Steel Warehouse celebrates 70 years of growth and innovation to the Steel industry

November 22, 2017 (PRLEAP.COM) Business News
Steel Warehouse, a steel service center headquartered in South Bend., IN, was founded by Nate Lerman in 1947 after he had failed in business 10 previous times.

"Instead of failing and getting down, he thought that he was becoming smarter and a better businessman each step of the way," said Dave Lerman, Steel Warehouse chairman of the board, and one of Nate's 10 children.

Those failures did strengthen Nate's business acumen as Steel Warehouse now celebrates 70 years of growth, innovation and industry leadership while remaining a family-operated company.

What has led to this success? Relationships.

"My dad was a brilliant guy," said Dave. "He knew the phone number of almost everyone he dealt with. Not only did he know the people, but he also knew their family circumstances. It was a magnificent trait. It certainly made the people in our company and the people we dealt with outside feel a little closer to us. There was a sincerity behind it that people knew and recognized."

Good relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, the local community, the steel industry as a whole and among the Lerman family have been the key to Steel Warehouse's success over the years. Those relationships have even given the company an advantage during tough times.

"There was a point when a lot of people couldn't get steel, but we could because of our relationship with the steel mills. They wanted to support us over other guys because of the relationship we had established with them," said Ted Lerman, Steel Warehouse CEO.

"We look at our relationships with other people and companies as more of a long-term partnership," Ted continued. "A key to running a successful business is that we've always tried to do the difficult jobs and always focus on customers, employees and our suppliers, making sure that we are honorable and that we keep our word."

Other reasons for the company's success, according to Dave, include loyalty, treating suppliers well, investing profits back into the company and not being afraid to innovate.

"We have had to challenge ourselves to look for niches and opportunities to do things that others don't want to do or can't do," Dave explained. "This strategy has kept us competitive even in situations where we had things working against us. We could do things when other people couldn't."

Some of those innovations have led to early adoption of new processes, such as heavy gauge slitting, stamping dye of thick coil, temper pass leveling and in-house pickling.

Being innovators has led to company growth. Steel Warehouse currently employs 800 people in the South Bend area. It boasts 10 locations within the United States and two international facilities.

Steel Warehouse is very active in its local community through the South Bend Chamber of Commerce, support of the orthodox Jewish community, sponsorship of sports teams and more. It especially has a large presence when it comes to one sport: hockey.

"We don't do business on the golf course. We do it on the ice rink," Dave said.

The company plays lunchtime hockey at the Ice Box-a facility Dave started in 1974 and then donated to the community.

"We play hockey for about an hour. We have a good time and good spirited competition. When we finish, just about everyone there has had about all the exercise they can have," Dave said. "I don't know how much time it would take to get that exercise from golf."

Over the seven decades, Steel Warehouse has been intentional about fostering and protecting relationships, an essential practice for a family-run business that now employs third generation family members.

"The ability for a family as large as ours to get along as well as ours does is not common, but it's the way it should be," Dave said.

This closeness does not happen by accident. The company learns best practices for family-run business from programs and university offerings. It has spent time studying how family-operated European companies have been able to stay in business for a couple hundred years.

"We have tried to take those best practices and employ them in our family business," Ted explained. "One thing we do is hold an annual meeting where we invite the entire Lerman family and all its generations."

Each year the Lermans hosts a camp for family members where people travel from around the country to gather together for a week. During that time, they do talk business, but more importantly, they spend time reconnecting with one another.

"We have fun together during that time, but we also try to be very transparent and have open dialog," Ted said. "A lot of people come here and it's like a vacation. We typically have over 100 kids. It's quite an undertaking."

By doing this every year, the Lermans have realized how much it has strengthened their family and their business.

"When you get the third, fourth and even fifth generations together and they know each other, that's unusual," Ted said. "But we're just continuing that brotherly love that my dad, Nate, fostered. We're continuing it for future generations."

Nate built the company on a foundation of brotherly love and an entrepreneurial spirit. Both have remained firmly in place for the past 70 years and as the company looks to the future.

"As we get bigger, we have to be careful to maintain that entrepreneurial spirit to be innovative for our customers," Ted said. "We must remain flexible and inventive and unafraid to forge new paths."

And another important part of the future is what has served them well throughout the past. As Dave said, "Dad taught us a lot about relationships. We wouldn't be who we are today without them."

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