Case Studies

California Fire Systems Inc.

Serving the Golden State with leading fire protection services

Founded in 1985 by Dennis Stufflebean, California Fire Systems Inc. (CFS) is a leading fire protection contractor serving northern California from its headquarters in Auburn. The company provides a range of fire protection-related service, including fire- sprinkler installation, repair, service and inspection to contractors throughout the region.

CFS specializes in new building projects for commercial, industrial and residential customers, as well as tenant improvement and retrofit, wet, dry and pump tests, sprinkler service contracts, repair design and consultation.

CFS’s niche has shifted over the years as the market continues to change. Where the company once focused on retail customers, a slowing economy saw CFS enter a broader market that includes mixed-use developments, apartments, condominiums and assisted living facilities.

“In 30 years we’ve done everything from service work to highrise buildings,” says Rod Stufflebean, president of CFS.

CFS has recently completed a number of high-profile jobs, including installing sprinkler systems at a new Bass Pro Shops in San Jose and nearby Rocklin, California. “Those are cools stores and the Rocklin location is one of the first of that type of business in this area. It’s a pretty big project and it’s right off the freeway in the middle of town, so that’s good exposure,” Stufflebean says.

While the Sacramento market is slowly rebounding, it’s the construction boom in the Bay Area that has fueled CFS’s growth in recent years as a wave of technology and startup money flows into San Francisco and nearby Silicon Valley.

“We have a few contractors that we work for that are based out of Sacramento, but the Bay Area is where most of our work is right now,” says Stufflebean. While most of the Bay Area work has come in the retail and mixed-used sectors, CFS recently landed a contract for a hotel being constructed near Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the new home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.

One of the marquee jobs CFS has completed in the last five years is the Verasa Resort in Napa. “It was one of the biggest jobs we’ve ever done; it was more than twice the size of what we normally do,” he says.

CFS is currently in the middle of a project at the San Leandro Tech campus in San Leandro. The company just finished outfitting fire protection systems on a new six-story building and is now completing similar work on a parking garage. While CFS doesn’t normally chase public sector work, a slow economy has required the company to explore new sectors.

“When things are bad we’ll go after some public works jobs, but normally we try to stay in the private sector because there are a lot of headaches involved,” he says.

Success with new subcontractors

Employing 25 at its Auburn headquarters, CFS benefits from a dedicated base of workers who offer decades of experience in fire safety. “We have a great core group of guys here; most of them have been here 10-plus years, and some have been here for 15 or 16 years,” Stufflebean says.

CFS handles a majority of its own work in-house, including design, only employing subcontractors when it comes to fabrication. The company ran its own fabrication shop up until the economic recession took hold six years ago and Stufflebean discovered that it was actually cheaper to farm out the work.

“It’s been sort of a new experience working with fabricators. When the economy took a dive we had to shut down our fabrication shop and we just haven’t started it back up. It’s kind of proven to be easier to let someone else do it,” he says.

With a lack of new construction projects, the recession was a difficult time for CFS, and one it almost didn’t survive. “We had a year there where we didn’t know if we were going to make it and we were just surviving on improvement work because there was no new construction until 2012 in the Bay Area,” Stufflebean says.

“It’s been sort of a new experience working with fabricators. When the economy took a dive we had to shut down our fabrication shop and we just haven’t started it back up. It’s kind of proven to be easier to let someone else do it.” – Rod Stufflebean, president of CFS

While construction has started to rebound in the greater San Francisco area, other parts of northern California are still struggling to shake off the effects of the economic downturn. “Sacramento is still lagging behind, but it’s starting to pick up a little around here,” he says.

A burning passion

For Stufflebean, fire protection is all in the family. CFS itself was started by his father Dennis who opened the company’s doors in the mid ‘80s. “It all started with my grandfather. He got my father and uncles into it and me and my cousins all followed suit,” he says.

Joining the family business in 1986, Stufflebean boasts 30 years’ experience in the industry, during which time he’s seen CFS grow from a small fire protection services outfit to one of the leading contractors in its area. “I think I’m most proud of how much we’ve grown it from when we started and when I took over,” he says.

CFS remains a true family business, with Rod’s sister Denell Aubuchon running the front office. “She’s basically my right-hand man, she’s been here for 15 years and takes care of everything,” he says.

As the country finally shakes off the lingering effects of the recession, the future looks bright for CFS. The company is up 30 percent in revenue over 2014, with another big year expected in 2016. This growth is being driven in part by an increased focus on hospitality and assisted living facilities, a market sector that is expected to continue to grow thanks to baby boomers.

“They’re getting to that age, so we’re expecting quite a boom in the next few years,” Stufflebean says.

As the California construction market continues to recover from the recession and big money flows into the Bay Area, California Fire Systems Inc. will be there to serve customers throughout the Golden State with superior fire protection service.

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