Totten Tubes knows a thing or two about the importance of family. The Azusa, California-based Steel Service Center was founded in 1955 by Marvin Totten and has since built a reputation around having the product customers need when they need it by stocking unusual and difficult-to-find sizes and shapes of tubing.
Totten Tubes is now in the third generation of Totten leadership, with Greg and Paul Totten as co-presidents. In 2017, this successful transition from second- to third-generation leadership was recognized by Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Family Business Strength in Succession award.
“The second generation did a great job laying the foundation,” says Paul. Succession planning can be complicated, logistically. As Greg tells it, “there’s a transitioning of ownership,” but also of, “values, business experience and culture.” Having a strong sense of family prompted the company to, “reach out and find the appropriate people to work through the process of transitioning the company from one generation to the next.”
So what are the values that guide Totten Tubes? The core of the family, as well as the business, consists of honesty and integrity, and these values have made the company, “extremely customer-focused and extremely employee-focused,” says Greg. “One of our strongest values is our respect for our employees.” The longest-term employee has been with the company for forty-seven years, which is a testament to how important the employees are to the firm.
The family also serves as the model for how Totten Tubes does business. The company is more than a family-owned business. “Our customers can come and get a more personal touch,” says Greg, adding that, “vendors like doing business with us because it feels like they’re doing business with their own family.”
Growing up around the business as members of the Totten family gave Greg and Paul an immersive understanding of the business itself. “We have a special place in the structural tubing market,” Greg says, “and we were able to absorb that culture.” Additionally, it gave them a vantage point from which to see opportunities for growth and capture, “the essence of the family values in the business as they were playing themselves out and also see where we can grow,” Paul continues. Coming from such a lineage of succession, the two had the opportunity to watch and learn from the previous leadership.
One area that Totten Tubes has embraced under the leadership of Paul and Greg is modernization. The two have overseen the first full year of operation of their recently acquired Mazak 3D Fabri Gear 400 II laser cutter. “One of the reasons that we got the model that we have is it has a large capacity,” says Greg. “It can cut ninety percent of the stock we carry on the floor, and it can cut large sizes and small sizes. In addition, it has a forty-foot in-feed and a forty-foot out-feed, so it gives us a unique capacity that fits with our inventory. These two facts, that it will cut ninety percent of our inventory and that we can cut longer lengths, separates us from our competition, especially in the area of quick turnaround.”
As Paul notes, the acquisition of the laser cutter has, “totally changed our processes. We acquired it to try to serve manufacturing in a different way. We saw ourselves as pretty structural-fabricator-rich as a customer-base, and we wanted to attract more manufacturing. It’s not a simple cut-off machine. Tube lasers can cut practically any feature in a tube that you want to, so it’s really a manufacturing process more than a simple bandsaw cut process.”
Having such a powerful machine at its disposal permits Totten Tubes to perform labor-intensive fabrication, which lets customers focus their labor time on other processes. Greg notes that the laser cutter can cut features that would normally have to be done by hand. “So we feel that it brings additional capacity to our construction customers and will free up labor time for them to do other processes.”
“We thought that manufacturing was going to drive the run hours of this machine,” Paul notes, “but Greg brought in one of the first fabrication orders. That process – beveling the tube at a forty-five-degree angle – allowed the customer to use their man-power for other processes.”
“Some of our customers would rather spend time welding together their parts, rather than cutting and preparing them, so we can send parts that are ready to weld together,” Greg adds.
So the laser cutter serves customers in ways that would previously have been more difficult and time-consuming. But it also gives its customers a never-before-seen flexibility when it comes to designing and fabricating steel parts. There is almost no limit to what the laser can create, so long as designers can come up with it. And this also helps in contexts where a design exceeds a customer’s in-house capabilities.
The new laser cutter means that Totten Tubes’ fabrication and manufacturing capabilities are prepared for the future. “What 3D modeling allows architects to come up with,” he says, “it’s very creative, but also hard to fabricate. So I think we’re positioned for the future of fabrication in that sense – 3D modeling – how architects and engineers are producing drawings.” Greg explains. “If there is a computer-generated 3D model of a connection that a fabricator can’t do in-house, rather than having to go through a design-change process or an engineering-change process, in many cases, we can just run it on the laser. So that saves that time where the part has to go through a design change. They can just approve the part and have it run on the laser.”
The in-house precision instrument complements Totten Tubes’ wide variety of stock. As Greg explains, “One of the ways I see this working is that since we stock the material, what will happen if you have a part and you send it out to an independent laser processor? You have to buy a full bundle of material and have a full run of parts that are yielded off that bundle. Maybe you need one hundred parts, and the bundle is going to yield one thousand parts. Because we have the material in stock, we can run just the amount of material that a customer will need in a given period of time. And it also allows us to stage production so we can have the material on the floor and ready to deliver in a just-in-time fashion.”
In this way, the laser cutter can significantly cut lead times for parts required by the company’s customers. “Having the capacity in our market,” says Paul, “is definitely better than what customers would have had to do [in the past], which was ship the material or buy the material in the Midwest and process the material there and then have it shipped here.”
The laser, Greg explains, is “well suited for one-off custom jobs. A lot of those jobs we see coming out of the construction industry. Those lead times are going to be vastly improved over that material being processed by hand. In terms of manufacturing, the goal is just-in-time delivery, and we can do that by cutting just the amount of parts that customers need for their different delivery period.”
Totten Tubes stands out in the industry, with its ability to locate hard-to-find materials and its quick delivery. Even as it has continued to grow over the years, it maintains its ability to support small and multi-truckload customers alike. While Greg and Paul Totten carry the company into the future, with a focus on modernization, some things simply will not change: values of honesty, integrity and the personal touch that customers can expect when they become part of the family.