Stainless Steel
Wednesday | 06 July, 2016 | 1:27 pm

No minimums

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: The service center tripled in size as measured by the volume of raw material it carries.

Same-day service is the gold standard that keeps customers coming back to one Cincinnati specialty metals distributor

July 2016 - When Robin Tackett and Todd Reed worked together at a large metal supplier during the 1990s, they discovered an underserved market for small-quantity orders of specialty stainless steel, cut to size. The pair soon launched a startup out of a two-bedroom house. Reed delivered pizza at night to help pay the bills so the two named their company Slice of Stainless. As business grew over the next two years, they expanded into a nearby garage and used the laundry room as an office.

From 1995 to 2000, Slice of Stainless leased space in a vacant grocery store, then built a 15,000-square-foot service center. In 2008, the company expanded the warehouse by 24,000 square feet and installed a 15-ton overhead crane.

The company is now preparing for another 20,000-square-foot warehouse expansion and the installation of two more shears, says Sales Manager Jim Schneible. He also expects the company will hire six employees over the next two to three years.

MM 0716 stainless image1

Incoming orders are sent to the shop floor as soon as they enter the system.

Product mix

Slice of Stainless has tapped a niche for small quantity and cut-to-size pieces of stainless and nickel sheets from 0.012-inch to 0.25-inch-thick. The 19 grades it carries are sold into such markets as aerospace, medical equipment, food equipment and general fabrication. Standard sheet sizes are 36 inches by 120 inches and 48 inches by 120 inches.

“We perform custom cuts. That’s how we make our living, essentially,” says Schneible. 

The company truly has no minimum order size. Not only will Slice of Stainless ship a single sheet as long as the customer wants it, it will cut and ship “a single, tiny 2-inch by 2-inch piece. We have a lot of customers looking for test coupons and we ship it. Our niche is being able to accommodate those needs.” 

Slice of Stainless typically carries at least $1.5 million in inventory. “We have tripled in size in terms of the volume that we carry, which enables us to purchase some materials at the mill level. Yet we can still provide small quantities and be competitive,” Schneible says.

Lest one worry that cutting tiny coupons might produce low yields and high amounts of scrap, he says Slice of Stainless has “a unique inventory system that allows us to put all the drops back into inventory so we don’t scrap much of anything.” 

Grade 17-4 PH and type 301 tempered material “are big movers for us so we have been able to move into selective mill buying for particular grades and gauges that have the highest demand from our customers. We try to balance what we buy from mills and master distributors. 

“Our niche is both end users and other distributors. We must provide quick turnaround for both customer types,” Schneible continues. Slice of Stainless achieved a 100 percent on-time delivery record through May, and last year’s rate was 99.8 percent.

How is that rate achieved? “Incoming orders are sent to the shop floor as soon as they enter the system. They go through a quality control check against material in stock and are processed immediately. So if a customer needs 1,000 1-inch by 4-inch pieces, we can get that out in 24 hours,” he says.

Inventory & logistics

Slice of Stainless makes a point of stocking material as soon as it arrives. “We are often receive material and send out the same material [altered] on the same day,” Schneible says. “We have had great success with logistics brokers to arrange outbound shipments. And UPS is in here every afternoon. We package some pieces on skids and have freight lines in here every afternoon as well. We have a shipping manager who does a remarkable job. He is head of receiving, too. He has 3,500 customer shipping requirements practically memorized.”

MM 0716 stainless image2

Slice of Stainless custom cuts sheets from standard sizes to serve applications in aerospace, medical and food equipment, and general fabrication.

Breathing room

Although Slice of Stainless is in an enviable position today, “Our goal is to look 10 years forward,” says Schneible. “We hope to have the same growth rate we’ve experienced so far, while still providing the same high-quality service. We cannot let that suffer.”

Expanding the warehouse and shearing capacity “provides the breathing room to accommodate and manage growth and make it sustainable.” The company expects to see a return on its current spate of investments within one and a half years. 

As part of Slice of Stainless’ quality program, it surveys customers and to date continues to receive “very positive feedback. We do a lot with the aerospace sector and distributors that serve that sector. The grades 17-7 PH, 301 tempered, and nickel alloys are all in demand in both the aerospace and medical equipment sectors.” 

In addition, “all of our stock is DFARS compliant. There are only specific countries that manufacture that (defense procurement) quality.”

Customer loyalty

B.C. Metals Inc. in Batavia, Ohio, is a Slice of Stainless customer. Harold Gatts, president and owner, says the firm sells test parts to the aircraft industry for thermal spray and bond strength testing. “The sizes vary. Thermal spray [material] are coupons—sheet stock cut to customer specifications which might range from 1⁄2-inch by 3⁄4-inch pieces to 12 by 12 inches.”

Pieces used for bond strength testing are 1⁄4- by 1-inch buttons, says Gatts. Ti-6Al-4V titanium and Inconel are B.C. Metals’ biggest sellers, but it also carries several grades of stainless and high-temperature nickel alloys. Many customers reorder material repeatedly for ongoing tests for corrosion resistance, tensile strength and weldability.

B.C. Metals’ primary service is deburring the coupons it receives, by hand or by putting the pieces into a tumbler. “Some customers require the etching of part numbers before being sent out,” Gatts says. 

A key ingredient in its service is to deliver deburred coupons and test samples in as little as one or two days. “Slice of Stainless has become one of our top two suppliers because of the personnel and their quick turnaround. They are almost like a sister company to us. We have been in business with them for 20-plus years now, and they take good care of us. I can place an order in the morning, pick it up in the afternoon and ship out my customer’s order the same day.”

He credits Slice of Stainless with helping B.C. Metals to grow. 

“We try very hard to recognize and honor the niches we serve,” says Schneible. “We honor customer relationships and have become a service extension for our customers.”

It’s a slice of working life that everyone can appreciate. MM


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