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Wednesday | 01 April, 2009 | 7:11 am

How Baker does it

By Modern Metals' staff

April 2009 - The term "Southern hospitality" is thrown around a lot, but it is rarely used in reference to a steel tube and pipe business. Yet that's the premise on which 30-year-old Baker Sales Inc., Slidell, La., has built its reputation.

On Dec. 5, the company, led by president and founder Robert A. Baker, marked the occasion with the grand opening of its new office and warehouse, as well as a ribbon-cutting ceremony overseen by the Slidell Chamber of Commerce. And although the 30-year benchmark made for a momentous gathering, it was the resurgence of the Gulf Coast region that was the greatest source of pride.

Keeping it close to home
Even after 30 years, Baker's client list doesn't look all that different from the way it did at its inception. Various international relationships have blossomed over time, but the bulk of the sales remain relatively geographically confined. Firms like Alexandria Iron & Supply, Alexandria, La.; New Orleans Steel & Equipment Co. Inc., New Orleans; and smaller operations such as Ben Shemper & Sons Inc., Hattiesburg, Miss., have maintained business ties with Baker because of the convenience, and the sense of reliability and comfort.

Baker's reputation for efficient and accurate deliveries also plays a role in its customers' loyalty. Rather than outsourcing, the staff continues to supply and deliver a range of steel pipe and fence products in mass quantities while accommodating customized orders within a certain time frame. The local-company appeal also applies to pricing, as larger firms, such as New Orleans Steel & Equipment, opt to stick with a consistent rate rather than try their luck elsewhere. Monthly specials and same-day deliveries only add to the benefits.

In that same vein, the grand opening and 30th-anniversary celebration were an appreciation of local stability. Just a little more than three years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged much of Louisiana--and particularly the New Orleans metro area--Baker Sales reasserted its commitment to the region.

"The devastation brought on by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav brought many hardships to our company and our employees," said Baker in a press release. "However, the recovery and rebuilding of the Gulf Coast area has provided an opportunity for us to grow and expand our business. With the addition of our new 20,000-square-foot facility, we plan to greatly increase our products and services."

A bayou renaissance
Baker's bold statement is contingent on several factors. Although the collective reconstruction of the Gulf Coast has certainly buoyed remaining businesses, there's no guarantee of continued expansion. Out-of-state companies remain hesitant to make long-term commitments, and constituents continue to deal with their own issues.

But Baker remains optimistic, emphasizing the potential of government stimulus plans and a gradually stabilizing housing market. He stresses that he feels the best is yet to come for his company and cites historical stock market trends, as well as foreign investments, as further support of his outlook. MM

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