As a long products branch, Kloeckner’s Suwanee facility is unique. It requires a lot of knowledge about many different products, not just plate, and sheet but also pipe, tubing, beams, and more.
“We have to know about a lot of the markets instead of just one specific segment,” said Suwanee Sales Manager Barry Peeples. “I think that makes any long products branch unique: the knowledge you need to have of different markets, different materials, and processing for those materials.”
Also unique is Suwanee’s five-step drill line. They are the only service center in the area which has one. This allows the branch to provide excellent value-added fabrication services to customers. In addition to the drill line, Suwanee has four saws, a burning table, press brake, plus the capability to punch, camber, split, and straighten beams. The facility is able to provide fabrication services quickly, sometimes even faster than customers can keep up with.
“That is a key to keeping customers,” Peeples said. “When they start relying on you to do work like that you become more valuable as a supplier because you are so much of a part of their operation.”
With these value-added services, you not only have to know how to sell the steel but also how to price out the fabricated parts. Processing manager Tom Brown is crucial to that process. Having formerly owned a family fabrication business, he knows how long it takes to do something, how much it costs, and what the price should be.
“It takes us having a relationship with the customer, Tom having the knowledge on how to price the process, and all of us working together to make it work,” Peeples said.
This kind of teamwork is present in all aspects of the Suwanee long products branch. The sales department has to coordinate with the shop and logistics, and the various departments are constantly in contact. It takes everyone working together to make correct decisions for the company. Peeples believes that Suwanee has a great team, from management on down.
“We are a pretty tight group,” Peeples said. “We’ve been working together, a lot of us, for several years now, and we kind of know what the other one is thinking even before they say it. It is a lot like a family, dysfunctional at times, but still a family.”
General Manager Jeff Hatcher sets clearly defined goals about what is expected and then gives employees room to work. Employees are treated like adults and expected to act like professionals. The absence of micromanagement allows employees to make tough decisions without being paralyzed by a fear that they will make the wrong one. This helps to cultivate a team that takes ownership of their work.
“That’s what helps us all grow as employees,” Peeples said. “You’ve got to have good people. You’ve got to have people who are smart and have the experience to know what is expected of them.”
In the current steel market, intelligent inventory management is crucial. You may have a chance to sell something today, but if you sell all of it then it could take a long time to replace it. New customers are coming into the market, but you have to make sure you have enough to take care of your loyal customers, too.
“Even though it is a great market, we’re making money, and it’s a lot of fun selling right now, it brings a different set of challenges,” Peeples said. “After the last five or six years where we’ve been taking a beating, having to fight and scrap for every single order, now we can kind of pick and choose the orders we want, especially on the larger ones. This doesn’t happen often, so make hay while the sun is shining.”
Peeples explains that there are always opportunities to grow at Kloeckner. He recalls a person at the shop who started as a third shift loader and is now runs equipment on first shift. As people grow as employees, so too does their pay, creating a great atmosphere to work in.
“When you know you are going to come to work and be successful and get paid to do it, it makes it fun to come to work,” Peeples said. “I can’t say enough about Jeff being a leader here and what a pleasure it is to work with him. He gives us all room to operate and grow. He gives us the knowledge of his experience and he keeps us informed of what he knows as far as market conditions, and lets us go out and do our jobs. It makes us want to come to work and do well for him.”