Schupan scraps its scrappy image, keeps its long held values

Marc Schupan has quietly watched his competitors come and go, always staying true to the core belief set by his late father, Nelson, who founded Schupan & Sons, Inc. in 1968.

"If we make a mistake, we admit it and correct it," says Schupan, president and chief executive office of Schupan & Sons, which began as an aluminum recycling business. "We expect that from everyone else. There's nothing more important than honesty and sincerity."

Not exactly a trade secret, but it's the very reason that Schupan & Sons has continued to grow each of its three divisions -- Aluminum and Plastic Sales, Industrial Recycling and Beverage Container Recycling despite a lackluster economy.

In May, the company acquired Ohio-based Tri-State Aluminum. The acquisition added locations in Columbus, Dayton and Toldeo to Schupan facilities in Elkhart, Ind., Oak Brook, Ill., Wixom and Wyoming, Mich., and of course, Kalamazoo.

"We started this more than 30 years ago," says Mike Gildea, divisional president for Aluminum Sales for Schupan & Sons. "Marc had a lot of contacts in the metal manufacturing area and we used the relationships he had. We sell to them and then take their scrap metal.

"Everybody thought of us a scrap metal processor, but our customer base is much larger than that," Gildea says.

Today, the company has more than 5,000 customers, says John Barry, vice president of sales and marketing for Schupan's Aluminum Sales division.

And its growth recently caught the eye of CNBC for a report on success in a tough economic times. Marc Schupan appeared on the financial news network to discuss his company's track record.

Schupan & Sons buys large quantities of squares and sheets of metal as well as rods and plates and supplies these raw materials to manufacturers. Most of the time the metal bars they are selling come in 12-foot lengths, which may be too large for the buyer. Once those bars are cut to meet customer requirements, the remnants go back into an inventory for sale to another customer.

Some customers buy metal from Schupan & Sons once a year and others make frequent purchases.

The majority of them are within a 300 to 400 mile radius of Kalamazoo, which enables the company to make same-day deliveries.

Schupan sells his products to manufacturers of medical devices, hydraulics, and outdoor office furniture among others.

"We have customers who basically call us in the morning and tell us that they need something cut," Schupan says. "We take that order and it can be on the truck the next day. That's the price of admission in this business."

The company sells to customers regionally and throughout the U.S.

Schupan says Michigan has been a "tough" area to do business in because of the economy, but he says his company's various product and service lines have been able to support each other.

"A lot of our success can be attributed to not being tied to one product or service," Barry says.

The company's largest customers represent seven different industries.

"We see where our customers are heading and we can adjust and change to meet their needs," Schupan says. "Most of our customers have had big challenges."

As a result of the company's ability to adapt quickly, Schupan's 350 employees have not been threatened with layoffs or losing jobs.

"They've done a great job of making sure we continue to build loyalty," Schupan says. "Any employee who's been here for awhile knows we are going to make changes and they can expect that we are going to keep progressing. When you do make changes and innovations it becomes part of your DNA."

All of these efforts have been aided by a cutting edge IT department which provides seamless service internally and externally.

"Our IT is extremely important," Gildea says. "It incorporates pricing, quoting, orders that are filled and routed and inventory tracking. Everything with a sales transaction has to happen quickly. Sometimes you're taking 10 different objects and putting them into one piece. Being on the front edge of technology aids in our ability to make those things happen quickly and accurately."

This ability to be nimble gives companies like Schupan & Son a major advantage when dealing with manufacturers across the country. Gildea says the company is hoping to do a lot more business with domestic suppliers.

Already, he says, a high percentage of what Schupan & Sons sells is produced and sold domestically.

"We have to manufacture products in the United States," Schupan says. "We cannot be a total service market to the world."

Schupan says he plans to do his part to strengthen the nation's economy by looking for expansion opportunities.

"With our distribution business, I wouldn't be surprised if we had two more facilities geographically somewhere in the Midwest," Schupan says. "In industrial recycling we'll keep our eyes open. We need more product for consumers. We have to work at it everyday."

Jane C. Parikh is a freelance writer living and working in Battle Creek. She is the owner of In So Many Words.

Photos by Erik Holladay

Schupan Aluminum Division's Vice President of Sales and Marketing John Barry, left, President Michael Gildea, and General Manager Peter Gildea.

Schupan & Sons Aluminum division has been growing in the recent years.

Ambre Barth works hard on deburring fresh parts manufactured on site for customers.

Schupan Aluminum offers on site manufacturing of parts for their customers including custom pieces.

Jeremiah Slayton inputs data into one of the CNC (Computer Numerical Controlled) machines that help them create many of the parts onsite.

Schupan sells his products to manufacturers of medical devices, hydraulics, and outdoor office furniture among others.

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