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Stainless Steel
Monday | 15 September, 2008 | 8:46 am

The oddball specialists

By Lisa Rummler

You might not expect a company that prides itself on providing one-of-a-kind products to have been co-founded by the man who implemented an important standard in the stainless steel industry. You also might not expect a company that comprises 30 employees (and no outside salespeople) to have about 3,000 active distributor customers around the world.

But both these descriptions apply to Prudential Stainless & Alloys LP, Avenel, N.J. This year, the company is celebrating its 60th anniversary, under the leadership of President Joe Kreitzer, whose father and uncle co-founded Prudential Stainless.

"They started by reconditioning World War II surplus fittings," says Kreitzer. "After a few years, as the business dried up because the war surplus availability was becoming less and less plentiful, they looked into alternatives."

In the early 1960s, Kreitzer’s father decided to branch out into stainless steel welded pipe. Herbert Kreitzer blazed many trails with this product--he was the first person to import it into the United States (for many years, his son says, he got it from Japan), and he standardized the 20-foot length.

Eventually, in light of increasing competition from large players in the market, the company had to diversify beyond stainless steel welded pipe. First, it added stainless steel tubing. In the early 1970s, Prudential Stainless went into nickel alloy pipe and tubing. Aluminum pipe and tubing followed in the early 1980s and bar in the late 1990s.

"As we diversified into more unusual items, we found that was a good niche for us," says Kreitzer. "So, we evolved from a commodity house of high-volume standard sizes, over time downplaying that to a large degree and focusing our energies on the unusual. That’s where we are today.

"The most common or popular [product] really isn’t of interest to us. Our niche is the unpopular. Of course, we sell the popular items, but it’s not really our area of emphasis."

A look at the numbers
In regard to stainless steel products, the company stocks pipe and tube from 1/32-inch OD up to 36-inch OD and bar from 3/16-inch OD up to 9-inch OD. For nickel pipe and tube, Prudential Stainless provides 1/16-inch OD to 20-inch OD, and for nickel round bar, it goes from 1/4-inch to 8-inch. In regard to aluminum pipe and tube, the company stocks 1/8-inch to 14-inch. All these are available in myriad alloys, and the pipe and tube are available in a variety of schedules or wall thicknesses, for a total of 12,000 line items of inventory.

"Our widest diversity is in stainless," says Kreitzer. "Nickel would be second, and aluminum would be third in terms of volume of inventory and sales. We stock many items that no one else in the world carries. And that’s the reason why we have such an active export program. Because if someone in, say, Singapore or Australia or South Africa needs something, obviously, if they could find it locally, it would behoove them to do so because it’s a lot easier, and they wouldn’t have freight issues or time issues. But when they can’t find it, we have it."

Prudential Stainless stocks all of these one-of-a-kind items in a 96,000-square-foot facility that sits on 6.5 acres. The company moved there in 1994, having started out in New York and then residing for 40 years in a renovated 19th-century lumberyard in Newark, N.J.

"The city of Newark was building a performing arts center right across the street from where we were," says Kreitzer. "They decided a turn-of-the-century pipe warehouse didn’t fit into their grand scheme of things, so they asked us to leave, along with a number of other businesses."

Organic growth
Kreitzer says the company has often considered opening additional warehouses and sales offices, but after looking and weighing the options thoroughly, he and the rest of the leadership always came to the same conclusion: It’s not essential for a company with "oddball" products to be near its market.

"If you’re into commodities, you have to be near your market--you have to call on your customers, and you need a truck to deliver to them," Kreitzer says. "That simply doesn’t fit into our model. We’re selling in the United States, in Canada and worldwide. It really would provide us little benefit, as compared with the additional cost and headaches involved, to open additional facilities because of the nature of our product."

This has also been the sentiment when Prudential Stainless has had the opportunity to acquire a customer or a supplier. Kreitzer says as long as the company continues to grow organically, it will continue to adhere to its simple model.

