Oscar Winski News

Lafayette Steel: An American Success Story

In about as pure an American story as one might find, Lafayette Steel and Aluminum Sales, Lafayette, IN., is a poster child for ingenuity. Started over 100 years ago, the family company is currently under the leadership of its fourth generation.
In 1907, Oscar Winski, a local patrolman, roamed the city streets, collecting scrap to supplement his income and by 1927 he ruled atop a large scrap-recycling yard.
Now, the company environs extend to include a major steel service center among other metal oriented businesses.

Started In Scrap

In late 1971, Mike Bluestein, principal owner, decided it was time to diversify for growth and launched a small service center to serve a local manufacturing base, mostly concentrating on maintenance projects.

Steve Bluestein, one of the owners, started the service center division. Working with some local accounts, he was was able to get a couple of repeat items that grew in volume and established some direct buys from Nucor Steel when they opened their Crawfordsville, IN flat rolled mill. The operation grew pretty much one item at a time, with Steve’s focus on customer service. By 1996, the division was shipping substantial tons out of a small 20,000 sq. ft. warehouse, but still had no processing equipment for flat rolled.

Flat-Rolled Grows
In late ’96 as the business started to grow substantially they hired a service center industry veteran, Ron Addaman, who had 30 years of experience with several major service centers to run the new operation. Soon after taking over as President of Lafayette Steel & Aluminum, Addaman called on Camden to join him to handle outside sales. They added another 65,000 sq.ft. of warehouse space in Lafayette, and a year later bought a bundle cutting production saw. The flat-rolled business continued to grow through outside processors, and the company was shipping a lot of product around Indiana and the Midwest, paying toll processors to cut all of the material.

At this point, Lafayette acquired Metal Service & Supply, which was part of Metal Service International. It obtained the company’s Indianapolis facility with two slitting lines, two cut-to-length lines and an additional 120,000 sq. ft. of warehouse providing Lafayette Steel with flat-rolled capability. “At this time in 2000 the business really took off, and we began to upgrade our operation with the addition of new equipment,” says Camden. A new Braner 72 in. cut-to-length line with precision leveler was added about two years ago. In 2009, two new Braner 72 in. slitting lines and a Braner automated packaging line joined the equipment line-up. “We included a company wide information system called Stratix also,” Camden added.

Indianapolis grew substantially and the overall business grew exponentially with an investment of almost $8 million over the past few years in this facility.

Opportunity Knocks
As business flourished in the Chicago area, Lafayette was shipping all materials to Chicago customers from the Indianapolis facility. Opportunity knocked again when the company learned that Gibraltar Company was planning to sell its Hubbell Steel Division facility in Chicago. Negotiations began and concluded with a purchase of assets and equipment, giving Lafayette coverage for all its local Chicago business and picking up about 70 percent of the existing Hubbell business.

Extending its reach to the southwest, the company worked out an arrangement with a partner in El Paso, TX. shipping coils by rail into the area for slitting and cut-to-length. Finished goods are warehoused locally for JIT delivery. It’s identified by Lafayette as an additional stocking plant for carbon steel and aluminum flat-rolled. With this arrangement, the company can cover flat-rolled capabilities throughout the Midwest, and extend into the southeast as well as West Virginia and Pennsylvania and the southwest to include Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. As a service center, the company also supplies tubing, angles and channels.

Fabricated Parts Division
Another dimension of this complex organization is its Fabricated Parts Division, featuring aluminum extrusions with first step or complete fabrication performed. A couple of examples include hinges for trailer doors and rear doors for cargo vans. These parts are partial fabrications. Extrusions, called headers, are complete parts for cargo trailers. Other complete fabrications are window and door frames for RVs and specialty vehicles. “We try to supply our customers with whatever it makes sense for a supplier to provide,” adds Camden. "We are not a traditional service center. We try to offer our customers a variety of services that a traditional service center would not. We are involved in a lot of unique areas."

“Coming full circle, Lafayette Steel and Aluminum points to its roots in scrap recycling as a ‘wonderful’ lead-in for the service center business. “Many of the mills we are selling to are also suppliers to our service center division, making us a supplier as well as a customer to those mills,” Camden said.

The Chicago operation focuses primarily on pre-paint, toll coated through coil coaters including Roll Coater, Precoat Metals and others. In addition, this plant also focuses on cold rolled steel for automotive stampers. Some pre-paint is also done out of the company’s Indianapolis facility. Both carbon steel and aluminum coils come from the mills, and are put through various coil coaters who paint the metal. Lafayette works with customers to engineer paint systems in cooperation with the toll coaters and paint manufacturers. The process is orchestrated so finished product is ready for JIT. Two major markets for Lafayette are building products and HVAC related products. Their pre-painted material goes into roofing and siding as well as trim, flashings, etc which is predominantly light gauge material as low as .009”. HVAC products are for air conditioners and furnaces. Various other markets are served, including previously mentioned cargo trailers and RVs. These three product categories account for some 75 percent of Lafayette’s business in flat-rolled.

From A Humble Start
That humble cart pushed through the Indiana streets gathering scrap has grown over the past 100 years to a vigorous, diversified, family-run organization of some 200 employees. Its three plants span over 340,000 sq. ft.. of plant and warehouse space and its array of equipment can handle the most demanding commercial orders.

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