January 2008- They're known as jacks of all trades. Renaissance persons. Polymaths. People who excel in a wide variety of advanced trades and have an undefinable cleverness to them. In the distribution industry, one might use those terms to describe Gulf & Northern Trading Corp., Camden, N.J. However, the company's broad scope of capabilities and commitment to quality is not just a coincidence--it's a strategy.
With the metal market's recent unpredictability shaking faith across the industry, many companies have found sanctuary in substitutions, consolidation and reduction. For GNTC, a stainless steel flat- and long-product distributor, the continual expansion of its available products and processing capabilities has proven a successful business model in the face of economic flux. By widening its scope, the company has positioned itself as a dynamic one-stop shop for its customers' stainless steel needs.
"What really sets us apart from anyone in the market," says Seth Young, GNTC president, "is the ability to uniquely combine value-added services with risk-adverse marketing by having significant stocks in most common grades and some higher alloys of stainless steel."
Located less than a mile from the Delaware River, GNTC has a 150,000-square-foot facility that processes a wide variety of coil, sheet, pipe and tube, and flat-bar products. Established in 1989, the company initially functioned primarily as a trading house where it bought and sold forward positions on stainless products. In 2000, the principals of GNTC decided the company should begin its own processing and started by purchasing a Red Bud 72-inch-wide cut-to-length blanking line. By 2002, the line was installed and ready for action and thus GNTC began its second life as a stainless steel processor.
In 2004, GNTC acquired its substantial hot-rolled cut-to-length line from the former site of Eastern Stainless Steel, installing it in its Camden location. That same year, GNTC bought Philadelphia Stainless Steel, a leading flat-bar manufacturer, and moved its operations from Philadelphia to its Camden facility, adding on approximately 35,000 square feet in the process. The two strategic moves allowed the company to have its own flat-bar processing with the feed stock from its new hot-rolled processing line.
"We became a stockist and processor of hot- and cold-rolled stainless steel and a manufacturer of bar all under one roof," says Young. "This strategy has turned out to be pretty good for us to the extent that we continually look to provide additional services in value addition for our customers."
And GNTC has. Starting about three years ago, the company now stocks welded tube and pipe, both in pressure and ornamental types. More recently, the company purchased and installed a sizable coil processing line that it uses to polish 3/16-inch-thick-by-60-inch-wide sheets. It proved to be a good move; since it came online, the line has been running nonstop. The company also plans on conducting trials on 1/4-inch-by-60-inch sheets soon, which is believed to be a first in the industry.
"We're looking to continue to expand in that value-added trail of products and services for the market," says Young.
GNTC prides itself on providing a variety of steel products in a variety of sizes. Its cold-rolled coil and sheet are available in widths from 36 inches to 72 inches and at lengths from 30 inches to 240 inches. Hot-rolled coils can be processed at thicknesses of 0.125 inches to 0.5 inches, at widths of 48 inches to 72 inches and at lengths of 36 inches to 600 inches. For hot-rolled plate and sheet, thicknesses range from 1/8 inch to 3 inches while widths extend from 48 inches to 96 inches, and lengths are available from 30 inches to 500 inches. There are also a multitude of grades and finishes available for each product.
As for tube and pipe, GNTC stocks A554 ornamental tubes in round, rectangle and square shapes, as well as round A312 pipe, both at 20-foot standard lengths and with mill or 180-grit finishes available. Both are also available in a wide variety of dimensions.
GNTC's flat-bar products, since they are manufactured internally, are available cut-to-length up to 40 feet, can be finished on one to four sides with virtually any polish up to 180 grit and have top-side line marking available. Thicknesses range from 1/8 inch to 1 inch while widths range from 0.5 inches to 10 inches.
Having such a diverse inventory of products has proven a distinct advantage for GNTC. "We've had good success trying to provide a one-stop location for the marketplace," says Young. "When [a customer] needs a variety of products in both flat and long form, particularly custom lengths and finishes, they can come to our Camden location and get a variety of materials with one stop. That really makes us different from anyone else in the market. To my knowledge there?s nobody else in the business that can provide the range of products we do with the ability to cut and deliver just-in-time the alloys and finishes that we stock."
Much to process
Value-added services are becoming ever more popular these days, and GTNC recognizes this with its stand-alone processing center, Amerinox Processing, which acts as a materials converter, turning coil into a sheet or a blank, for example. Located entirely within the Camden facility, the operation strives to provide the flattest and longest cut-to-length capabilities in the industry for stainless steel as well as aluminum.
Amerinox's capabilities extend from hot- and cold-rolled cut-to-length lines to coil-to-coil wet polishing, blanking, shearing and flat-bar production. Its hot-rolled line can process stainless and aluminum coils up to 0.5 inches thick and as long as 520 inches for stainless and 480 inches for aluminum. The cold-rolled line can handle lengths up to 300 inches for both stainless and aluminum.
Amerinox's coil-to-coil wet polishing line provides the best possible surface color along with a number of fine finishes on one or both sides of the coil. It can handle coils at a maximum thickness of 0.25 inches and at widths from 36 inches to 63 inches.
As for processing and stocking aluminum coils, it's yet another example of not only GNTC's production diversity, but how that diversity has enhanced its business operations. It polishes almost all grades of the metal, including marine grades such as 5086 H116.
"[Aluminum processing] has worked out well," says Young. "It's been a nice addition to what we do. It's lower volume, but it's steady work. The aluminum fellows we've been introduced to are extremely honest and nice guys to deal with, so that's actually been a pleasure."
Not one to rest on its laurels, Amerinox is currently investing in additional polishing and cutting equipment, yet another example of GNTC's overall commitment to diversifying its capabilities.
The price is right
Pricing is always at the forefront of customers' minds when purchasing steel products, but given the recent, wild fluctuations prices have seen in recent years, they are watched with more scrutiny than ever.
GNTC adheres to an initiative called point-of-sale pricing, which means its pricing is live, and for the duration of a three-day delivery, there's no risk for the buyer in terms of shifting prices. Customers should find no snags related to stocking quantities.
"When prices are so volatile and people are uncomfortable buying because the prices are going up or down, it gives additional validation to what we do in terms of risk aversion," says Young. "If we have the material in stock and it's ordered, the risk of price fluctuation is eliminated and within a week the buyer can lock in the ability to onward deliver to their marketplace at a fixed level. We've found a lot of clients that, without the services and pricing and competitiveness that we offer, often wouldn't be able to get the orders that they get."
Young attributes GNTC's ability to remain price competitive in today's fluctuating market to its constancy in how it purchases its materials. It has maintained long, mutually amicable relationships with a core group of vendors, which has ensured that the company receives high-quality metal at fair prices.
"Nobody is going to buy if you don't deliver the quality and the documentation and the service they expect," says Young. 'All those things notwithstanding, you don't get orders to provide those services and quality unless you're price competitive, and our ability to be price competitive is solely in how we buy and with who we buy from. Time-tested relationships between several mills and our company have made that possible on a consistent basis. Those relationships will continue to grow and mature."
GNTC has evolved quite a bit since its inception in the late 1980s and it is continually growing and expanding its repertoire of capabilities, with several planned expansions on the horizon to include additional value-added services.
Another mark of a Renaissance person or polymath is the hunger for incorporating new knowledge into his skill set. At the pace it's going, GNTC's successful strategy of steadily broadening its functionality is yet another reason it should remain a force in the industry, in economically certain and uncertain times. MM
By John Loos, from the January 2008 issue of Modern Metals.