The family-owned steel service center, Van Bebber Bros. Inc., is the oldest family-owned business in Petaluma. The Premium Farm Bureau member has served the greater Bay Area since 1901. Royce Van Bebber is the 5th generation to carry on his family’s steel legacy. He took over the business in 2015, after his father passed away after a battle with cancer.
“My dad and I used to share the same office and worked closely together,” Royce said. “I was 37 years old when he passed, and I realized that my family’s legacy was all up to me.”
Royce’s great-great-grandfather George Van Bebber and his brother Fred started the business in 1901. The two blacksmiths did wagon repairs, horse and buggy repairs, and worked with some of the first automobile parts.
“In the first week, they made about $10,” Royce said. “I guess you could say we’ve come a long way since then.”
The business, originally located on East Washington St., has evolved with the times to best serve its customers.
“Before hardware stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s we used to sell hardware, nuts and bolts, we sold boats for a while in the 1940s and 50s, and we sold welding supplies.”
The firm moved to Main St., which is now Petaluma Boulevard North in 1918 and then to its current location on Petaluma Boulevard South in 1956. Today, Van Bebber warehouse space
totals about 50,000 sq. ft.
“We’ve evolved over the years from being a blacksmith shop with a forge and hammer to become my Grandfather Royce Van Bebber’s vision of a full-blown steel service center, which is what we still are today,” Royce said.
Van Bebber Bros., Inc. is committed to providing customers with superior quality material and processing while maintaining fast, on-time delivery at competitive prices. The company supplies a complete line of carbon steel bar, beam, pipe, tube, sheet, and plate, stainless steel sheet and plate, and aluminum sheet and plate and provides high definition plasma cutting, flame cutting, shearing, forming, rolling, sawing, punching and drilling.
Over the past 10 years, the company has maintained an average of 34 employees. Royce said that his crew is experienced, cares about the work, are extremely knowledgeable and can turn around quality work fast.
“In some manufacturing shops, employees stand in front of the same piece of machinery and do the same thing all day,” Royce said. “Here, the work we do is very unique and takes skill. Therefore, we do a lot of training for our employees.”
He said that taking care of his employees by providing training and ensuring safety is his biggest priority and allows the company to serve the community.
Today, Van Bebbers Bros., Inc is a one-stop shop for customer’ steel needs.
“We have stainless, aluminum, whether it’s formed or if you want the raw stick of material to do it yourself,” Royce said. “We are just like a hardware store with friendly staff up front who can help
customers with their needs.”
Royce said that 65-75% of Van Bebber Bros., Inc.’s business is supplying steel products that can be used for anything from the silent auction signs used at Sonoma County Farm Bureau Crab Feed, to a custom BBQ, to the material for a flatbed truck, brackets for kitchen shelves, or wine equipment—Royce said that the possibilities are endless and that he has always enjoyed working for his family’s company.
In high school, after the early bell would ring, Royce said he would head to the shop to work and learn from his dad and other seasoned employees.
“There was no doubt that I wanted to work here after high school,” Royce said. “At a young age, I learned a lot by observing and working on the machines myself.”
He said that that spirit of learning is still present in the way he runs the family business today.
“This industry has so much new technology so we are always learning so that we can stay ahead of the curve,” Royce said. “We have lasers, plasmas that bevel, a new press brake, and bending technology.
There’s the old way of doing things where we would drill a hole in the plate, for example, but now we use a laser to cut it.”
He said that the precision of the work that they are able to provide to customers has greatly improved.
“We are introducing more finished machine work on parts like countersinking and tapping,” Royce said. “I am constantly looking at what’s ahead.”
The biggest thing on his radar? 3D printing.
“Metal 3D printing isn’t fully developed yet so we are looking to get a few small plastic 3D printers so that we can offer 3D printed parts or prototypes for customers and be proficient with the technology so that when 3D steel printing is ready, we are ready too,” Royce said.
The fifth generation VanBebber said that he wants to keep the company right at the forefront of technology. He stays up to date with the latest industry advancements and technologies by reading
publications and emails from manufacturing companies and attending trade shows across the U.S. In recent years the company acquired a 500-ton press brake, a high definition plasma machine, and a larger angle/pipe roll to provide for the growing needs of customers. They also added stainless steel and aluminum sheet and plate to their inventory.
New technology in the shop allows Van Bebber Bros., Inc to do even more diverse and creative projects including local art projects like the entrance structure of the Miracle League Ball Park in Petaluma, Burning Man structures, and even a submarine.
“Definitely the coolest and most interesting thing I think we have ever made was the submarine,” Royce said. “A semi-retired architect from Santa Rosa designed plans and made a small model of a submarine that he had wanted to build since he was 12 years old.”
Van Bebber Bros., Inc. made his dream come true.
“In 2018, we made the 12 ft. long, two-person submersible submarine, the Seaquester, out of a pressure vessel material that is made to expand and contract with external rings for compression,” Royce said. “It was a special project because it was here for so long and we all got to work on it.”
Royce said that to keep his family steel legacy strong he often comes into the office early in the morning or even on Saturdays to ensure the business’ success. He hopes that Van Bebber Bros., Inc. will one day pass to the 6th generation, his children.
“I really hope that my daughters or sons someday take it over,” Royce said. “I’d like them all to go off to college and bring back what they’ve learned to the business. I hope that someday my kids want to step in and take the reins and keep continuing to add new technology and keep our family’s business at the forefront.”
Van Bebber Bros., Inc. is located at 729 Petaluma Blvd. South in Petaluma and is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. Visit www.vanbebbersteel.com or call (707) 762-4528 for more information.