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Published January 2001

Stairway builder focuses
on delivering quality

By Kimberly Hilden
Herald Business Journal Assistant Editor

As George Doug Bowls recently gazed across his shop, listening to the hum of machinery and watching his staff of craftsmen at work, he freely admitted his business is a bit “wacky.”

“We specialize in one thing, and that’s it,” he said about George’s Spiral Stairs in Lynnwood.

That “thing” is making steel-frame spiral staircases for homes and businesses through a process of building flat, one-piece stairways and then rolling them “to achieve a fluid design,” according to company literature. Prices vary according to size, style and tread material but average about $3,500 with installation, Bowls said.

The notion to specialize began in the mid-1970s, when Bowls and his father, also a George, were working together at what then was the elder Bowls’ iron shop, Ornamental Iron by George.

“We didn’t want to compete with anybody,” the younger Bowls said. “We wanted to specialize in something and blow away the competition.”

In the years since, Bowls and George’s Spiral Stairs have built more than 5,000 stairways for customers in 14 countries and throughout the United States. Locally, the company has created staircases for Bucher Aerospace Corp. in Everett, AEI Music Network Inc. in Seattle and the I-90 Corporate Center in Issaquah, he said.

Nowadays, Bowls and his staff of seven have 20 to 30 customer orders at any given time, completing an average of two stairways a week.

“We’re just busier than all get out,” he said, despite not having an aggressive marketing campaign.

“I don’t need to advertise. I have done the Seattle Home Show since 1976, and I’ve got a little ad in the phone book, but it’s word-of-mouth mostly,” he said.

“Everyone that builds quality stuff knows about me,” Bowls said about contractors, architects and others in the construction business who often refer customers his way.

It’s Bowls’ commitment to quality that has garnered such renown, said Keith Dickie, President of Decorative Iron Inc. of Bothell.

“He does some incredible things over there,” said Dickie, who worked with Bowls’ father in the mid-1970s before starting his own company.

On occasion, Dickie and Bowls have worked on the same project — Dickie building a railing for a deck and Bowls creating a spiral staircase — and have coordinated their railings, Dickie said.

Bowls learned from his dad that “when you do the job, you’ve got to do the job as best as you possibly can,” Dickie said. “Quality is number one.”

Along with building staircases, Bowls creates sculptures out of metal, like the one he titled “Family Hug,” which features a mother, father and two children embracing.

“It’s just me having visions of things. I just like the form and shape,” he said.

Although intended as an outlet for his artistic leanings, the sculptures have caught the eyes and wallets of clients who come by the shop off Mukilteo Speedway.

“Usually an architect or homeowner will see something like this and say, ‘Wow. ... How much?’ “ Bowls said.

But he’s quick to add that spiral stairs are still “the bread and butter” of his business, and he and his staff thrive on the challenges, whether it’s creating an interior double-winding staircase with hardwood grab rails and treads or an exterior staircase with an art deco look.

“The hard stuff, things that most people don’t want to fool with, I just eat that stuff up,” Bowls said. Then, pointing to his staff, led by foreman Art Cooper, he added, “The guys up there are the best spiral-stairs guys there are.”

“I’m really proud of the reputation we have,” he said.

For more information on George’s Spiral Stairs, call 425-745-1559 or visit the company’s Web site, www.kitstairs.com.

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