June 18, 2014
Dominique Martinez, founder of Rustic Steel Creations, does a little of everything—using found objects and new metals, making functional items like handrails and decorative items (artistic sculptures), making items for sale and working under contract, working for profit and donating pieces for fundraisers—and in doing so, has built his company into a multimillion-dollar enterprise.
Artists are motivated mainly by one goal: to beautify the world. Most artists, if not all, would agree that every unoccupied space, indoors or outdoors, could be improved by displaying a photograph or a painting or a sculpture. Taking that a step further, most occupied spaces could be improved by replacing something mundane with something eye-catching.
Railings that adorn balconies and staircases are good examples. Most aren’t too fancy, but aesthetically pleasing materials and a little creativity go a long way in making a handrail interesting as well as functional.
The team at Rustic Steel Creations, Tampa, Fla., founded in 2002 by Dominique Martinez, takes this two-pronged approach, beatifying any available space with exceptional items.
Artistic from a young age, Martinez took as many art classes as he could. During his sophomore year of high school, he managed to stack his schedule with back-to-back art classes throughout the morning and bundled all of the core academic classes in the afternoon. Still, a day that was half art didn’t hold his interest, and he dropped out after 10th grade. “It just wasn’t for me,” he said.
Driven by a fierce work ethic, he soon took a job at an antique auction house, researching and writing appraisals for every piece of artwork that came through the door.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I totally enjoyed it.” He quickly developed a comprehensive and authoritative body of knowledge, and moved to the West Coast when the company opened a location in California. When the company went out of business, Martinez went off in a new direction. He had two subsequent jobs in the 9-to-5 world, first in a marketing firm and later as a venture capitalist, but eventually he realized that he wasn’t any more suited to the straitjacket of the office environment than he was to the rigid structure of the school environment.
He wasn’t actively looking for a way out, but insomnia was getting the best of him. A friend ran a small metal fabrication shop, and Martinez figured he might as well do some moonlighting while everyone else was sleeping. He learned to cut and form metal and started making elaborate picture frames. He took several to an art show and was mildly surprised when he sold every one of them. From this humble beginning, Martinez went on to found Rustic Steel Creations and build it up to what it is today, a fabrication shop that employs more than a dozen people; keeps its owner busy 70 hours a week; and has such a large footprint that it exports some of its products.
Somehow he was able to snag swanky clients from the beginning. “My first job was a 14,000-sq.-ft. house,” he said. He leveraged early successes into a string of increasingly high-profile jobs, often outside his comfort zone.
“I landed a $280,000 contract for work on the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Tampa, from the front door to all 170 rooms,” he said. He was a little perplexed when he realized he’d have to interpret 150 pounds—not pages, but pounds—of blueprints. He was a little more perplexed when he realized he didn’t understand all of the symbols and abbreviations on the prints. No matter. Among his staff of 14 was an architecture student, so he was able to pull the job off without a hitch.
Many of his clients are high-profile athletes and celebrities—names he keeps confidential—but Martinez isn’t shy about listing his business clients, which include national and local businesses: Verizon, the National Football League, Busch Gardens theme park, and Oxford Exchange (a multiuse retail space in Tampa). Television appearances have propelled his company forward, and the client list just keeps growing. Although his is a high-profile, full-throttle business headed by a demanding boss who puts in 12-hour workdays, Martinez is quick to credit his staff for the company’s success.
“I am blessed with a team that nobody can match,” he said.
He also remains steadfast in his belief that art can be a force for good, bringing improvements to the lives of others. He frequently donates works to charities, schools, and foundations for auctioning at fundraisers. A recent donation went for $10,000, he said.
Finally, Martinez strives to help budding artists learn about metals by running one-day welding workshops on occasional Saturdays. Rustic Steel Creations provides a safety briefing, welding instructions, and a small staff of instructors to keep close watch over the students, most of whom have never touched a torch. The classes run from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., and the goal is simple.
“The idea is that each student can walk out of here with a piece of art,” Martinez said.
The FABRICATOR® is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971. Print subscriptions are free to qualified persons in North America involved in metal forming and fabricating.