Wheel maker focuses on building in United States

Boom business of manufacturing custom steel wheels started as a hobby

By Jim Totten
Livingston County Daily Press
& Argus (Howell)

BRIGHTON, Mich. (AP) - Adam Genei and his crew have so much fun making customized cars and custom steel wheels that he feels a little guilty.

At his Mobsteel shop in Brighton, rap music blares, there's a punching bag in his office and plenty of sleek-looking rides. His car is a 1967 Continental Coupe customized with air ride suspension - he's able to lift and lower it by pressing a button, according to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.

"Every day that I get to come in here and do what I want to do and behave how I want to behave, I feel like I'm getting away with something," Genei said grinning. "Like I'm fooling somebody."

The 1993 Hartland High School graduate launched his Mobsteel customizing business in 2004, and he was soon making cars for professional athletes and entertainers willing to plunk down $100,000 to $150,000 for customized rides.

But Genei, always full of ideas, had another project he wanted to get off the ground.

He wanted to manufacture custom steel wheels, known as "steelies," which were cool-looking and affordable to car enthusiasts like himself.

He launched Detroit Steel Wheel Co. about a year ago, and the business has been growing. He's sold about 6,000 so far - wheels go for $250 each - and recently expanded into a vacant warehouse located next to Mobsteel.

"My goal was I wanted to do a steel wheel, and I wanted it made in the U.S.," Genei said. "I wanted U.S. steel. I wanted everything done here because our business from the get-go was to make a statement. It was never meant to be as big a brand as it's grown to. It was just started out as a hobby."

He said it's "awesome" to see the custom steel wheels on customized cars.

Genei, who is 39, said many people thought he was "crazy" when he talked about his custom steel wheels idea.

"Even my wife was like, 'You're out of your mind,'" he said.

He lives in Brighton with his wife, Pam, and their four children.

Genei knew in his gut he could make it work, but it took a lot of effort. As soon as he started researching how to make the steel wheels, he faced a problem.

"One of the issues we had was manufacturing in the U.S. on the aftermarket or smaller level is damn near extinct," he said.

He wanted it made in the U.S., and that meant using a process that spins the steel. Otherwise, he would have needed to purchase material from China or other countries.

Genei said there were only two machines in the U.S. which could spin the steel; one in California and another in Alabama. He went to California and started talking with people who could make these wheels.

He said the stamping is done in Compton, and then the pieces are shipped to Brighton for final assembly and distribution.

Genei said the steel wheels have become popular due to the economy. He said people have less disposable income, but car guys will always spend some money on their vehicles. At $250 each, he said these wheels are affordable.

He's proud to be making the wheels here in the U.S., but he discovered how much manufacturing the country has lost. While searching for suppliers, he spoke with former executives from Kelsey-Hayes auto supplier. They told him the company had plenty of machines to spin steel, but ended up getting rid of them when business died.

"From 1999 to 2008, people just abandoned ship," Genei said. "Buildings got shut down and machines got cut up and scrapped."

As his steel wheel is growing, Mobsteel continues to do well. He said his skeleton crew of eight employees built a customized truck for FedEx completely from scratch. It was huge hit at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show, a premier trade show held annually in Las Vegas.

He said the business has received corporate endorsements, and there's a possibility television networks will do a special on the shop.

Genei said persistence, or what he calls "pig-headed," has helped the business succeed.

"We're diligent and ambitious and willing to make a lot of mistakes to where we want to get to," he said.

And having fun along the way as well.

Published: Thu, Sep 25, 2014