Business Spotlight | Fall 2018
King Steel Corp.

King Steel Corporation: Building & maintaining positive supplier relationships

As the company grows, King Steel Corp. stays focused on building strong relationships with customers and suppliers

By: Jayne Gest

Work hard. Play hard. That’s the culture at King Steel Corp., with employees who bring energy and a hard-working spirit, says CEO John King. 

“There is a lot of energy, a lot of fun that goes on daily,” says King. “We work when it’s time to work, but we have fun, too.” 

Initially called American Rod Consumers, the company founded by King’s father, Doug, sold wire rod and steel wire and later bought an Ohio division that sold steel bars. When John King joined the company in 1997, he was assigned to run that division until, three years later, the divisions came together under one umbrella—King Steel—headquartered in Grand Blanc, Michigan. 

Today, the distributor has grown to employ more than 65 people and has continued to expand its services, customer base and number of locations. That growth is the result of good marketing, John King says, but even more so, it is the result of working hard to build strong relationships. 

“Everything we do is relationship based,” King says. “A lot of our customers have become close personal friends. It’s important that we take care of them, and that they have what they need, when they need it.”

King Steel Corp
John King (center), CEO, with fellow King Steel colleagues.

Building supplier relationships

King Steel’s attention to relationships extends to its suppliers, as well.  

“If we can get the material and we can get a good quality of material, we can sell it to anybody,” King says. “But if we don’t have a relationship with a supplier or a processor, then we’re just going to be like the next guy.” To strengthen supplier relationships, the company pays its bills in fewer than 10 days, creating goodwill and the ability to ask for something a supplier might not grant another organization. And King says his company and Huntington have worked to create a similar relationship. 

“If we have an opportunity to build a new facility or to make a large buy, and we need extra money on the line, they step up for us and they’re there for us,” he says. “They supply us what we need, when we need it, allowing us to keep the business flowing.”

“You can’t shut a machine shop down. You can’t shut a customer down. If you do that, you won’t be supplying them very long.”
John King
CEO, King Steel Corp.

Meeting demand

Leadership at King Steel initially declined to own warehouses and trucks because it didn’t want to commit to additional overhead, King says. But the desire to offer exceptional customer service changed that.

“Our customers needed us to be at certain places at certain times, and to do that, you’ve got to have your own people—people you trust and can count on to make those deliveries and to have the steel on the floor when they want it,” he says. “You can’t shut a machine shop down. You can’t shut a customer down. If you do, you won’t be supplying them very long. Service and relationships are everything.”

The company also initially didn’t own saws, but once it committed to the purchase, its cold saw operations grew to averaging 8 million pounds of cutting a month.

“Now we’re one of the largest cold saw houses in North America,” King says. “We have nine cold saws under one roof because our customers are demanding it. We used to supply them a straight bar, then we started saw cutting those bars and supplying them a finished blank. Instead of them having to do that, they could depend on us having it when they wanted it.”

King Steel Corp

However, success wasn’t immediate. When King Steel went to market with its cold saw operation, it took time to gain traction.

“Finally it broke loose, and we got a few customers, and we got a few more, and now, we’re completely booked,” King says. “We’re just buying our ninth cold saw and are running out of room in our buildings.”

The company also got a slow start when it introduced its heat induction line. The first few years were a struggle, but capacity is now full.

“We’re very aggressive,” King says. “We take chances, and sometimes we’re wrong and it doesn’t work out. And sometimes we’re right and it does.”

But when it doesn’t, they don’t dwell on the failure, he says. Instead, they move on to the next opportunity and take another chance.

No room for egos

John King, CEO of King Steel Corp., isn’t big on titles—he has one because he has to—and the company’s meeting room has a round table to emphasize equality.

“There’s no head of the table,” he says. “We all sit there as one, and everybody discusses their book of business and their opportunities.”

But beyond that team culture, Chairman Doug King, company founder, is in charge.

“He’s the lifeline of the business,” says John King, his son. “When he walks in, the pulse picks up and your heart beats a little bit faster. You sit a little straighter in your chair. We call him our coach.”

Doug King’s main focus is on the market.

“My dad follows the world,” says John King. “He’s trying to predict what’s going on with the world before it happens, so we can stay ahead of it. So if there’s an earthquake somewhere, there’s a tsunami or if there’s blizzard on the East Coast where they can’t get the scrap, the prices go up. We try to educate our customers and know and understand what’s coming—not after the fact, but before it happens. That’s our goal.”

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