, in 1984. 

The company grew quickly through word of mouth, and Joe was constantly searching for a way to offer his customers more choices for ornamental designs. His idea was to find a source for ornamental pieces that he could buy and keep in stock to add to his projects, but finding the skilled labor that met his exacting standards was difficult.  

Originally from Bari, Italy, Joe knew what was available from artisans and had the contacts to set up a business to import the items he needed. The idea was so innovative that other fabricators began asking if they could purchase items from him for their own work. 

The import business, D.J.A. Imports, grew and Gina Pietrocola quit her job as a teacher in 2000 to run D.J.A. full-time to allow Joe to focus on the fabrication business. “After a few years, some of our employees in the fabrication business decided that they were ready to open their own companies, especially since they could buy the ornamental components from Joe,” she said. “Some of them remain our clients today.” 

So, what makes Joe the “added value” that D.J.A. offers?  “Even though Joe loved the artistic part of fabrication, he realized that the import business was growing so quickly, we both needed to focus on it,” said Gina. While some of his clients were willing to wait for Joe to handle projects when he could, he most often found himself connecting clients to other fabricators that he knew could do the job.  

Ornamental outdoor railing featuring forged panels and custom posts

In addition to providing referrals and networking with clients and fabricators, Joe works with fabricators to advise them on choice of products and solutions to design problems. “Because he has so much experience as a fabricator and has the artistic background, there have been times that he suggested that the fabricator re-measure the job, because the measurements on the drawings didn’t look right,” said Gina. “Joe has also designed panels that we produce and keep in stock, and he is constantly talking to our manufacturers in Italy to follow up on orders or discuss a possible solution to a customer’s problem.”  

D.J.A.’s catalog continues to grow as customer needs grow. “We provide gate hardware for crash-rated gates, but one customer needed hardware that could handle 5,000 pounds,” explained Gina. “It didn’t exist, so Joe developed a concept and worked with one of our Italian manufacturing partners to troubleshoot the design and produce the hardware.”   
D.J.A. co-innovates with manufacturers to bring new items to market all the time, she said.  
“Split-shoes, panel designs, custom belly bars, the picket spacer tool, and hardware kits like bi-fold, telescopic and radius gate hardware are a few examples, she added. 

Supporting Conversations with Fabricator Clients

In addition to helping fabricators find the stock material that they can use to create their own unique designs for customers, D.J.A. also published a book that helps fabricators, sales staff and interior designers better communicate with clients. 

“We have always had customers share photos of their finished products with us, so in 2011 we published a hard cover book using the library of photos we had collected,” said Gina. “My son, Alex, put the book together and suggested that along with the photos we include a list of the items used to create the railing, gate or other project pictured.” Components are listed by their item number but not sizes, which gives the fabricator the opportunity to size it appropriately for the actual project. 

This catering hall project included pre-assembled panels for straight and stair applications, Italian-handcrafted solid posts, brass leaves, and rosettes in a variety of sizes. It also implemented solid steel rings, and additional solid scrolls used to fill in the gaps to meet codes.
This catering hall project included pre-assembled panels for straight and stair applications, Italian-handcrafted solid posts, brass leaves, and rosettes in a variety of sizes. It also implemented solid steel rings, and additional solid scrolls used to fill in the gaps to meet codes.

Although the photographs give fabricators ideas, the real value of the book is helping the fabricator “sell” to the client, said Gina. “There are a lot of talented fabricators who don’t know how to sell themselves and their work, and there are a lot of talented sales staff who don’t understand fabrication, but this book helps each group.” Using photographs during a conversation with customers helps fabricators or sales staff understand what the customer wants and what can be created. “We also have decorators or interior designers use the book to talk the customers and show what they are recommending,” she adds. 

While the company usually sells the Design Collection book, there are times that they give the book away as a part of a promotion. “This year on our social media pages, we offered a free book to anyone who sent a happy birthday message to me,” laughed Gina. “We’re pleased that the Design Collection has become a valuable tool for everyone.” 

Even though the photographs show projects that included stock parts, the variety of ways that parts are used makes each job a custom project, said Gina. “The photographs show the same item used differently for different settings and uses,” she said. “Each fabricator uses components along with their own work to make it their own.” 

