Copper & Brass
Thursday | 21 August, 2014 | 9:12 am

Maintaining momentum

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Copper roofing completed by Christy Metals for a house in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

A fundamentally sound business plan stands the test of time

August 2014 - In 1964, the average price of a cup of coffee ranged from 10 to 15 cents. Today, a patron can walk away from Starbucks with a tall cup for around $2. A lot more than coffee prices has changed in 50 years but one company has managed to stay relevant—for example, by  adorning one upscale Starbucks retail location with copper dormers and gutters. Having doubled in size in the past five years with over $35 million in sales, Christy Metals Inc. and its sister companies are standing the test of time.

Under the Helms Performance Group, Northbrook, Illinois-based Christy Metals and Chris Plating Inc., and Chris Industries Inc. in Joliet, Illinois, all work together to get orders out to customers. 

MM-0814-copper-image1Christy Metals distributes copper, brass, aluminum and stainless steel in sheet coil and bar stock and offers slitting, plate cutting, cutting to length and parts fabrication. The average order size is 3,000 pounds. The company runs six slitters and will install the seventh later this year. 

“We’ll provide orders for companies producing billions in business annually to smaller companies ordering 50 pounds per order. We cover all sizes,” says Lance Shelton, Christy Metals’ vice president of slitting.

Chris Plating produces tinplate for the automotive industry. It operates two tinning lines now but plans to install a third. Chris Industries inventories roofing sheet toppers and gutter makers, and fabricates dormers and signage for commercial and residential establishments.

“We make custom-designed gutters and dormers,” Shelton says. “We also perform hot tin dip, which is 100 percent tin over copper strip for automotive connectors, radiator connectors and (thin-gauge) fin stock.” Tin is applied by air wipe or mechanical wipe to achieve desired coating thickness down to 0.00002 inches.

Besides copper roofing and gutters, Chris Industries produces residential fixtures, such as bars and sinks, due to copper’s antimicrobial aspects. But copper roofing and gutters are particularly in high demand. 

“There are people picking up copper gutters every half hour,” Shelton says. “People are building homes and are going back to using copper roofs—with copper, you buy it once and it lasts you a very long time; you’re not replacing things every few years.”

Focus on people

Before joining Christy Metals in 2009, Shelton was vice president of distributor Guardian Metal Sales Inc. (which closed that year), and previously worked for rolling mill PMX Industries. President and CEO Christy Helms made sure to recruit some of Guardian’s talent.

“Christy Helms brought operators, the sales force and myself along,” Shelton says. “Other companies don’t always absorb people like that. Bringing [our] people over led not only to business that used to be Guardian’s, but also introduced the company to new bids as well.”

“Christy Helms has always believed in hiring the best people,” Shelton continues. “That’s why people work for him for 50 years. Business really took off after that.”

Reputation counts for much of Christy Metals’ success and Shelton’s 23 years in the copper and brass industry contribute to that legacy. In addition to his duties at Christy Metals, Shelton sits on the board of the Copper and Brass Servicenter Association, through which he keeps abreast of industry changes and challenges. 


Approvals open doors

Offering just-in-time delivery and easy customer service are expected. Where Christy Metals believes it has set itself apart is in the automotive sector. By receiving preproduction approval process (PPAP) status, Christy Metals’ products and processes are approved from the mill through all links of its supply chain. Every stage of a product’s journey can be traced and monitored. “We didn’t used to have this leg up and a lot of distributors don’t have PPAP,” Shelton adds, adding that Christy also has its ISO:9001 2008 quality certification. 

If a company wants to sell General Motors Co. or its suppliers, for example, it won’t happen unless it has PPAP status. Before being approved, “we were busy but had nowhere near the volume we have now,” Shelton says. “It used to be that only the mills could have the manpower needed to get PPAP status. We had to figure out the right processes—as well as put the right people in charge—to get us where we needed to be.”

Christy Metals listens and responds when customers request operational changes or offer ideas on how to improve efficiency. “We are very open with our customers,” Shelton says.

“Within the last eight months, we added solar panels to our own roof for a customer who wanted us to reduce our carbon footprint and become more green. We changed the lighting on our shop floor for another customer,” he continues. “The new lighting was better for seeing the material running through the shop and was also more efficient, leaving less of a carbon footprint.”

Expanding reach

Christy Metals, Chris Industries and Chris Plating work as one when certain complex jobs—requiring the talents of each—come in. “While all three companies are standalone under the same parent—we work together to meet customer demands, often interchangeably when an order calls for it,” Shelton says. For example, “We slit metals to size, cut-to-length and we also tin metal at Chris Plating.”

MM-0814-copper-image3Helms Performance Group recently opened shop in El Paso, Texas. “Because we’ve doubled in size, we needed this new facility to take on the growing business,” Shelton says. “Now we can ship daily instead of once a week.”

Closer proximity to a new geographic base of customers has also translated into additional orders, and those customers in Mexico and the southern U.S. now know they can receive material daily. “With the automotive sector across the border in Mexico and stampers in [Cuidad] Juarez doing more business, we needed the ability to provide daily delivery to keep up with their inventory turns,” explains Shelton.

 “We’re slitting master coils from mills, cutting them to length, packaging and shipping them to the customer. That’s what we’re doing every day in addition to any specialty orders.”

Automotive-related orders remain steady and “the building construction market has rebounded,” Shelton adds. Because mechanical wiring and electrical components sustain demand for copper, Shelton foresees additional aerospace work in Christy’s future as well. “We’ve recently gotten more aerospace jobs in the shop. When there are more planes in production that means more connectors, more copper for instrument panels, air conditioning systems and water lines. Airplanes need systems that cars do not and we expect to see more orders for those types of copper-based components. We only expect that to grow.” MM

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