Importance of technology
There are many opportunities for organic growth at Prudential Stainless. Kreitzer says the company is always evolving in an effort to enhance productivity and improve already-high customer service. Some of the most recent growth falls under the technological realm.

"We have a heavy, ongoing investment in IT because we believe that’s an important aspect to allow us to increase our service to our customers, our productivity and our accuracy," says Kreitzer. "For the last 23 years, we’ve had a computer programmer--and he’s been full time for the bulk of that time--to continually enhance our system. And our customers indirectly see that because when they ask for a quotation on the phone, we generally can quote them within about 30 to 45 seconds.

"Obviously, if it’s a longer list, it may take a little longer, but we have instant availability of the inventory, the pricing and the freight rates. If they need to have certain material properties, such as carbon content or a yield result, we can generally find that out within a few seconds."

Additionally, Prudential Stainless is in the process of developing a bar coding system, a project in which the company has invested a lot of time and resources and one Kreitzer says will further increase the company’s accuracy. The receiving module is complete, and work on the order-picking and order-processing modules is under development. Creation of the entire system will continue for up to two years.

Strong relationships
In the meantime, Prudential Stainless continues to sell only to other distributors, a policy the company has had from the beginning and which it maintains steadfastly, Kreitzer says. Further, the company does a great deal of blind drop shipping, which is a boon to its customers. This speaks to the high value Prudential Stainless places on relationships with customers.

"We’re shipping it directly to our customers’ customer with all the documentation showing our customer as the shipper," says Kreitzer. "Assuming they don’t have to do any processing, that saves them considerable time and money, allowing it to ship directly to their customer."

Prudential Stainless’ customers sell to end users in many industries, including aerospace, oil, chemical, nuclear, food processing, capital goods, defense, power generation, pharmaceutical and paper. One customer, Penn Stainless Products, Quakertown, Pa., has been working with Prudential Stainless for more than a quarter of a century. And according to Tom Paulovitz, vice president of Penn Stainless Products, those 25-plus years have been good ones.

"Prudential is a reliable, competent supplier," he says.

Marmon/Keystone Corp., Butler, Pa., is another company with which Prudential Stainless enjoys a long working relationship. Matthew Marian, who does inside sales at Marmon/Keystone’s Southampton, Mass., office says he’s worked with Prudential Stainless for at least 15 years and that he’s always had a positive experience.

"I just think the world of them," says Marian. "They have products no one else has, and they ship them within a day or two days, max. They’re just phenomenal. And I like them all. They’re nice people."

Marian says about 99 percent of the products he gets from Prudential Stainless are stainless steel tubing and pipe, and they’re mostly "oddball" sizes and grades.

With all of its customers, the majority of Prudential Stainless’ products go into maintenance and repair, although it occasionally gets some indirect project business when a company needs a product quickly or requires a product in a quantity too small for a regular mill run. The only processing, though, that Prudential Stainless does is cutting pipe, tube and bar.

"And even in that, we’re not really in the business of production cutting--that’s many of our customers’ business," says Kreitzer. "It’s our business to have the inventory on the shelf so that when a customer needs it yesterday, we can get it to them as quickly as possible."

Prudential Stainless’ emphasis on relationships also applies to employees. Kreitzer says the staff’s conscientiousness and commitment to excellence set the company apart. In turn, Prudential Stainless rewards staff members for their loyalty and dedication. Many employees have been there for at least 10 years.

"We do a lot of things to try to treat our people with dignity and respect and not like a number," says Kreitzer. "We do a lot of little things for them that give the message, ‘We appreciate you.’ And I think that’s well-received."

And as Prudential Stainless continues to grow and expand the line items it offers (it’s doing research on aluminum bar now), Kreitzer says it will continue to maintain its commitment to relationships and selling "oddball" products with a high level of service. And that’s something you can expect after 60 years of success. MM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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