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Service Centers
Thursday | 08 September, 2011 | 10:38 am

Cooperation in California

By Gretchen Salois

Business is booming as service center expands operations out West

August 2011 - In the heart of Southern California, industry is booming, and metals manufacturers are working harder than ever. With each year, the metals industry discovers new innovations to better construct the mechanical carbon and alloy tubing that will comprise myriad apparatuses. National Tube Supply Co., University Park, Ill., recently expanded its operations to include a 50,000-square-foot facility in Moreno Valley, Calif., to meet its West Coast customers’ demands.

With the opening of National Tube’s California facility, which also has 200,000 square feet of outdoor storage space, the company is able to meet Commercial Metal Forming’s high-volume requests as well as secondary inventory needs.

“I’m hiring, and we’re still working overtime,” says Mark Davidson, operations director for Commercial Metal Forming, Orange, Calif., noting reliability and timeliness can make all the difference when completing customer orders. Davidson says Commercial Metal Forming was reluctant to order frequently from National Tube because of the time lost when shipping orders from its Chicago facility to Commercial’s California shop.

nationaltubesupply“Prior to opening their facility here in Southern California, any purchases I did would take upward from a week to 10 days for transportation,” Davidson says. “We could afford to do some larger orders, but for the rest of the items, we could only rely on National Tube as a secondary source. But their new facility puts them on a just-in-time basis.

“Instead of offering just a couple of sizes, we now use other sizes that they offer with three- to five-day turnaround,” Davidson continues. “We can plan our promises to customers.”

For frequent customers, the expansion to the West Coast is welcome news. “I’ve been working with National Tube for years,” says Fernando Vega, sales manager for Barrel Service, San Marcos, Calif. “I purchase materials from them at least once a week, maybe more.” Barrel Service provides hose couplings, bushing and other parts for heavy-equipment manufacturers.

National Tube Supply recognized its logistical limitations by not having a West Coast presence and decided a proactive approach would result in more business. “We’ve certainly seen growth,” says Terry Flanary, director of sales and marketing at National Tube Supply. Despite the favorable response, Flanary notes many customers remain cautious in an uncertain economy.

“Customers aren’t buying more than they need,” Flanary says. “Back in 2008, a customer would say, ‘I need 200 feet of a size,’ and we would tell him we have 300 and he would say ‘I’ll take all of it.’ That doesn’t happen anymore.” People are buying only what they need because “they don’t want to get stuck with inventory,” according to Flanary. Although the economy is stronger, “customers don’t have that comfort level” they have had in the past, he says.

Standout service
With a number of service centers touting the same materials, the difference between competitors often lies in the details. “As soon as I ask for a quote, I hear back in five minutes—sometimes less,” Vega says. “That’s a rarity because anywhere else I have to call and wait.” In Vega’s experience, National Tube provides the fastest response and “always stands behind everything they say.” Now that the company has expanded to California, Vega expects to receive the same type of customer service as well as faster shipping times.

The West Coast competition is considerable, and National Tube has competitors in the area. “We’ve seen a surge in demand,” says Davidson, noting an uptick in business requires an expedient response. “If National Tube wasn’t out here, they wouldn’t be able to participate because the ability to deliver quickly would be considerably limited. Business is such that we need the product on the shelf and if we need to replenish it quickly, we can’t wait.”

Sometimes customers need guidance when deciding what tubing is best for the final product. “When a salesperson gets a call from a customer, it’s best to know what the final application is if possible,” says Jon Peplinski, warehouse supervisor, National Tube Supply. “In some cases, the customer will not know the exact finished tubing size, so he wouldn’t know that a different size could be available and might actually serve him better.”

A better fit
With an extensive customer base, Doc Madon, inside sales at National Tube Supply, says it is impossible to keep track of every customer’s end products. “We do know a lot about who is buying our tubing, including motor sports, big energy-related windmills, architectural bridges, the oil industry—we supply a lot of material for various industries,” Madon says. “If it has a tube in it, more than likely, we sell to that industry.”

A recent National Tube Supply customer used tubing for a security device to keep cars away from buildings after the September 11th attacks. “Tubes pop up from the ground and create barricades to keep cars from getting too close to buildings or restricted areas,” says Madon.

Additionally, “directional drilling is making new strides in the oil industry,” Madon says. Companies no longer only drill straight down into the ground. “Drillers go down at a 45-degree angle, then shift directions at a 60-degree angle and so on.” National Tube’s customers rely on the company to provide the necessary sizes of tubing to meet the needs of each project.

At Barrel Service, the company’s parts end up being used in various industries, including the agricultural and construction industries. “Our parts go to heavy-equipment manufacturers, concrete pumping, even the logging industry,” Vega says.

Likewise, Commercial Metal Forming is a producer of tank heads and manways for both pressurized and non-pressure tanks in the United States. Its California plant is one of the company’s three plants across the United States. It has locations in Saginaw, Texas, and Youngstown, Ohio, that serve a variety of industries. “The pipe we provide is used mainly for manways in pressure vessels,” Davidson says. “These pressure vessels are used across a number of end markets including petrochemical, industrial processing, transportation, boilers and heaters and filtration of all sorts.” Davidson says these tanks may need to be anywhere from 2 feet to 25 feet in diameter “for the Chevrons and Dow Chemicals of the world,” he says.

Precision and quality is important, and Davidson notes such characteristics should not be taken for granted. “If you come to the region and put in a facility, you’re not guaranteed business,” Davidson says. “You need to have a well-rounded team and excellent execution.

“I buy tons of steel plate, and there have been other service centers that take two days to get a price,” Davidson continues. “I need a quote today, not tomorrow, not two days from now. So National Tube gets high marks for responsiveness. You don’t get to stay a supplier long if you don’t get those basics.”

National Tube Supply’s strategic move to the West Coast indicates the manufacturing industry is moving in a positive direction.  “I think that manufacturing in the United States is making a little bit of a comeback,” Flanary says. “Manufacturing is on the way back, and the exchange rate has allowed increased exports from the U.S., which has helped not only on the West Coast but the entire country.” MM

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