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Stainless Steel
Monday | 27 July, 2009 | 3:44 am

Cut to the quick

By Abbe Miller

July 2009 - There’s just something alluring about a 9-pound package of pretzels for the low price of $15.98. Call it thrift, call it impulse, but whenever the craving for a salty, crunchy snack starts calling, that bulk insurance policy is there, waiting in the pantry. Until it goes stale, that is, a short month down the road after the seemingly economical purchase was made.

For those buying metal products, the same can hold true. At first, the prospect of a warehouse bursting at the seams with inventory sounds like a good idea. No matter the day, no matter the hour, that material is available. But what happens when it isn’t moving off the shelves?

To avoid the possibility of frozen assets in the form of less-than-fresh material, TCT Stainless Steel Inc., with dual headquarters in Sterling Heights, Mich., and Lebanon, Tenn., offers quick turnaround of orders in almost any size.

"Those value-added services to our customers are important in today’s economy when companies want to keep their inventories low and not have their cash tied up in excess inventory," says Sherry Shaub, general manager of TCT’s Tennessee operation.

Wait and see
TCT opened its doors 30 years ago in Michigan as a family-owned service center and was founded with the intent to serve the market with narrow-strip coils of annealed stainless steel. As time passed, the company added tempered stainless steel to its product mix, as well as a range of edge-conditioning capabilities. Today, TCT offers precision slitting, tempering, shape correction, edging and cut-to-length, primarily for stainless steel, but also for aluminum, cold-rolled, hot-rolled, electro-galvanized and galvanized.

As its product mix and expertise evolved, its core value, however, remained the same: to act as not only a supplier to its customers, but as a partner. Short lead times have been at the heart of that sentiment ever since.

"We’ve always prided ourselves with quick turnaround," says Andrea Mazzarini, general manager at TCT. "In this economy, with the constant cash-flow crunch that companies are experiencing, we consider it even more of an advantage. We’ve always offered the quick turnaround, and that’s given our customers the luxury to not have to put in larger orders with extensive lead times. It’s always given them the opportunity to wait and make sure that their forecasts are firmed up with their customers prior to ordering with us.

"By giving them that ability to wait longer, it diminishes their chance for inventory that they can’t use," he says. "Forecasts change, so allowing them a week lead time or better--now they don’t have to put that order in two months prior. If the job does start to diminish in volume, we’re giving them more time to react and more time to have better data from their customers. We stock the inventory for the customer, and we release it exactly when they want it and in the quantity that they need."

Quick and capable
Just about anyone can toss together an order and get it on a truck in a short time, but Steve Tandy, TCT’s sales manager for its Michigan office, explains that it’s TCT’s in-house capabilities that make the company’s offering unique.

"There are few companies that have the tempering capabilities that we have in-house," he says. "Most service centers have to outsource the production of tempered material. We have a 24-inch-wide Sendzimir rolling mill here in Michigan. We can roll material, tension level and slit in two to three days and even faster if need be. For tempered products, our turnaround is the most reliable and the fastest in the industry because of our capabilities."

In addition to the speedy response time, TCT doesn’t require a minimum-pound purchase from its customers. It’s not rare for a company, especially larger mills, to impose a particular size order on its accounts. Whether it be an 8,000-pound minimum or a 25,000-pound minimum, there are those that just simply can’t take on such a large material commitment.

But regardless of order size, there are those that are making a fundamental change in the way they do business and the way they stock material. The current state of economic affairs is partly responsible for instigating this shift in mentality.

"Our business model is going to apply to that shift moving forward," says Tandy. "As things turn around, and hopefully sooner than later, I believe that people are going to be conservative in the way that they buy material. If we can offer the amount of material that you need with quick turnaround, why would you go back to doing it any other way? You still get a quality product in a short amount of time."

"Recently we also invested in a new thickness control system for our Sendzimir ZR-23-25," says Mazzarini. "It checks and maps every square inch of metal being rolled, allowing us to hold a tolerance of ± 0.00015 inch on the thickness. In addition, we’ve invested in a second tension leveling line, which is a critical point of interest because it gives us the capability to make metal perfectly flat within extremely efficient production times."

Customers chime in
When cash flow is so important and inventory is so heavily monitored, TCT’s forward-thinking business model has resulted in an increase in its customer base, as well as a continued high rating of satisfaction from its existing customers.

"One indicator that’s important for us--and we do tests once a year through customer surveys--is what we call the Net Promoter’s Core," says Mazzarini. "We regularly check to see how many of our customers are promoting our business. In Michigan and Tennessee, we scored a 98 percent, which basically means that 98 customers out of 100 are promoting us to others. And the 2 percent that aren’t promoting our business is most likely due to the fact that they don’t want to leak the advantage to their competitors."

And TCT serves a variety of customers. Thirty percent of its business is dedicated to the automotive industry, but the remaining 70 percent is diversified across a large scope of markets, including aerospace, electronics, hydroelectric, marine, medical, petrochemical, telecommunications, and truck and trailer businesses.

"Automotive is still an important part of our business and will continue to be that way," says Mazzarini. "There will be new cars, new models and new technology; the automotive industry is changing daily. It’s a business that we don’t want to walk away from. We want to be a part of what’s happening; we want to be a part of the change. It’s tough to be in automotive, but it’s also kind of exciting. Things will change, and to be at the forefront of it, we need to maintain our presence and do business with those customers that have the technology to adapt to the new needs."

Adapting to the current marketplace calls for fast action and a flexible mindset. Since its early days, TCT has been positioned to act quickly, but with new philosophies coming into play, TCT is now able to help its customers do the same.

"We see the relationship between us and our customers as a way to allow all parties to be successful," says Shaub. "I think that it’s important to emphasize the point that while ‘partnership’ is a buzzword these days, TCT lives it every day. We take the time to continue that partnership philosophy that we began 25 years ago. We push that attitude today, even in the current economy. And customers don’t forget that." MM

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