Steele Solutions Inc., designer and manufacturer of work platforms and mezzanines used in distribution centers, has positioned itself for further growth through major investments in people, technologies, processes and equipment.
The expansion of capabilities at Steele Solutions comes as the likes of Amazon, FedEx, UPS, Walmart and other companies continue building distribution centers at a rapid pace.
"We saw how e-commerce was driving change in the distribution and fulfillment world," said company President Kevin O'Neill of Steele Solutions' decision to undertake a major expansion. "And we knew the infrastructure needed to handle the demand wasn't there."
Steele Solutions expanded its facilities and added staff to meet the rising demand in the past, but a point came when the owners realized they needed to make a much greater investment to properly serve customers.
Steele Solutions' expansion project began with the opening of a second facility that more than quadrupled its space, to more than 300,000 square feet. But it wasn't just about space.
"We needed different equipment, assurances from our vendors, new processes, and lots of people," O'Neill said.
Through a major hiring initiative, the company more than doubled its staff numbers. Greater efficiencies were needed, too; technology offered a lot of that.
"We invested in technology and we found ways to use existing technology more wisely," O'Neill said.
The increased capacity and improvements in the efficiencies of pre-production processes has allowed Steele Solutions to double the number of projects that can be accomplished each week, while assuring the quality of the work.
Company owners also knew they had to adopt procedures that weren't necessary when it was smaller. To that end, Steele Solutions recently hired a chief operating officer. "We knew we had to spend more time on our strategic approach to the market, and less time on the minute-by-minute operations," O'Neill said.
As with many expansion projects, opening the second location presented some unexpected situations, such as delays in delivery of new equipment that created production challenges. "We scheduled some work assuming the new equipment would be on hand and ready, but it wasn't," O'Neill said. "But we faced our challenges head on, knowing we could overcome them."
Internal approaches changed, too.
"The volume of business was becoming so much higher, we just had to have a different way of looking at our processes, and we had to have more urgency in our approaches," he said. That is now in place, with projects smoothly flowing from estimating to delivery on time.
It's a renewed focus on serving customers that Steele Solutions has long been known for.
"When a distribution center is planned, the equipment platforms are usually the last thing designed, but they are among the first things needed," O'Neill said. "Systems integrators who equip distribution centers rely on us for reliable delivery of structures that are designed and built correctly. We can't be the reason for delays. Timeliness and flexibility have always been big parts of our secret sauce. We lost some flexibility as we were getting our new facility operational, but we are back to full strength. Our teams are operating at peak level, and our processes are far more efficient. We continue to put new processes in place, and our employees are thriving at our new level of business."
Growth plans remain aggressive. "It's the norm for us," O'Neill said. "We've grown tremendously, and we intend to sustain that growth model by continuing to invest in our people, technologies, processes and equipment to keep us in the forefront."
Market research shows there's plenty of opportunity ahead. According to the Journal of Commerce, e-commerce sales grew 23.7% in 2016 to almost $2 trillion. By 2020, e-commerce sales are predicted to top $4 trillion. Perhaps the most dramatic piece of data is that e-commerce represented 49.4% of all retail sales growth in 2017. Those sales are of products that will move through the supply chain on platforms designed and manufactured by Steele Solutions.
"We're ready for it," O'Neill said.