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Service Centers Rate the Mills

‘Brother Can You Spare a Ton’

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By John E. Jacobson, Jacobson & Associates and Dan Markham, Editor-in-Chief

The past 12 months were among the most difficult for the steel production industry, as demonstrated by the results from the 20th installment of MCN’s Rate the Mills from Jacobson & Associates.

Producing in a pandemic is no picnic, but the aftermath of the 2020 COVID-related shutdowns proved even more challenging for the North American production community, at least in terms of how its performance was graded by mill customers. 

The past 12 months have been marked by astronomical pricing for most steel products and a supply crunch that left customers scrambling for steel product. That combination resulted in a less satisfied customer base, an inescapable conclusion to draw from the annual survey of mill performance conducted by Jacobson & Associates.

For 29 years, Jacobson & Associates has conducted a continuous survey of more than 2,000 major steel customers in the United States and Canada, including service centers and end-users. Jacobson measures overall customer satisfaction and customer satisfaction with quality, service, price, on-time delivery, inside sales, outside sales and e-commerce. And for the last two decades, those results have been presented in the pages of Metal Center News. 

This year’s survey is most notable for what’s not included. Each year, the survey asks steel consumers which mills have demonstrated the most improvement over the course of the previous 12 months. In 2021, not one mill qualified. 

Rather, this year’s survey can only track those segments of the steel section by what kind of declines were experienced in customer satisfaction. On the question of price, customers’ declines ranged from a low of 3.2 percent from the beam producers up to 5.9 percent for sheet makers. 

The results were even worse on the question of deliveries. There, customer satisfaction levels for bar/structural producers dipped 5.6 percent, while SBQ producers saw their satisfaction rates drop a whopping 16.3 percent. 

The lesson, one that probably didn’t need to be told, was this: if you don’t have much steel, and what you do have is jumping in price on a steady basis, it’s probably not going to result in many satisfied customers. 

Of course, there were still producers that managed to rank ahead of their peers. Reclaiming the top spot among sheet producers was North Star BlueScope. Nucor Decatur had finished first a year ago. 

Plate, bar/structural and SBQ also produced a change on the leaderboard. EVRAZ Portland took first in plate, Nucor Birmingham was the preferred choice in bar/structural and Alton Steel was the top-ranked SBQ producer. Nucor Longview, Nucor Jackson and SDI Engineered Bar were the top finishers in those categories last year. 

Two companies repeated, though one is hardly a surprise. For the 10th straight year, Nucor Berkeley is the preferred producer among beam suppliers. Searing Industries also repeated its position atop the tube producer leaderboard. 

Jacobson also polls its respondents on the subject of customer loyalty. The top finishers in each category were: North Star BlueScope among sheet producers; Nucor Jackson for bar/structural; Nucor Longview in plate; Nucor Yamato in beam; Gerdau Special - Jackson in SBQ and Welded Tube of Canada among tube makers. 

The comments regarding the top finishers also demonstrated the importance of delivery, in addition to communication and effort, this year. “This year, NSB had capacity problems – yet they delivered everything ordered,” one sheet product customer said. 

And a plate customer recognized the difficult conditions faced by the production segment when it said, “EVRAZ Portland is resilient – they put in a great effort even when things are working against them.” 

Click here to download charts.

John E. Jacobson is president of Jacobson & Associates, Greensboro, N.C. 
The Jacobson Survey has been measuring steel customer satisfaction for the past 29 years. 
Mr. Jacobson may be reached at (847) 735-7250 or via e-mail at jej@jacobsonsteel.com.