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Updated: March 18, 2019 / 2019 Business Leaders of the Year

Joyce Galea finds new and growing markets for Waterville-based truck-body manufacturer

Joyce Galea PHOTo / Tim Greenway Joyce Galea is a partner and vice president of F3 MFG, which announced Thursday it has been acquired by a Michigan company, the Shyft Group Inc.

Joyce Galea, co-owner of F3 Manufacturing in Waterville, has been instrumental in the company’s explosive growth.

F3, maker of aluminum bodies and accessories for trucks and vans, was founded in 2016. The privately held company doubled its sales from 2018 to 2019, to $34 million. Employment skyrocketed from 14 employees in 2016 to 230 today. Facility size has gone from 5,000 square feet to 180,000 square feet. In 2018, F3 was ranked in the Inc. 5000 as Maine’s third-fastest growing company.

Galea says the company was able to find customers in a market that otherwise relies on steel.

“First and foremost, we put together a tremendous sales team,” she says. “Literally, we would go to outfitters and dealers and knock on doors. They would see our products and start with a small order. From there, we gained market share. Going out and knocking on doors in areas where they’ve never heard of aluminum truck bodies — it was unheard of.”

Operating out of the former Wyandotte Mill on Trafton Road, F3 has been under the radar in Waterville. But Garvan Donegan, Central Maine Growth Council’s senior economic development specialist, took notice.

“While F3’s success and their staggering growth had been quiet, many were paying attention to the impact they were having locally,” Donegan says. “It’s making significant contributions to employment and GDP growth in Maine. Joyce’s role is as a collaborator, convener and true leader. It’s all about putting together a great team. They’re thinking creatively, they’re re-skilling people, they’re training folks, they’re identifying new market segments and new labor segments.”

A banker switches careers

F3 stands for “final 3”— for the three owners who, with 85 years of collective manufacturing experience, consider F3 to be their final endeavor.

Galea handles sales and human resources, Bill Cleaves is an engineer and Tom Sturtevant handles finances.

Galea came to manufacturing from a career in bank finance.

“I felt I needed to make a career change to better myself and to try to make a difference,” she says.

In 2007, she joined Alcom USA, then a small Winslow manufacturer of aluminum trailers, as an inside sales representative. She subsequently became vice president of finance and grew alongside the company. Alcom, which was founded in 2006, now has more than 500 employees and has a dealer network in the U.S., China, India and Kuwait.

She loved the hustle-bustle of manufacturing. “My colleagues and friends thought I was crazy,” she says. “Maybe I was. But it felt right. The excitement of seeing actual production was invigorating.”

One of her F3 co-founders, Cleaves, was running a small company, Magnum Manufacturing, a Liberty-based maker of aluminum truck equipment. Cleaves brought in Galea and Sturtevant.

“I’d known her personally, and when I had the opportunity to be in business with her, I jumped right on it,” Cleaves says. “She has communication skills like nobody else I know. And she can sell anything.”

Sell she did.

“I went to the Northwest on a six-day trip,” she recalls. “In three days, I came home with $250,000 in signed orders.”

She did her homework before she called on potential customers.

“One thing I tell my salespeople is that the biggest part of sales isn’t talking about your product. It’s listening to your customers,” she says. “It’s the ability to have the person trust you in the first minute or two of a conversation. I do my homework on customers or vendors before visiting them. I do my homework on our product. I put two and two together.”

A niche in the truck business

The Magnum name, along with Duramag, now trade under the F3 umbrella. The truck bodies are what you might see on a trade vehicle — the back portion of an electrician’s truck, the “box” on a box truck or a towing company’s flatbed.

F3 was using aluminum at a time when many such truck components were steel. Galea makes the case for aluminum being better than steel because it’s much lighter, resulting in increased fuel economy, reduced tailpipe emissions and smaller carbon footprint. Although raw aluminum is more expensive than raw steel, F3 maintains competitive product pricing. Tariffs affected both aluminum and steel.

As F3’s sales revenue has grown, its workforce has grown as well. For Galea, it’s about putting Maine people to work by providing them with training and support to achieve financial security and marketable skills.

“A big part of F3 is the people we hire and train,” she says. “We have an unbelievable crew.”

Galea is active in talent attraction and retention, providing in-house training to the entire workforce. Despite the state’s labor shortage, F3 has been able to find workers through employee referrals, online postings, job websites and connections with trade schools.

“We have a great training program, our pay scale is above market, and we offer 401(k), health insurance, paid vacations, holidays and overtime,” she says. “They gain a trade, they’ve got a job where we won’t lay people off, and they’re working indoors throughout the year.”

She also hires people who need a second chance in life.

“Some people have made poor choices in their past but they come in and they have a strong work ethic,” she says. “I see a glimmer of hope, a lot of times, in people when they don’t see hope in themselves. But they want a second chance and they do a good job.”

She recalls one employee who “knew” she wouldn’t hire him once she saw his background check.

“I said, ‘Well, if you’re honest with me and tell me what you did and that’s what shows up on your background check, we can talk,’” she says.

Since then, he’s become a line leader and went from couch-hopping to renting an apartment and, recently, purchasing a home — life steps accomplished with Galea’s guidance.

“It’s the most gratifying aspect of my job,” she says. “My biggest concern is to keep everyone employed and to keep this business going because so many people and families rely on us.”

Galea still thrives on the hustle-bustle. “One day I’m writing a check for thousands of dollars for aluminum and that same day I’m seeing a finished product loaded on one of our trucks,” she says. “It’s noisy, nobody’s standing still. I’m the type of person who likes to have many balls in the air all the time. I couldn’t sit behind a desk and just do the same thing day in and day out.”

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