Thursday | 15 January, 2009 | 8:20 am

Florida keys

By John Loos

January 2009 - Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, the old saying goes. That’s not so in the steel business. In fact, proximity to your biggest allies is invaluable. For a service center, being a stone’s throw from a U.S. port is, in many ways, a dream location, particularly for customers looking for swift and simple ways to transport steel to and from its facility.

Titan Metal Service Inc., Clearwater, Fla., a service center and processor for metal manufacturing and construction applications, has a processing facility located within the Port of Tampa, giving it a unique advantage in making on-time deliveries and serving the steel needs of the Southeast, as well as the Caribbean. Founded nearly 12 years ago by Matt Rossi and Chris Bush, Titan sought to take advantage of Florida’s growing steel market. And, in terms of better serving Titan’s customers, moving within the boundaries of the Port of Tampa was a logical step.

"We’re directly across the street from the main berth so when steel cargo comes in, we can reduce our inland freight to get it to our facility," says Rossi. "And we pass that along to customers we’re selling to or other customers who want us to slit their material. They have a direct saving of being able to move that material over for a lot less than moving it to process it elsewhere."

Being near the Port of Tampa and having quick access for importing and exporting aren’t Titan’s only advantages, however. Being a fully equipped service center in a market used to partial services and secondhand steel allows Titan to stand out and influence the way Florida receives its steel.

Ships coming in
With a 60-inch slitting line that can handle 60,000-pound coils, Titan quite possibly handles the largest coils in the Sunshine State. It can also slit steel from thicknesses of 0.012 inch to 0.188 inch. It focuses on carbon steel orders, with some in stainless and aluminum, and can process coated steel, cold-rolled steel and some pickled steel.

"We’ve grown Titan from basically a forklift and a small truck and a couple of steel sheets to 30,000 to 40,000 tons of sales," says Rossi. "And we’re processing above and beyond that, another 25,000 to 30,000 tons. In our new facility at the port, we both buy and sell material. Or we’ll just slit material if the customer wants to buy the material at our warehouse."

Titan also has a direct rail spur in its 50,000-square-foot facility that connects it directly to the Port of Tampa and allows the use of up to 12 railcars a day. The company can also ship via container from the Port of Tampa or the Port of Miami, allowing steel to reach remote end users in the Caribbean. These, combined with a fleet of Titan-owned trucks, gives customers a bundle of options when it comes to sending and receiving their orders.

"Our turnaround time is two to three days," says Rossi. "Being on the port, if a ship comes in, we can go to the customer and offer them a complete package. We can take your material off the ship, load it on our trucks, bring it to our facility, slit it and drive it to your facility with our truck. It’s all seamless. One phone call saves everybody a lot of time. There’s one place to go if you need something in a hurry or if you need anything done."

Of course, these geographic and transportation advantages mean little if a company’s customer service is clunky and unresponsive. For Bush and Rossi, their approach is simply being available for customers and reacting to their needs.

"Chris and I have always been hands-on for the whole business," says Rossi. "We run a lean ship. We handle all of the calls ourselves, and we pride ourselves on the fact that a customer can call and talk to the owner of the company and say, ‘I need this,’ and know that we’re going to get it done. And that’s kept us reactive to anything happening in the market."

Sherer Mfg. Inc., Clearwater, Fla., a producer of HVAC components serving the Southeast, has been doing business with Titan for years and has seen the difference a comprehensive service center can make in a market like Florida, particularly one focused on developing close relationships with customers. "I started buying steel from Titan Metal 10 years ago," says Jim Lestoric, vice president and general manager of Sherer. "In all of my years in the the steel industry, no other company has provided the level of service that I receive from Titan. From competitive pricing and a wide range of products and services, Titan has become a one-stop shop for me."

For Lestoric, a contributing factor to the one-stop-shop nature of Titan is its proximity to the Port of Tampa.

"The advantages of doing business with a processor at the port are huge, especially for companies that import the majority of their steel," says Lestoric. "Even the domestic products I buy can be railed directly to Titan."

Finally Florida
On some level, it’s easy to stand out in a market not traditionally populated with the huge steel corporations seen across other U.S. regions. But it’s one thing to stand out and another to help redefine how the game is played.

Florida was, for a long time, a light market, but as with all things, nature has a way of balancing the scales. When Hurricane Andrew devastated the state in 1992, Florida lawmakers examined building codes and made changes that would require more steel.

"Florida isn’t a real steel mecca," says Rossi. "You don’t think of Florida when you think about steel. It’s all based on construction, and it was a secondary market for years and years. Right up through the 1980s, there was a lot of excess and secondary material going through there. Then after Hurricane Andrew came through in 1992, the state really regulated the construction practices and the type of materials they had to use: the minimum thicknesses, coating weights and structural specifications. They added quite a bit of steel into houses and commercial structures to make them more hurricane-proof. When that happened, the composure of what was going on in the state changed."

Titan saw this opportunity and, subsequently, a place for a complete, full-sized service center. Carving this unique spot in its market has proven a boon for the company, allowing it to become a leader in a market whose potential had historically been written off.

"There are some of the larger service center chains that have a presence down here, but they don’t have processing or they have limited processing and small facilities," says Rossi. "We think we’re participating in a good part of the market down here and offering the best alternative to anyone that’s buying steel." MM

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