Metal service centers (MSCs) are an essential link in the steel supply chain. As a conduit between steel producers, fabricators, and OEMs, these firms exist in a tumultuous and fragmented space. Operations come and go with the fluctuating markets they serve, especially in the oil and gas industry. Forging lasting connections in such a volatile climate requires foresight, commitment, and, dare we say it, nerves of steel.
North Shore Steel has those nerves in abundance, evidenced by 62 years of delivering top-shelf service to Gulf Coast fabricators, producers, and end users. What began as a salvage company in 1955 is today a highly respected leader in structural steel products and processing.
Generations of North Shore Steel
The story of North Shore’s progression from a scrap yard to an MSC powerhouse is exemplified by the journey of Houston native Byron Cooper, who joined the company in 2015 and is now EVP and COO of the firm.
In the mid-2000s, Cooper was working on the University of Houston Law Review with businesswoman Gloria Bluestone, who at the time was taking up law as a second career. Beyond mentioning that her family had a “small steel business,” she kept mum about the firm. Cooper and Bluestone quickly bonded over a shared passion for business development.
“Running a company was something I really wanted to do,” Cooper recalled.
Leveraging his love for business with his deep respect and admiration for the Bluestone family, Cooper left a position at the Securities Exchange Commission in D.C. to help North Shore transition from a second generation of management to a third.
“Although North Shore had a lot of success (second-gen company president) Buzzy Bluestone recognized that there was still a lot of work to do,” he admitted. “The family’s hard work, tenacity, financial prudence and entrepreneurial spirit brought North Shore to where it is today.”
Smart Risks, Smart Growth
Low barriers to entry make it easy for MSCs to spring up in robust economic climates. When those climates shift, MSC operations dissolve on the wind. North Shore Steel competes, as Cooper put it, “under constant pressure to innovate”.
They handle that pressure with aplomb, offering a range of structural steel products to the petrochemical, commercial, and industrial fabrication markets.
“We integrate value-added services in all of our product groups. We are unique in that regard,” he stated. “We are able to bring that value proposition to the market and leverage that to help our customers achieve their goals.”
North Shore works closely with prospective customers to improve supply chain processes, too.
“Many of our customers use everything we sell, so we try to educate them on how they can rationalize and streamline their supply chain by working with us.”
Cooper credits his hard-working, dedicated team for the company’s position as a premier provider of plate processing services in North America. “A lot of people put in a lot of work. We put a quality management system in place, built up our inventory and built strategic relationships with plate producers all over the world,” he said.
Savvy equipment purchases, the addition of ASME-certified welding processes and customized software enabled North Shore Steel to become a significant global supplier of structural and ASME cylinders for heavy equipment. There’s also the added benefit of raising a high barrier to entry against potential competitors.
“This goes back to our founders’ belief in plowing profits back into the business, and making many decades worth of great decisions.” he said.
A Heavy-duty Approach to Future Readiness
Cooper stressed that taking advantage of downturns in the construction and oil and gas industries has helped to raise North Shore’s profile from a local supplier to a global one.
“We used that time to get in shape culturally, structurally, and procedurally so we could be successful as markets rebounded.”
To add formidable value to their plate processing capabilities, North Shore Steel acquired the assets, land, and warehouse of a local press brake firm, installing a 300,000-pound press brake and other large pieces of press forming equipment.
“Having the strategic foresight to know the market would recover, we knew that adding press brake assets would be good for us,” he added.
“We also brought in outstanding talent,” he continued, “best-of-the-best quality craftsmen who understand that our work is an art more than a science.”
Fighting the Good Fight
Helping to lead a multi-generational family company comes with a charge to pass the founders’ ethos to new generations of employees. Not long ago the staff, independent of management, created an initiative called “The Justice League” to support charitable efforts in the community. From volunteering at food banks to hurricane relief, they give their time and strength to help others.
“That’s the North Shore Steel spirit at work,” Cooper said proudly. “It shows you what we’re really all about.”