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MCN Profile: Benner Metals

‘Growing Into The Software’

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MCN Editor Karen Zajac-Frazee Benner Metals’ business has grown, with Bayern’s software systems helping it along. 

The roots of Benner Metals Corporation date back to the 19th century, when Joseph Bennerscheidt came to the United States from Europe and established the first metal manufacturing business in Anaheim, Calif., in 1870.

More than 100 years later, Bennerscheidt’s descendants, brothers Louis and Francis Benner, opened Benner Metals in Anaheim, keeping alive the family’s passion for the metals industry. Rapid growth followed, and in 1988 the business was incorporated as Benner Metals Corporation. Six years later, the corporation expanded and relocated to its current location on State College Boulevard in Fullerton, Calif.

“We originally started off selling what we would call ‘usable metals.’ In 1986 my uncle and my dad worked with this recycling company and saw that we could sell some of the metal that’s coming in to be recycled,” says Co-Vice President Mike Benner.

Through the 1990s, Benner changed its focus to selling more toward businesses and the manufacturing industry in Southern California, as well as other steel distributors. “Some of our bigger customers are our fellow distributors that are buying from us to fill in the holes.” And, since Benner is big on traceability, a customer could buy from them directly like an end-use consumer. 

Co-founder Louis passed away in 1999 from cancer, so Francis took the reins and under his guidance, the company continued to flourish. Today, President Francis Benner proudly carries his family’s legacy and is preparing his sons, Mike and Bob, co-vice presidents, to lead Benner Metals into the future.

Benner sells some aluminum and stainless, but carbon steel is its bread and butter. The company offers carbon steel sheets, tubing and angles. “Again we’re buying that mill-direct and focusing on this very competitive Southern California market.” 

Benner sells much of its metal to the larger distributors in the area looking for fill-ins. Most of the material that Benner ships is delivered the next day and that is a major selling point to customers, especially service centers. “We’ll do same day, will-call and that’s a big deal for them. In Southern California there are so many metal distributors, and if they need something, they want it traceable, they want it with material test reports.” Therefore, they can call Benner, get a price and come pick it up right away.

Unlike many others in the service center space, Benner is not looking to expand its menu of value-added offerings. Mike Benner says, “We’re a metals distributor and a big part of our business is we don’t want to compete with our customers. We have some competitors in this space who may offer welding services or offer more value-added services like laser and waterjet cutting. But as far as I’m concerned, if I installed a laser or a waterjet, I’d be competing with the guys who are buying metal from me and I don’t want to do that.  So in terms of value-added services we offer shearing, cutting and punching and that’s it.” 

“We purposely don’t want to have a lot because we’re a metals distributor. We’re not trying to change the world and do it all, total vertical integration. We want our customers to be able to come to us and then also when people ask for those value-added services, we’re happy to refer them to our customers and help that wheel move forward,” Mike Benner adds.

As technology grew in the 1990s, Benner began to incorporate it into the operation. Francis Benner had built his own software system, but by 2001 he had to spend too much time maintaining it. Around this time, Greg Bayer from Bayern Software arrived, and Benner switched to Bayern’s STEEL PLUS. which replaced Benner’s home-built software.

“From 2001 until 2012, we were just growing into the software.  We sat around and said, ‘What’s wrong with this?’ and the crazy thing about Greg Bayer’s vision was we’d go look at the software and say, ‘Why don’t we use this feature, and why don’t we use that feature?’ 

Slowly, they began to incorporate the options available, growing into the functionality that was already there. ‘Let’s implement things like barcoding and tag material and having traceability,’” Mike Benner adds.

In 2011, Benner became ISO 9001 certified and realized they had fully grown into STEEL PLUS. “The one thing that was a big sticking point for us was we wanted to have these televisions on the walls which allowed us to implement Lean methodology where you’d be able to walk into a room and say, ‘Sales is doing well today,’ by seeing the order totals clearly on the screens,” Mike Benner states.

This is when Benner noticed the old software just couldn’t get that data, so they moved to the “modern” database of Capstone that could build those custom add-ons. “The key was growing into what the software can do, and then as we started to have those growing pains, we saw Capstone as an opportunity for us to be able to live out these dreams.” 

Mike Benner continues, “Because of Bayern’s more modern infrastructure, we’re able to do that. Whereas before, on the legacy software, there were just these walls that because of this weird technicality, you can’t do this. That was the big thing for us and why we switched from STEEL PLUS to Capstone as it was able to do more custom things, to do more modern things, using MicrosoftPower BI or automated reporting.”

The switch from STEEL PLUS to Capstone was absolutely for the technology. “I believe that Bayern has the best implementation in the way that they chose to develop the software in being more or less future proof and again being able to connect to third party platforms – both those things that we may write internally and other third party things – so for us we figured that inside of that software, the way they went down that path, we were most comfortable,” Mike Benner comments.

In addition to this, Tim Holman, vice president of Bayern Software, says, “We have a release that comes out every single month. We’re continuing to build new features into the software and the more customers we have, the more good ideas come our way. We realize we don’t know everything and so we rely on our customers to give us feedback, give us good ideas.”

“We have users’ group meetings where we ask people, ‘Do you see any gaps in the product or do you have any good ideas that would not only benefit you, of course, but also other users of Capstone throughout the country?’ and so we have a long list of things that we want to continue to do and build out and so every month we have a new release that’s included with our customer subscription so they get that at no additional cost.” 

Furthermore, there are not any drawbacks using Capstone because it is built for the metals industry. “Certainly, there is work involved to get a system like this up and going and so implementation is really important and we spend a lot of time helping our new customers configure the system correctly. It can take anywhere from one to three months for a typical service center from the day they kick off the implementation until the day they go live,” Holman says.

However, the true success of software is the results. With this implementation, Benner has improved its quality system. “We use handheld scanners in the warehouse, and these Android-based scanners use barcoding. 

Everything in our facility is tagged, and because of this software, we ended up hiring a full-time quality manager which really changed the way we do things and just improved it, whereas before it was just a hat that was worn by multiple people. Now this software has enabled us to improve our quality systems, creating a more traceable inventory system,” Mike Benner says.

One of the biggest strengths of Capstone is its inventory management system. “We have things like photos of material that may have damage, so that when a customer calls and says, ‘I want this piece. What’s the cheapest I can get it for?’ I can say, ‘I have a piece with a little rust on the end,’ and I can actually shoot over that photo directly from the system. The key is just continuing along our path of continuous improvement in our quality management system. That’s the largest improvement,” Mike Benner states. 

Another feature is called the advanced shipment notification where the day before Benner sends orders out, or right before the will-call is ready, it sends over all the material test reports and all the material certifications. Benner’s customers have told them that they like the way their shipment paperwork looks. 

This is a benefit of Capstone “as you get all this information for your company in one place so you can report off of it, export data to massage it into a pivot table or a chart or whatever that you might want to do,” Holman adds. 

“It’s given us this competitive edge, in a super competitive market, but we don’t have to rely on people. When I’m sitting here and I use the other software I used in the past, or I had to use my home brew stuff, things could fall through the cracks. Now, with Capstone it just aids the whole organization to move forward in our goal of becoming the best carbon metals distributor in Southern California,” Mike Benner concludes.

Benner Metals carries an array of sheet, tubing and angled products. (Photo courtesy Benner Metals)