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Stainless Steel
Wednesday | 21 July, 2010 | 4:39 am

Moving forward

By Lisa Rummler

July 2010 - No matter the industry, nearly all companies say customer service is a high priority. But when it comes to metals, Slice of Stainless Inc., Cincinnati, takes it a step further, demonstrating on a daily basis that actions speak louder than words.

For example, in mid-May, the company received a call from a new customer at 4:30 p.m. The customer needed an order to be shipped on a truck that day.

"It’s nearly impossible to get a truck out here after 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the same day," says Robin Tackett, president. "So our sales manager went out to dinner with her husband and came back here at 7 o’clock at night to load the truck."

This is not an isolated incident, however. Tackett says everyone at Slice regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the highest level of customer service. And it has been that way since the company opened its doors in 1992.

"Customer service was our No. 1 goal then, and it still is," says Tackett. "I believe a lot of companies say that, but I think that we’ve proven it with our longevity and the fact that the majority of our new customers are referrals from our current customers."

In addition to offering same-day service, Slice can, and often does, ship neutral directly to customers’ customers.

Tackett thinks this speaks volumes about the trust Slice has earned from its customers, and it underscores the company’s commitment to customer service. It is also likely a reason for Slice’s continued growth.

"During this downturn, we really haven’t slowed down," says Tackett. "We’ve been still pushing forward to make positive changes and grow our sales force. We’re averaging about 1.5 new customers per day."

Through thick and thin
Slice describes itself as a small-quantity specialist. Scott Skelton, general manager, says this business focus has served the company well over the years, including during the recent recession.

"I think a number of things helped us get through, including customer loyalty," he says. "People would call us for small pieces, and as they’ve grown, instead of buying a small-cut piece, they’ve maybe moved up to a half sheet or a full sheet or even multiple sheets.

"That’s been the philosophy of the company from day one: to provide those services, and as your customers grow, you’ll grow with them. And we’ve had some very long-term, loyal customers."

Wide range
Slice offers 19 grades of stainless and nickel alloy, all of which are available in 20 thicknesses. Its products range from full-pattern sheet to small-cut pieces. The company also does a great deal of custom work, Skelton says.

"We’re a small company, but we have a lot of processing capability," he says. "We have a cut-to-length line, which is very unusual for somebody our size. We [also] have five shears, which allows us to cut anything from 0.12 inch to 0.25 inch and be able to run multiple jobs at the same time."

Slice’s relatively small size benefits customers in myriad ways and helps distinguish the company from its competitors, Skelton says.

"Another thing that sets us apart is our ability to react quickly to customer needs," he says. "I’ve worked at some large service centers, as have a number of people here, and we really don’t have a lot of barriers from keeping us from meeting these demands. We allow for decision making throughout the organization. We also have a very lean setup here."

In addition to the cut-to-length line and shears, Slice has a PVC applicator for surface-critical applications, enabling the company to line, mark or stencil sheet if customers have a certain part number or specific information they need on material.

"For things we don’t do in-house, we have a good relationship with local fabricators," says Skelton. "So if we need something laser cut or any additional processing, we can also provide that for customers."

Distributors and service centers make up about 80 percent of Slice’s customers, and end-use markets include aerospace, medical, automotive, defense, the chemical industry and the food industry.

Making strides
Recently, Slice installed a new metal-specific software, which has helped facilitate growth and increase efficiency across the operation.

This, in turn, has helped Slice weather the economic downturn. It also has had a positive impact on the bottom line, says Skelton.

"We put in a new computer system, and it’s allowed us to have a better understanding of what our true cost is and what our profit margins are," he says. "We’ve done a really good job with knowing market segments, which helped develop short-term targets and long-range goals. We have a good understanding of where our revenue base is coming from.

"We went live in February, and I was just looking at the numbers, and we’re up 19 percent on orders this year over last year with no increase in additional labor. And last year was a record for orders shipped."

Skelton attributes some of this success to increased automation throughout the enterprise, but he also says the computer program played a significant role.

"We’ve been looking at software for a number of years and finally realized that regardless of the economic conditions, it was time," he says. "Robin made the investment, and so far, it’s paid off."

Slice also has made other advancements outside the technological realm. For instance, the company attained ISO 9001:2008 certification and became certified to ship directly into government facilities. Additionally, Slice is now a certified woman-owned business.

Forward thinking
Slice recently purchased about seven acres next to its current 35,000-square-foot building with the goal of continued expansion.

The company has yet to determine exactly what that will entail, but there are various possibilities, Tackett says.

"Whether that’s going to be stocking different materials or adding some other processes that we haven’t had--in the future, we want to be a one-stop shop for the customers," she says. "We know we can’t sit still. We constantly have to be moving forward and making improvements."

Slice also seeks to expand its offerings to include aluminum, which it is processing for a major distributor. Slitting is the next part of the natural progression in terms of processing, Skelton says.

No matter how Slice expands next, Tackett and Skelton say the company will continue to remain true to its founding principles of providing high-quality products and outstanding customer service.

"I really do think those are the core reasons why we’ve been able to stay around as a small company among all these big fish out there," says Tackett. "We’re not selling something that other people don’t sell, but I think the customer-service side of it is what sets us apart. [Customers] can call us up until 5 o’clock in the afternoon with an order, and we’re going to ship it out for them. People know they can count on us." MM

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