Companies operating in highly competitive industries succeed when they set themselves apart from the rest. Nowhere is this truer than in the steel fabrication industry, and no company in this industry has done more to distinguish itself from the competition than Phoenix-based Schuff Steel Company. Through the diversity of its manufacturing and its end-use markets, Schuff Steel stands out from the crowd in structural steel products.
As Chairman and Co-founder Dave Schuff says, “We are not just another steel company. We want to be a part of our customer’s planning and development team.” President, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder Scott Schuff, Dave’s son, expands on the concept of diversity when he says, “What makes us different from everybody else is that we get into all facets of construction. We make structural steel products for bridges, casinos, office buildings, hospitals and complex industrial work.”
From Broker to Fabricator
Diversity was the keynote of Schuff Steel from the moment Dave and Scott Schuff founded the company, in 1976. The company’s first order of business was to act as a broker for the structural steel that went into the building of Sun Devils Stadium in the Phoenix area. It remained as a broker until 1985, when Schuff Steel bought its first fabrication facility and thus entered the business in which it is now the leading light. In the 15 years since then, Schuff Steel has made four acquisitions and added seven other fabrication plants, bringing its current manufacturing space to about 2.5 million square feet and its employee count to approximately 1,500.
Among the company’s subsidiaries are the steel fabricators Addison Steel Inc. and Bannister Steel Inc.; Aitken, Inc., which produces equipment for the oil, gas, petrochemical and pipeline industries; Marauder Company, a fabricator of industrial structural assemblies; Rowell Welding Works, a pressure vessel fabricator; and Quincy Joist Company, a leading manufacturer of steel joists. Quincy Joist was Schuff Steel’s most recent acquisition, in 1998. “It was our first entry into the joist business,” explains Scott Schuff.
The diversity of Schuff Steel and its business units permits it to adapt to a variety of end-use markets. “We follow what the economy says is hot at the moment,” says Scott Schuff. “Right now, the economy says office buildings, hospitals, chip manufacturing for technology applications and sports stadiums are the hot items. As far as the latter goes, our first job in 1976 was Sun Devils Stadium. We’re now doing steel fabrication for the new Broncos stadium in Denver, and we did Bank One Park here in Phoenix (for the Arizona Diamondbacks) and the AmericaWest Arena for the Phoenix Suns.”
The Flexible Steel Maker
Schuff Steel can go with the flow in the projects it tackles thanks to the wide range of capabilities at its plants. “Our facilities include heavy-crane capacity to lift big pipes and a 1,500-foot-long fabrication bay that allows us to do long steel structures,” says Schuff. “When we did the Bank One Park, we made trusses 578 feet long weighing 3,000 tons, and we built them in one piece by shop-assembling it.”
Such facilities also permit Schuff Steel to take on other types of projects. Schuff says, “We’ve shipped out large-diameter water pipes for bringing water into Arizona, up to 24 feet in diameter. We’ve made many miles of these pipes.” The facilities also allow the company to perform specialty projects. “We did a half-scale model of the Eiffel Tower for the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, which was built by Perini Construction. We also just finished a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge for Disneyland. We like this kind of project. The owner comes up with a concept and from there, it’s design-as-you-go.”
The Quality Standard
Schuff Steel has been able to establish its reputation for diversity thanks to its elevation of quality in manufacturing. “Quality has been one of our goals from the beginning, and we’ve made it our way of life here,” Schuff states. “Our industry is regulated and we fall under American Institute of Steel Construction ratings. We’ve achieved the institute’s highest rating, giving us the ability to do complex, fracture-critical bridges. Along with that rating comes a lot of quality-control issues, such as materials traceability, that we follow through all our fabrication.”
Given this orientation, Schuff Steel’s most recent acquisition, Quincy Joist, fits right into the quality culture of the parent company. The business unit produces its open-web joists, long-spans and joist girders under the specifications of the Steel Joist Institute. “From the time a piece of raw steel is introduced to the plant, fabricated into a joist and loaded onto trucks for delivery, our quality-assurance team carefully monitors the quality of our products,” the company says. “Every joist must meet the specifications outlined in our quality-assurance manual.”
Past into Future
Schuff Steel’s traditional orientation will drive its business down the road as well. In terms of growth markets, “we see chip manufacturing keeping on a fast pace well into next year at a minimum,” says Scott Schuff. “Chip manufacturing will be a big growth area because new technology keeps coming out and has to get to market fast. Office buildings will continue as a hot market into the second quarter of next year.”
Schuff Steel was built through acquisitions, and acquisitions will continue to add to the company’s business down the road. Says Schuff, “We’re always looking for companies that fit with what we’re trying to do, which is being diverse and entering new products. Steel fabrication is still a ma-and-pa industry and will stay this way. There’s a lot of duplication in our business that you don’t need.”
Advancements in fabrication technology will also bring growth to Schuff Steel. “Nowadays we can send drawings through e-mail,” says Schuff. “The technology will grow and help us cut costs.” Being all things to customers will be yet another driver to Schuff Steel’s business. “Most fabricators fabricate steel. Schuff Steel takes it a step farther,” says Schuff. “We help with the design, do the detail (shop drawings of a project), do the fabrication and tie it all together with erection. That tying it together eliminates a lot of hassles for the contractor. It’s a one-stop shopping concept, and it will set us apart from the rest.”