As a painted coil distributor, selling building materials requires a unique set of skills. Unlike a direct relationship between a mill and a manufacturer, there is very little contractual work. Often dealing with smaller volume orders, there is a need to be adaptable while still maintaining the necessary inventory for prompt delivery.
“Our market is unique to what a typical service center would be in that it is predominantly painted material, light gauge, galvalume, and sold on the spot,” says Mark Steward, General Manager of the Tulsa Building Products branch of Kloeckner Metals.
The market can be divided into three main segments: agricultural, residential, and light commercial. Each of these has a special set of demands, requiring different colors and gauges. It can be further divided into regions, each with their unique requirements.
“For example, in the southeast part of the U.S., green has always been a good color,” Steward says. “In the Midwest, white is a big color for the agriculture market.”
To better meet this dynamic demand, Kloeckner utilizes strategically placed regional centers each with its own inventory. Forecasting is an extremely important part of keeping the correct inventory on hand. Based on historical data, Kloeckner tries to predict where demand will exist before it happens.
“We try to keep those colors that we know, in that region, are going to be popular,” Steward says. “That allows us to get the product out within a two day window to our customers when it is needed. Then we replace the inventory right away.”
Even with the best forecasting, however, surprises are inevitable. This is why Kloeckner tries to maintain a month’s supply of bare inventory on hand. The bare metal can usually be painted and turned over in two to three weeks’ time. Inventory can also be moved from one regional center to another if the need arises.
These are a few ways Kloeckner meets the customer demand for prompt delivery. Customers are also looking for quick response, good quality, and competitive pricing, though. Maintaining quality requires excellent communication with customers.
“When a problem comes up, we react quickly to it and inform the customer what it is, what we’re going to do to take care of it, and give them a new E.T.A. for the load to come in.”
Communication also helps ensure competitive pricing. Coordinating with vendors, suppliers, and transit reduces costs. These savings can be passed on to the client. At the same time, a balance needs to be struck between price and quality service.
“We’re not promising we’re always going to be the cheapest, but we’ll commit to never being the highest price,” Steward says. “When meeting a new client we try to bring out the size of Kloeckner Metals. We have a market presence. We’re the second largest in North America and the largest globally for steel service centers.”
Another thing making Tulsa Building Materials unique is their longevity. They are the only painted coil distribution group in the U.S. right now that has not gone through a bankruptcy or liquidation. Unlike other groups, every warranty going back over 20 years is still in force. Ideally you aren’t going to have problems, but warranty claims come up. Customers need to be able to rely on their warranties.
“If you don’t have the warranty and the paint peels off your roof, you spent $10,000 on a roof that is now essentially worthless,” Steward says. “That is something that the warranty should cover.”
Steven Nghe is currently the Head of Marketing & Communications at Kloeckner Metals. Nghe is a marketing professional with more than 14 years of experience in various environments and industries. His goal is to tell you about the sexy side of steel. Nghe holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Management with a concentration in Marketing from North Carolina State University. Prior to Kloeckner, Nghe worked for Delta Dental, Wells Real Estate Funds, Georgia Institute of Technology and Doosan.