Structural steel fabrication company SteelFab Inc. is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, with locations throughout the Southeastern United States and Texas and a market that spans from coast to coast. Privately-held SteelFab is certified by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and is currently among the top three fabricators in the country.
SteelFab Inc. is a family company in its third generation of ownership. Founded in 1955 by J. Glenn Sherrill, the company was first passed to his sons Ronnie, Don, and Phillip Sherrill in the 1970s and later to Glenn and Stuart Sherrill in the 1990s. After nearly sixty-four years in business, SteelFab employs roughly 1,250 people across all of its locations and has grown to be very diverse in its abilities and the projects it is willing to undertake.
“We’re steadily busy with data center work, a lot of healthcare, higher education, manufacturing, distribution,” says President and COO Marsh Spencer. “There’s not a job too big or too small. We’ve done projects as large as over $100 million and as small as $2,000 contracts.”
The company is structured into independent divisions operating from Charlotte, North Carolina; Emporia, Virginia; Roanoke, Alabama; Florence, South Carolina; Dublin, Georgia; McKinney, Texas; Brentwood, Tennessee; Washington, DC; and a division operating out of York, South Carolina called CM Steel. These segments operate autonomously so that they can remain focused on the unique needs of each marketplace.
More recently, the company has opened a specialty shop in Charlotte focused on structural steel components, particularly deck t-beams, for shipbuilding. The facility is currently in its second year of operation and represents an entirely new market sector for the company.
“We’re building parts that are being used to build ships for our naval fleet,” says Spencer. “It’s something we’re very proud of.” Despite being a new product that it had not built prior to this, SteelFab found that it had the knowledge and experience to provide a product that met the strict quality requirements of the United States Navy.
Alongside the new t-beam operation, the company has also added castellated beams, often called c-beams, to its product line. C-beams are generally used in parking garages and other long-span type applications, and until recently, there was a lack of c-beams in SteelFab’s marketplace. The company identified the need for this product type and recognized that it already had the capacity and the infrastructure in place to manufacture them. It now fabricates c-beams at its Charlotte facility and provides them to competing steel fabricators. These new products have allowed the company to broaden the markets in which it operates.
“The c-beam division really supports the steel industry as a whole,” says Spencer. “SteelFab sells c-beams to other fabricators throughout the country. It enables us to help other steel fabricators to be successful on the projects that they’re pursuing. We’ve created shop labor, some additional capacity, and a new product line, and in turn, we’re able to support the industry where it wasn’t being supported before. It’s a win-win.”
Each of its facilities is a state-of-the-art fabrication plant with the latest technology and equipment. The company works with Pettinghaus, a major Illinois-based equipment supplier, to ensure that it is always equipped with the most efficient plant set-up to support its operation and its growth. As innovation pushes the industry forward, SteelFab is committed to using technology to provide the best possible value to its many customers.
In the first part of 2018, raw material prices escalated rapidly as a result of steel tariff changes. From January to April, steel costs went up by thirty percent. This has been difficult for steel fabrication companies throughout the United States. In the past, when raw material surcharges drop, steel costs drop along with them. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case currently. As raw material surcharges begin to decrease, steel costs remain higher than would normally be expected.
One of the ways that SteelFab has been able to mitigate this problem has been to lean on the long-standing relationships it has built with steel suppliers. As one of the three largest steel fabricators in the country, the company has a large amount of buying power with the mills that supply it with steel. As a result, the mills are very motivated to keep the lines of communication open and work with the company by keeping them updated on any changes that are coming. This gives it valuable insight into how prices will change going forward and how to adapt to those changes.
Another way the company is working to lessen the effects of cost increases is by staying in communication with its clients. As the tariff situation began to take effect, the company kept its clients informed of the details and worked with them to get projects completed earlier because of the impending risk of price escalations. SteelFab has been able to reduce the negative impact of these issues significantly, but as with all companies in the steel industry, it has still felt the pressure of these economic and political forces.
“In many cases, we’ve had firm price agreements with escalation clauses written into them that prevent us from increasing our prices,” says Spencer. “There have been times where we had to pay more for the material than we had in our estimate. We like free trade, but it’s been a challenge for us.”
SteelFab has a number of affiliations with local trade schools and has developed scholarship programs at various colleges to diminish the challenge of workforce shortages by recruiting prospective employees right out of school. It has partnered with North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Texas A&M University to find office and administrative staff, but to find the right skilled tradespeople, who are so critical to the success of the company in the long term, it has had to be more creative.
It is currently reaching out to high schools and introducing students to the prospect of a career in steel fabrication. By providing students with alternatives to higher education, the company hopes to bring them into the world of skilled trades and, ultimately, to SteelFab.
Recently, SteelFab’s success has motivated it to expand the business. It is currently in the process of opening a new, highly-modernized fabrication plant in Durham, Oklahoma, which will be fully operational by the beginning of the first quarter of 2019. The company’s main office was recently relocated to a new 37,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Charlotte.
Now that this new facility is complete, it is adding a 30,000-square-foot paint shop to that location to increase the company’s painting capacity. It has added two new saw drills, increasing its cutting capacity to over 1,200 tons a week, and it just added a new specialty metal shop in Rock Hill to focus on higher-end stainless steel, brass, bronze, and other ornamental miscellaneous metals.
These expansions are part of its commitment to preparing itself for future growth. “We’re in a great market right now, but we’ll be ready for a boom market when it happens after the next downturn,” says Spencer.
SteelFab attributes a great deal of its success to its expert workforce. The company continues to hire bright young workers that will keep the business profitable long into the future since their expertise has enabled the company to be very innovative in many sectors.
“Our chairman says it best. Treat people how you want to be treated,” says Spencer. “That’s been a motto that we’ve stayed behind since our inception in 1955. All the way through to now, it’s just always doing the right thing. Sometimes the right thing isn’t what’s best for you, but you always prevail, and you and your people will be better for it.”