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Stainless Steel
Friday | 30 September, 2011 | 10:32 am

Made to order

By Gretchen Salois

A stainless steel supplier cuts through red tape to meet customer needs

September 2011- It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle among a busy supplier’s countless clients. To have both the inventory of a large supplier with the flexibility of a smaller shop is an ideal combination for customers looking to fill orders without losing time. At Stainless Sales Corp., Chicago, customers can get in touch with a salesperson directly, bypassing roundabout automated phone prompts.

“We’re still privately held,” says Brad Hite, general manager of Stainless Sales. “We have an active owner, which I think helps us to be a lot more nimble. There is quite a bit less bureaucracy. ... We can often break schedule and deliver the same day.” Stainless Sales’ competitors can have a difficult time breaking production schedules for last-minute orders, Hite notes. “Customers have known us for 65 years. They don’t abuse our flexibility,” Hite adds. “They call when they really need something, and we do our best to meet their needs.”

Flexibility is also necessary when working with different engineers’ designs. With 90 employees and a 150,000-square-foot shop, Overland Products Co., Fremont, Neb., seeks to “capture more of the marketplace,” says Bill Ekeler, co-owner of Overland. “We’re very efficient. We’re located in a part of the country where overhead is typically lower and we have a tenured workforce that knows how to get things done. We’ve invested in equipment and ourselves without being in debt.”

Companies go to Overland with pre-engineered drawings, and Overland quotes a die or tool. “We produce those parts companies have requested,” Ekeler says. “While we don’t do the engineering or designing of the parts we receive from customers, we do the designs and engineering behind our own dies for those parts.” 

Consistency is key
Investing time and effort not only in equipment and employees but also in researching suppliers can make a significant difference in the long term. “We have an elite supplier program here where we keep track of those who deliver components and material on time and provide good service,” says Rex Cummings, global supply chain manager at Armstrong International, Three Rivers, Mich. “Out of 400 suppliers, Stainless Sales is consistently in our top 10.” 

By providing a ranking system, Armstrong is able “to communicate what our expectations are and give suppliers feedback,” Cummings continues. “It gives us a tool to go back to them and identify areas where both the supplier and Armstrong can improve. It also provides documentation for both Armstrong buyers and leadership as well as provide a comparison for our suppliers to determine who are the better performers.”

Used in a variety of industries, Armstrong’s products use steam under pressure. “Safety and quality are extremely important,” Cummings says. “We’re looking for a supplier that can deliver products in a timely manner, helping us manage inventories and costs.” Stainless Sales has built a relationship and history with Armstrong and can “basically forecast what products the company will need” for the upcoming year. “Stainless Sales stocks master coils and places orders to the mills to support us,” Cummings says. “Stainless Sales ships the material for us as we need it. They are able to manage short lead times, knowing what our demands are going to be.” 

According to Cummings, Stainless Sales’ delivery times, responsiveness and tech support are what keep Armstrong International coming back to the supplier. “We occasionally go out and quote other vendors just for our own due diligence to check from a pricing standpoint,” he says. “We’ve always found Stainless to be extremely competitive. We’re talking about commodity metals here, prices go up and down. Stainless has always been responsive, passing pricing decreases to us as the situation allows.”

Stainless Sales has two 60-inch-wide slitters. “Most service centers usually have one,” Hite says. “Just having that second machine makes us a larger contract order-minded service center. We also have a 12-inch slitter and a 48-inch slitter, so we try to strike a nice balance between big, corporate-America industries, like heavy truck and appliance, with a continual stream of smaller shipments to our small- to medium-size customers.” The smaller machines allow the company to be very competitive in both the contract and spot- buy arena, Hite adds. “Having a wide range of equipment means we can deploy the correct amount of resources to successfully service the 300-pound request as well as the truckload request,” Hite says.

“We’re sort of the BASF of our industry; we don’t make a lot of things you buy, we make bits and pieces of the final product,” Ekeler says, using a car as an example of parts Overland makes. “It could be a bracket in a Camaro convertible. We make little components or sub components for small assemblies across the U.S. and 10 foreign countries.”

Another reason Overland continues to use Stainless Sales is because of reliable and prompt lead times. “Stainless has seven to 10-day lead times, allowing us to give customers realistic delivery times between two to three weeks,” he says. “We’ve been using Stainless Sales for the last 14 years. They’ve grown but not wildly out of control. Their facilities are no frills but they employ great people and provide quality products at good prices.

“They really help us do our job, achieve no rejects and on-time delivery. We had a customer that needed a product that required oscillate wound coils,” he continues. “The second Stainless Sales bought the machine, Brad Hite called us and informed us of the purchase. We trust Stainless Sales and knew it would be a sound investment and a way to expand our relationship.”

Stainless Sales also has helped Armstrong expand capabilities. “Our products are used in a variety of industries, including government, food, petrochemical and others,” Cummings says. “We’ve been going green since before it was popular to be green.”

Armstrong uses steam technology and invented the inverted bucket steam trap. “As steam cools, it condenses back to water. This condensate impedes the use of the steam. Companies waste a lot of energy and money when they don’t ‘trap’ the steam. With our products, that condensation is captured and retains the steam for use by our customers,” Cummings says. “Companies use steam for processing in their manufacturing facilities.” Hot water often is returned to the boiler and “it’s cheaper to boil hot water than cold water,” he says.

“Stainless Sales manages a lot of that master coil inventory for us,” Cummings continues. “With competitive delivery and quick responsiveness, any time we’ve had trouble with stamping, their tech support is very responsive in helping us solve the problem. It says a lot when you have a supplier that can meet all your needs.

“Armstrong highly values [its] relationship with suppliers, and Stainless Sales is an outstanding example of a successful partnership where customer and supplier working closely together yields maximum benefits,” he says. MM

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