Thanks for Making Me Feel Like Family
By Tim Triplett
Much has changed in the world of metals distribution over the past two decades, but what has not changed is the family-business ethos at the heart of this industry. No doubt, the service center market has evolved over the years. Rare is the issue of Metal Center News that has not contained a headline about the latest merger or acquisition. But it seems that for every two companies that consolidated, we reported on another startup that appeared. Facilities often changed hands, but less often were closed. Consolidation has made the industry more top-heavy, perhaps, but not dramatically smaller.
MCN's circulation data supports this thesis. The magazine’s readership has remained at around 15,000 qualified subscribers for most of my tenure as editor. The magazine is mailed to about 10,000 unique locations each month. Demographic data shows the majority of service centers employ less than 25 workers and have annual sales under $15 million. Only 10 percent have a workforce numbering more than 100 and revenues in excess of $100 million. I’ve quoted many experts over the years who predicted consolidation would create an industry dominated by just a handful of giant distributors. It hasn’t happened yet. The Top 50 Service Centers in MCN's 2016 ranking had combined revenues of about $50 billion, just 30-40 percent of the market, by some estimates. Such prognostications seem silly now, not unlike those that predict Amazon and its ilk will soon dominate industrial, as well as retail, distribution.
In other words, the metals distribution industry is still home to thousands of small, family-owned service centers. They have an essential advantage over other corporate enterprises. Successful family businesses pass from one generation to the next because it’s not all about money. It’s about unity and a willingness to put family business goals ahead of self-interest. It’s about going to work every day with a sense of purpose and a special urgency to succeed and not let others down. It’s about establishing a set of core values that guide how you treat colleagues and customers, whether they have the same last name or not. At the best of them, it’s about love, love for what you do and whom you do it with.
So, it is with mixed emotions that I am leaving Metal Center News after nearly 20 years as its editor to join another fine family-owned business, SteelMarketUpdate.com. I will be covering the steel market for SMU's e-newsletters and helping with its conferences and training programs. I feel kind of like a homeless stranger that got invited to Thanksgiving dinner. I am eternally grateful that so many of you welcomed me into your family circle, into your businesses, and made me feel at home as you shared your stories. I hope our paths cross in the future.