In Steve Fanelli’s opinion, his decision to sell the property that housed his business, Fenceworks on Route 202, was a win-win all around.
“Ruggeri Cadillac had lost the lease just down the road, where they had a very successful business,” he said. “They are good friends and the land there is really much more suited to a car dealership than a business like mine.”
Ruggeri bought the prime three-acre parcel, making it financially possible for Fanelli to relocate his business just about anywhere he wanted. He chose Pocopson.
Not that there is anything thing wrong with Pocopson. It’s a beautiful township – for the most part. But Fanelli decided he wanted quite possibly the most unattractive, run-down property in the entire township. And on top of that, he came up against one stone wall after another in his efforts to locate the rightful owner.
Not one to back away from a challenge, in July 2014. he finally purchased the 10-acre parcel on Street Road along the Brandywine that had been the former site of Westwood Garden Center.
“The place was just a mess -- trash and garbage dumped all over and even old vehicles buried,” he said. “We really had our work cut out for us before we could even start building.”
Fanelli realized that much of the ten-acre parcel is in a flood plain where water might be an issue at times. “I really thought I had made a big mistake when, just weeks after I bought the property, we had a huge storm with six-and-a-half inches of rain. It wasn’t pretty,” he said with a chuckle.
Because of the flooding issues and the proximity to the Brandywine, plans for the Fenceworks shop and offices were carefully designed and scrutinized by the township and conservancies. Fanelli feels confident in the design of the building -- 5,000 square feet of shop space downstairs, and an additional 2,800 square feet in offices above -- which is built 18 feet above the 100-year flood level.
What many would consider another negative to the property -- PennDOT’s announcement that they will be totally rebuilding the bridge over the Brandywine just down the road from it -- is a positive in Fanelli’s mind.
“It has to be done,” he said. “The bridge won’t be safe and because they have to fix it, at the same time they will raise the entire roadway, which should alleviate flooding issues.”
Fanelli praises Rep. Steve Barrar and other officials for their diligence in getting the time estimated for the bridge closure dramatically reduced. “The bridge is the portal to this community, and it’s going to be fantastic when completed,” he said.
About nine months after purchasing the property, Fanelli and his team of 22 employees are just settling into their new location. Fanelli said, “I love it here! It’s so beautiful to come to work. Out on Route 202, people just buzz by at 55 miles an hour all day long. We were nothing more than a landmark.”
“This location is so much more conducive to our business, and we even get some walk-in business -- people who just need some wire or a few posts or rails for repairs. I’m glad we can help them out in that way.”
In the next few months, Fanelli will landscape the area around the building and then concentrate on putting the approximately five acres of unused ground back into green space.
“The residents, businesses and officials here have been very welcoming to us and my wife, Donna, and I want to do something really good for this township,” he said. He loves to see people enjoying the Brandywine by canoeing, kayaking or fishing. “Some kids asked me if they could come on the property to fish," he said, "and it was just great to see them pull in a big one!”
Fanelli who grew up in the Radnor Hunt area, got his start in the fencing business with Ed Thayer in 1988. The two formed Mt. Eden Fence Company with one fence post driver, and they mostly installed fencing on horse farms. Although their partnership was brief --in 1989, they split, with Thayer keeping the name Mt. Eden Fence and Fanelli forming Fenceworks -- Fanelli said, “Ed taught me everything in this business.”
He also owes a great deal to Dick and Vita Thompson, his longtime friends and former landlords, who encouraged him and offered financial backing to start Fenceworks.
Fenceworks installs just about any type of fence imaginable in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and even Long Island, N.Y. Fanelli estimates that farm business accounts for about 35 to 40 percent of their work, with residential another 35 to 40 percent. Custom and commercial work makes up the remaining 20 percent.
Although the fencing business is usually thought of as very competitive, Fanelli doesn’t agree. He advertised early on, especially in The Equine Marketer, which really helped to establish the name Fenceworks. But he gets most of his work today from referrals of satisfied customers.
“We have always strived to avoid call backs,” Fanelli said. “You distinguish yourself with doing the job one time and doing it right. It took years to assemble it, but I’ve got a great team working for me.”
He told a story about being in the shop on Route 202 early one evening, when a customer came in and berated everyone there about the lousy job they did on his fencing and insisted that no one called him back about it. Although it was already past quitting time, Fanelli turned to one of his employees and directed him to follow the customer to his home and report back to him about the issues.
“My guy called me when he arrived at the customer’s home and the first thing he sees on the fence is the sign of a competitor’s company! The customer mistakenly thought we did the work and was very apologetic when he realized it was someone else,” Fanelli said, laughing. “But it was just one of those situations where I wanted to clear it up right away. That’s the way we do things.”
Some Fenceworks employees have been with Fanelli as long as 17 years. His business grew in 2007 to the point where he had 13 trucks and 42 employees. “We were getting too big,” he explained. “It was becoming difficult to sustain quality and customer service, and I just care too much. This is a people business, and you have to go the extra mile.”
Fanelli’s plan is to scale the business back just a bit at the Pocopson location. He’s a family guy, and spending time with his wife and three kids -- Nick, 15, Max, 11, and Ava, 7 -- is very important to him. The boys both play lacrosse and Fanelli is a board member and coach of West Chester Youth Lacrosse. Ava plays basketball and runs track.
“The business is manageable now and it’s really close to our home. I haven’t missed a game yet and I don’t plan to,” he said with a wide grin.