Purchasing stock ornamental items gives more options to fabricators and helps them better serve their customers, Gina explained. “Our items are in stock, which saves time, and they cost less than making it. If a scroll will take three days to make and 30 scrolls are needed, that is a lot of time for one shop, and the return on investment for a machine to make them may not be ideal unless the fabricator plans to take on a number of projects requiring scrolls.” 

Meeting Budgets and Timelines

Stock items are ideal for projects that have fixed budgets and tight timelines, said Gina. A few of the successful projects that relied on D.J.A. include: 

  • Residential railing that incorporated the Dave Matthews Band logo. The logo was custom made, but the pickets, posts, molding, starter, and shoes were all stock components. 
  • A designer’s plan for a unique look for an indoor stair railing without drilling into the stair tread was possible with a side mount, malleable iron bracket and a stock collar option to enhance the plain round picket. 
  • A renowned catering hall owner got the “wow” factor he wanted for the brides and grooms using the hall without going over budget and meeting the deadlines needed. The project included pre-assembled panels for straight and stair applications, unique Italian-handcrafted solid posts, brass leaves, and rosettes in a variety of sizes, solid steel rings, and additional solid scrolls used to fill in the gaps to meet codes.  

D.J.A.’s ties to NOMMA go back to when they first joined as a fabricator almost 20 years ago. “D.J.A. is now an industry member of many associations, but NOMMA was a natural fit,” said Gina. Volunteering time and sharing knowledge on a variety of committees and task teams in addition to active participation in METALfab are a few of the ways the company gives back to the industry.  

Railing fabricated from custom belly bars using picket 29-2-01

Gina is currently serving on the NOMMA Board – her second time. “A number of years ago, I had the honor of serving as an industry partner on the Board for six years, and then two years ago, I was asked to serve again,” she said. “This is a crucial time for associations, and I recommend to everyone that they go beyond paying dues and get involved as a volunteer on a committee.” 

Although 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, D.J.A. has enjoyed fully stocked warehouses that allowed them to support their clients’ needs. From virtual meetings to showcase products and functionality and share instructional videos, to a conference room at the office that is set up as a tradeshow booth, the company has found ways to continue educating people about their products and finding solutions for customers.  

This includes maintaining enough components to fill orders. With 90% of their inventory manufactured in Italy, the company plans ahead with orders. “We always order well in advance and over-plan our quantities because we are shipping from Italy – where business shutdowns for month-long vacations are normal,” said Gina. “We received our first container from Italy since the March shutdown in August, but we have been able to help our fabricator customers continue working by making sure they have the components they need.”   

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All finished job images and their component breakouts come from our Design Collection book. Order yours today and unleash more creativity in your projects.

Prefer reviewing the component specifications? See below for a handy breakdown and links to our online catalog:

Ornamental steel gate topper65-10-03, steel gate topper
13″ H, 43-1/4″ W
Catalog page 101
Ornamental steel forged dragon handrail starter11.077, Forged steel starter
43″ H, 15-3/4″ W
Catalog page 109
Ornamental steel panel DJA 102DJA 102, Hand-forged steel panel
29″ H, 39″ W
Catalog page 52
Solid steel forged molding23-1-02, Forged solid steel molding
2″ x 9/16″ (additional sizes available)
Catalog page 114
Ornamental steel finial with round base, pine cone design38-0-08, steel finial
2-1/4″ round base (additional sizes available)
Catalog page 66
Ornamental steel forged C-scrollDJA 137, Hand-forged steel C-scroll
2-3/4″ H, 8″ W
Catalog page 61
Hand-forged ornamental steel panel with rosetteDJA 161, hand-forged steel panel
29-1/2″ H, 38-1/2″ W
Catalog page 49
Hand-forged ornamental steel panel with rosetteDJA 162, hand-forged steel panel
31-1/2″ H, 40″ W
Catalog page 49
Beautiful brass rosette, high polishDJA 185, high polish brass rosette
4-3/4″ diameter (additional sizes available)
Catalog page 158
B-series steel belly bar, made in USAB29-2-01, made-to-order steel belly bar
Made in USA
Catalog page 43
Solid twist steel moldingDJA 22-0-05, solid twist steel handrail starter
2″ x 5/8″
Catalog page 114
Solid steel twist moldingDJA Twist, solid twist steel molding
118″ L, Matches starter DJA 22-0-05
Catalog page 114