Barriers for Success // AGS Reshapes an Industry With Prefab Customization

By Wendy Wallace

Ahhh Bainbridge Island. Farmers’ markets, boutiques and garden tours, beaches, boats and winding country roads. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover something rather unexpected serious manufacturing. Perched on the south side of Day Road, not far from Bainbridge Yoga House, stands AGS Stainless, the family-owned company that produces prefabricated customized residential railing systems.

Founded on Bainbridge almost 30 years ago by partners Angelo Toglia and Gary Giffin, the industry-shaping business continues to hum along today, engineering and manufacturing its signature modern and sleek creations inside a 12,500-square-foot warehouse.

They’re known as the “Mercedes Benz of the industry, ”said AGS spokesman Kevin Harris, “and always have been because the owners were metal fabricators themselves and [are] super meticulous. ”A large portfolio of their railings—made only from marine grade stainless steel—can be found on the popular home design website, Houzz, where over the past three years AGS has twice been awarded for best client satisfaction.

At the core of that accolade is AGS’s simple, time-tested products and process. After customers submit dimensions for either external deck or interior stair railings, the AGS team goes to work. Measurements are entered into a CAD (computer-aided design) application that creates a 2D design.

That data is then transformed into a 3D drawing by a state-of-the-art, million-dollar tube laser machine. To within four one-thousandths of an inch, the laser quickly measures and cuts holes in the round, square or rectangle stainless rails.

The finished pipes are then prepped for shipment along with all necessary accessories and delivered to the customer for installation. Inside the orders are carefully numbered parts along with detailed instructions so that homeowners of all skill levels can install the railings without the need for special tools.

If homeowners are nervous about their capabilities, “the least expensive person on a builder’s team can install it and it will look gorgeous,” Harris said. AGS’s efficient system, he explained, means less waste, faster preparation, long-lasting products, and zero worry about property conditions or installation crews.

Harris spends months out of the year traveling, attending home shows and meeting with architects, spreading the word far and wide about AGS’s products. Although AGS railings can be found on dozens of Bainbridge decks and staircases, its modern balustrades have been shipped worldwide—to Africa, the Caribbean, Guam, Saudi Arabia, Hawaii and beyond. Harris predicted that given the current shortage of construction laborers combined with growing demand, the use of off-site, prefabricated products would continue to flourish.

“Even during the recession in 2010 our business grew 25 percent because we were shipping out of the country,” said Toglia, who credits trust as the secret for their successful enterprise. “Have a partner you don’t have to shadow or look over his shoulder and who understands the way you think and approaches a problem the way you would.

”Not to rest on its  laurels, AGS is keen on expansion by increasing its product line. Recently it added stainless steel housings for solar-powered, outdoor LED illumination to its offerings after discovering an unmet need for quality outdoor lighting.

And with the tube laser, custom designs can now be cut into the steel housings to complement the railings. For the AGS community, the island has proven to be rich soil to grow a business and a family. “We never expected to achieve what we’ve achieved,” said Toglia. “It’s been a dream come true.”

What’s in a Name?

Born in Rome, Angelo Toglia came to the U.S. in 1956 when he was 11, settling in White Plains, New York, where he would eventually meet his wife, Christine. Twenty-eight years ago the family moved to Bainbridge. Prior to launching AGS, Toglia worked alongside Gary Giffin at the same metal fabrication shop.

They became fast friends. The duo put their heads together to create an industry disrupting business model for metalworking. The result was AGS Stainless, a humbly begun company that has grown into to a 48-person shop with multi-million dollar annual revenue.

The AGS name is a mash-up that originated from the initials of the co-founding partners. A is for Angelo, G is for Gary, and the S is for their sons, four of whom work with their fathers.