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Tube & Pipe
Monday | 26 October, 2009 | 3:43 am

A seamless approach

By John Loos

October 2009 - The best flights are the ones so smooth, you almost forget you’re on an airplane. Likewise, in the world of pipe distribution and service, the best transactions are the ones so smooth, it doesn’t feel like business at all.

Knowing this, American Piping Products Inc., Chesterfield, Mo., an international distributor of carbon, stainless steel and chrome moly pipe, puts a special emphasis on its customer service to ensure each step of the purchasing and delivery process is as bump-free as possible.

"I think most major customers in the world know American Piping Products and know the quality of the products we can deliver," says Mike Phelan, president. "Certainly, a seamless process from the time they place the order through the delivery is important. Last year, we delivered to more than 40 countries, all from our hub in Houston. We’re known as a company that does the job correctly."

Primarily serving oil and gas, power generation and petrochemical customers, American Piping Products is the largest distributor of seamless steel pipe in the United States. In December 2008, it was acquired by Edgewater Funds, Chicago, a private equity and venture capital fund, a move that has allowed the company to expand its inventory base.

And recently, American Piping Products completed construction on a 10,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Chesterfield to better serve its customers and enhance sales operations. The new offices will hold a sales staff of more than 30.

On top of this, the company’s Houston steel processing facility, located several miles from the Port of Houston and including a 3,000-square-foot sales office, allows for its product--and the service that goes with it--to expand its reach around the world.

"American Piping Products has an in-house international logistics department that can deliver our products within 30 days to almost every point on the globe," says Phelan.

Taking inventory
In an economic climate where large inventories aren’t common, American Piping Products goes against the grain and maintains 20,000 tons of steel pipe at its Houston facility.

With a focus on seamless pipe, it makes sense the company would shape its customer service philosophies around the idea of a seamless experience.

"We offer same-day shipments and stocking programs for many major companies around the country where we stock and release materials," says Phelan. "But we can also saw cut-to-length steel pipe, and we have our own beveling machines and our own in-house fabrication and our own pipe profiling machines. We’re a full service center--there’s pretty much nothing we can’t do to a piece of pipe in our plant in Houston."

These processes include saw cutting on a 16-inch band saw and two 24-inch CNC band saws, mechanical flame cutting for large-diameter pipe, sandblasting and pickling for surface preparation, mechanical and torch beveling, threading for pipe up to 6 inches in diameter, and the application of coatings to pipe to prevent rust and moisture damage.

On the international front, American Piping Products uses its 20-plus years of global business experience to ensure orders arrive on time and undamaged.

Its containerization team has extensive packaging experience, and it can arrange for SGS inspection when necessary. It also has efficient and accurate staff when it comes to export documentation and processing to any industrialized nation.

Customer care
Logically, it would be hard for a company to make inroads overseas without first proving that it’s capable of taking care of domestic customers. While American Piping Products sells to companies around the world, it strives to maintain the same level of attentiveness to customers at home.

Dynamic Products Inc., Houston, is a specialty pipe fitting manufacturer that, like American Piping Products, sells many of its products to refineries, power plants and chemical facilities. Over the years, the two companies have created a mutually beneficial relationship, buying and selling product from each other.

"American Piping Products wears two hats with us," says Ron Lindquist, CEO and owner of Dynamic Products. "One is, they’re a customer. They sell our products to other customers. The other hat is, they’re a supplier of raw materials to us. In our process, we use tubular products to make our product. And they have good inventory. They not only have quantity, but they have a variety of different diameters and wall thicknesses. And they provide an excellent service."

The symbiotic and multifaceted relationship between the two companies has helped foster a more personal feel to transactions, something Lindquist appreciates.

As he explains, by doing consistent and mutually beneficial business with American Piping Products, "you get away from a lot of formalities. We’re as service-oriented of a company as they are. When we need some raw material from them, we call them up and say, ‘We need it in the morning,’ or ‘We need it today.’ And it gets done. You don’t have to go through a bunch of formalities because we have a long-standing relationship, and we work well together."

Even in a down economy, American Piping Products’ confident, undeterred approach to the market has enabled it to keep its momentum of continued, sizable growth.

"They’ve taken a big step in committing to having large inventories," says Lindquist. "As you well know, [the economy was] spiraling out of control, and they stepped up and still put sizable inventories in and kept them there, and they were able to service the people who needed them. And, frankly, a lot of people are going the other way."

"We’re just as busy today as we’ve ever been," says Phelan. "In fact, in this down market, because of our recent partnership with [private equity firm] Edgewater, we’ve actually capitalized very well, and we’re looking at acquisitions and other ways to gain market share."

When business is abnormal, it’s easy to become mired in the bad news. American Piping Products, however, maintains a distinct optimism and confidence in its business, which is undoubtedly felt on the customer level.

"They have an exceptional understanding of service," says Lindquist. "They really have it figured out." MM

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