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Sunday | 01 July, 2007 | 9:20 am

The hole shebang

By Lauren Duensing

July 2007- McNichols Co., Tampa, Fla., was founded in1952 by Robert McNichols, a World War II hero. "He was shot down over Germany when he was a navigator for a B-17 bomber," says President and COO Herb Goetschius. "Miraculously, he was the only survivor of that flight and then he spent nine months in a German POW camp until the Russians liberated him at the end of the war."

After surviving the war, McNichols "vowed that anything he did in life, he was going to use as an opportunity to spread the Gospel," says Goetschius. As a result, Christian principles are tightly woven into the fabric of the company and today have become "one of its great legacies," Goetschius notes.

A success from day one McNichols began the company out of a small warehouse as a one-man show, "making deliveries in the afternoon after taking orders during the day," says Goetschius. As more family members joined the company, including Robert's son Gene, it continued to grow. Eventually the decision was made to market the company's products through a catalog, which allowed it to become very successful.

"Bob and Gene McNichols had a vision of taking the company to a national level, after local and regional success," Goetschius notes. "We began adding branches, one every couple of years for a number of years. Now we have 17 locations all around the country, with one in Monterrey, Mexico. We're also exploring expansion into Canada. We now have more than 400 employees and are projecting $180 million in sales this year."

The Hole Story
The company's first product line was perforated metal. Throughout the years, McNichols continued to add other products to the mix, including bar and plank grating, wire mesh, expanded metal, fiberglass gratings, plank, floorings, handrail components, stair treads and ladder rungs, among many others. "It's a family of products, and most of them have holes in them, hence our branding of The Hole Story logo."

McNichols is always on the lookout for new additions to its family of hole products. "We work closely with our vendors, and quite often they come up with new designs," says Goetschius. "As the largest distributor of hole products, our collaborative efforts are worthwhile."

McNichols is also approached by inventors and customers from all over the world looking for unique products. "With the company's specialized product offerings and large stock inventory, McNichols also counts other service centers among its customer base by helping to broaden their product lines."

The wide variety of choices could easily overwhelm a customer, but McNichols prides itself on first-class customer service. "Many times the customer, especially a smaller customer, doesn't really know what product fits their application," says Goetschius. "So we work to understand their needs, try to determine exactly what they are trying to do and steer them to the most cost-effective product choice.

"Recently we expanded a group of sales engineering specialists who can do complicated take-offs and drawings when we saw the need for more services in this area," Goetschius notes.

He says that this is all part of an active approach for McNichols to add more value to its services, increase customer retention, be more solution oriented, develop more relationships and help the customer find the right product.

Designer metal products
Although perforated metal is often used for applications like screens and filters, "today we're seeing growth in demand for aesthetic applications like panels, furniture and store fixtures," says Goetschius. "Gratings that are commonly used for industrial floorings, mezzanines, platforms and walkways are now being used on ceilings, walls and as infills.

"We've tried to raise awareness that these products are a good alternative to other products and have aesthetic properties," says Goetschius. "We're well-known out there in the marketplace because we mail millions of catalogs annually. So if you're in the metals business or you're an architect or specifier, there is a good chance you're going to see our catalog."

In addition, the company also offers a continuing education course that architects and specifiers can take for credit. "It is very extensive and teaches them more about our product lines and how they can be used," says Goetschius. "We're at a dozen trade shows per year where attendees can see and touch our products, as well as walk on various gratings."

Good people, exceptional service
The company is still family owned. Gene McNichols is "still very involved as chairman of the board and CEO of the company," says Goetschius, who took over as president in 2005. Today Scott McNichols, Gene's oldest son, holds the position of executive vice president and general manager, and his brother Steven McNichols is vice president of business development. "Both of them are very active and involved with the leadership of the company."

The family atmosphere with the Christian underpinnings has promoted "ethics and integrity at all levels, but especially respect for the individual and family values," says Goetschius. "I think that's been very motivational for employees and made it easy for them to be customer focused."

That focus on employees, who in turn concentrate on providing high-quality customer service, allows the company to "be recognized in the industry as the service leader for hole products. We are really good at shipping orders out and taking care of the customer--99.8 percent of our stock orders go out within 24 hours."

Despite its product lines, there aren't any holes in the company's strategy. "We've had double-digit growth for more than 10 years on average," says Goetschius. The company has also recently completed a major expansion. "We've added almost 300,000 square feet of space to provide for additional inventory and fabrication work," so that customers don't have to go elsewhere for additional downstream services. "We've focused on this customer-centered strategy and we're leveraging our customer service skills and knowledge to our secondary processing."

Goetschius notes that the company is "enjoying a tremendous year growth-wise." And there are more exciting times ahead for McNichols. "We expect to continue to grow and maintain our market leadership position for years to come," he says. MM

By Lauren Duensing, from the July 2007 issue of Modern Metals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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