Stainless Steel
Wednesday | 18 July, 2012 | 11:57 am

Striking a balance

By Gretchen Salois

Making discretion paramount, a distributor creates a wide-reaching resource

July 2012 - The ability to provide materials in various sizes to customers quickly while under tight deadlines separates one distributor from another. Often, smaller-sized orders with specific instructions may be more efficient and economical for larger manufacturers to outsource. However, in a competitive marketplace, these tasks must be delegated to dependable and trustworthy companies that are not interested in undercutting another company’s bottom line. This sensitivity and consideration coupled with quality and inventory is necessary to alleviate concerns when small, quick-turnover requests arise.

When a large distributor in the Northeastern United States needs a small piece of material cut to size, whether for aerospace, marine, government or commercial industries, the company goes to Cincinnati-based Slice of Stainless.

“I can order 6-inch squares or a full sheet or several sheets,” says the company owner. “The majority of major stocking distributors don’t want to cut up their materials at all. They want to cut up a whole sheet. Slice of Stainless will take on orders for small pieces, small quantities.”

Robin Tackett, president of Slice of Stainless, attributes the company’s importance to the marketplace because of its ability to sell a 12-inch-by-12-inch or 36-inch-by-48-inch order, “and companies turn to us to fill in that gap,” she says. “Many of our customers order from us and have us ship directly to their customer. That saves them time and additional freight costs.”

The company also revamped its website, allowing for the business to cater to customers at any time of day or evening. Customers can submit orders online, allowing West Coast customers, for example, to get pricing or place an order on their schedule, “and orders are ready to ship at any hour,” Tackett adds.

Proactive action

As demand for small-quantity orders continues, so does the need to accurately fulfill a range of industry requirements. Slice of Stainless recently purchased a shear cutter in February to meet this demand. According to Scott Skelton, general manager at Slice of Stainless, the shear allows for tighter tolerances as well as improved productivity. “The shear is cutting down our job times by a third, significantly improving efficiency,” Skelton says.

In the Northwest United States, another distributor goes to Slice of Stainless when it needs to turn around orders that require tight tolerances and ASTM and military standards. “Being able to rely on a company while avoiding downtime is essential to my business,” says the company’s president. “You need someone reliable, otherwise you’re paying people to stand around and wait.

“Slice of Stainless’ inventory is growing all the time,” he continues. “They’re able to fill orders last minute, [which is] critical to our company. We view our relationship as more of a partnership. They’ve always got answers for us; they don’t make us wait.”

The Northeast distributor says when the company gets an inquiry, it may be for a small piece of material or an experimental job, “any number of reasons, really. I don’t quiz them why they need that certain amount in whatever size. We just do what we need to in order to meet their needs.”

Slice of Stainless has no minimum size requirements for orders and shears material to sizes ranging from 1⁄4 inch to 12 feet. The company uses certified materials to provide consistent quality in any grade, size or shape. The company will neutral ship direct for customers, offering same-day shipping on most materials. The company also offers a cut-to-length line, using a 6-HI Herr-Voss Stamco corrective leveler for sizes ranging from 15 inches to 60 inches wide and lengths up to 240 inches long. Slice of Stainless also offers tight-tolerance sheets with paper interleaf or PVC protection for scratch-free material.

Reliable resources

Slice of Stainless also stocks a large inventory of speciality-grade stainless and nickel alloys ranging from 0.12 inch to 0.25 inch. The company uses four in-house shears run by operators and equipped with accessories to help avoid scratches. The company is certified to ISO 9001:2008 standards and ships orders throughout North America. It is also QSLD approved, allowing it to ship directly to government facilities. Its stocked materials are guaranteed to meet AMS or ASTM specifications. Slice of Stainless also ships directly to customers outside the United States.

“We have customers overseas that often require smaller-quantity orders,” says the president of the Northwest distributor. “Slice of Stainless helps ensure those foreign customers receive their materials on time and well packaged.”

As companies rally to fill order specifications while adhering to deadlines, the last thing they want to worry about is whether a provider will try to undercut and take away customers. “A lot of companies say they would take on an order for us but then put their company name all over the packaging. They try to have our customer go straight to them,” says the Northeast company owner.

The same bodes true for the Northwest distributor. A red-hot order requiring a quick turnaround leaves little time to worry about dissension among businesses. “Slice of Stainless won’t go behind our backs and try to take us out of the equation,” says the company president, noting it serves a host of industries, including pipe, aerospace, marine and structural components, among others.

“We have to be careful, considerate of customers,” Skelton says. “It’s a strange industry where our customers are also our competitors.” Striking a balance between the two worlds while maintaining confidence is why customers continue to use Slice of Stainless.

Often, larger shops find although they can produce a small order of specifically sized metals, it may not be the most efficient option. These companies often look to Slice of Stainless to take on the task and turn it around quickly. Skelton cites one example where a customer’s material came in late because of a mill delivery on a Friday afternoon.

“We leveled the coil and were able to get parts shipped that evening direct to their customer,” Skelton says. “That was a six- to seven-hour turnaround time on a coil order.”

Another company, unable to have the flexibility to produce an order with such a quick turnaround time, might have taken as many as 14 days to produce it, Tackett says. “We never lose sight of the fact that often times, we’re doing a job that our customer could theoretically do themselves. They just wouldn’t be able to do it as efficiently as us,” she says. “We want to always offer that level of service. That might be why we’ve stayed a small company even after 20 years in business.” MM

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