Providing Great Service in a Dynamic Industry
Voss Industries’ roots go back to 1951, when Paul and Gabe Voss started a small shear house with Homer Davison and Tony Butera in downtown Detroit – the “Motor City” known for being an epicenter of industrial development. Today, the steel processor operates out of two locations, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Voss Taylor opened in 1968 in Taylor, Michigan, and boasts a 400,000 square foot facility located on a 21 acre property near the Detroit Metro Airport. Voss Clark, which houses its equipment in a 540,000 square foot facility based in Jeffersonville, Indiana, opened its doors in 1993 to serve the Louisville, Kentucky market – far from the heart of the Rust Belt, but still a market that the company noticed was in need of service.
Between its two locations, the family-owned business has made a name for itself over the decades by investing in its workforce and providing topnotch, nonstop customer service to the distributors, service centers, steel mills, and end users it works with.
Voss Industries specializes in the processing of rolls of steel, including pickling (cleaning and removing imperfections such as stains or rusts), slitting (cutting a larger roll into a smaller one), and blanking (punching a primary piece of metal to create a smaller work piece). The toll processor works on the behalf of its customers in the automotive, appliance, and steel distribution industries by receiving their steel products, processing them according to their specifications, and providing them with just-in-time delivery from its convenient locations.
“The steel industry is a difficult industry to get people interested in. It doesn’t appear at face value to be overly exciting, but when you learn more about it, it’s an industry that follows its peaks and valleys, mergers and acquisitions, which always lead to changes. If people from the outside knew of all the new types of grades that are being developed, it is quite dynamic,” reveals Tim Bilkey, Managing Director of Outside Sales at Voss Clark.
By continuously providing great service, this Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA) member has managed to remain a thriving business after almost 70 years in an ever-changing industry.
“If we don’t have good service, then we are not going stay in business very long because that is essentially all we provide. We compare ourselves to a drycleaner or car wash,” he says. “We don’t own the product; we clean it, and we might change the dimensions through our other processes, but we never take ownership of that material. We don’t have our own orders or our own steel, so we don’t put our material ahead of our customers’ material. We want to provide the best quality with the best service, even above what the customer would expect.”
The flat rolled steel processor, which frequently invests in state-of-the-art technology in order to best serve its customers, has recently replaced a MIG welder with a laser welder. Over the last three years, it has also upgraded its monitoring devices.
Additionally, between 2015 and 2016, Voss Clark invested significant capital into upgrading the horsepower of its pickling line, adding new equipment to be more productive, and expanding its capacity for holding greater tensions of steel. As one of the few toll processors that offers pickling services, this investment will help the business capitalize on the advanced high-strength steel industry while continuing to serve customers in a timely manner.
Being able to process a high volume of steel with efficiency allows Voss the flexibility to take care of its customers by providing great service. For example, Bilkey mentions that it is not uncommon for material to be delivered late from a steel mill and arrive at Voss Clark early in the morning. From there, Voss Clark is able to complete a couple, or even all three of its processes, and have the material ready to ship by the early afternoon, back on a truck and out the door.
In fact, Voss Clark’s entire facility was designed with efficiency in mind, keeping it from falling into the time-sinking pitfalls of some of its competitors. For example, one common challenge faced by any business involved in the shipping or receiving of products is keeping wait times low for drivers of freight vehicles, particularly with new business practices that require the use of ELDs (electronic log devices).
“We have always catered our facility towards a place where we want our drivers to want to come. We put a lot of emphasis on turning trucks around quickly because idle time is costing drivers money,” Bilkey remarks.
Having a well-designed, high-tech facility has certainly helped Voss Clark stay competitive since it opened its location in 1993, but its most significant investments have been its people. Voss Clark strives to maintain its low employee turnover rate by hiring the right people, training them well, and keeping them happy.
“We spend a lot of time in the interviewing and training process so that new people understand our business and what we do. For us, that is a big investment as a relatively small company. One cost that many companies suffer is the re-training process that comes with turnover. When you have people coming and leaving, there’s a lot of cost involved in training newcomers. We try to be very forthright with our interviews, screening processes, and with the agencies we work with. We put new people through a very detailed training and education process so that they understand what we do, why it’s important, and what effect they have on the end product we produce,” Bilkey states.
A key part of proper training is getting candidates involved in the latest developments in the metals business in a way that they can relate to. This becomes all the more important in an area without a strong history in the metal sector, but it’s something that Voss Clark has managed to turn, through its training program, into an advantage rather than a weakness.
“We don’t have a pool of people from the metals industry here in the Louisville, Kentucky area, so we train people about what a coil of steel is and which applications it goes into. When you look at a coil of steel it is not very exciting, but if you know that it is going into making a wheel, or a widget in an automobile, then it means a whole lot more and the worker becomes a lot more invested,” explains Bilkey.
He adds that keeping workers throughout the company, from the top down, informed about the steel industry through daily meetings is one of the factors that has led to Voss’ success over the years. “There’s so much to be said about communication. Our company is very good at communicating with our whole workforce on a daily basis as to what happened yesterday, what is happening today, and what might be happening tomorrow. A lot of people talk about communication, but the daily management meeting that we have is a huge success for us.”
As the company of about 133 people continues to grow, Voss remains committed to investing in new equipment that will allow it to continue to be efficient while providing up-to-date information to the customer, while also hiring hard-working individuals who understand the value of good service.
“It sounds very fundamental, but as we grow we’re really just looking for somebody who wants to work, somebody who is willing to learn,” Bilkey tells us. “The part of the country we are in is not a steel area, but we are just looking to bring in people who are punctual, willing to put in a good hard day’s work, and are willing to support our motto of servicing our customer, because as our customer is happy, our volumes are better and our business is stronger.”
One future initiative the company will be starting involves reaching out to recent high school graduates to inform them of the type of future career Voss Clark can offer, whether or not they choose to go to college or have finished earning a degree. Voss wants to encourage secondary school graduates to work and grow with the company while they attend a college, university, or technical school, so they can learn hands-on about the manufacturing processes involved in the business while they study.
“We want to help develop that next generation of the workforce. That’s how we are going to survive in the future: to have willing and able hardworking people that we can train when they come out of school,” Bilkey concludes.