Sometimes the difference between a positive, successful outcome and a dismal letdown is a mere shift in perception.
As John Tassone of Independence Tube Corp. recalls, the scope of destruction in the wake of an EF5 tornado is unimaginable, but not impossible to overcome. On April 2011, a 210-mph windstorm left the company with incomprehensible damages to their major piling facility in Decatur, Alabama – 385,000 square feet of the 435,000-square-foot facility was completely destroyed. Thankfully, all 25 employees were able to escape unharmed.
While some companies might be tempted to gripe and brood, Independence Tube quickly rolled up their sleeves, pulled together a recovery team, and got to work. Twelve months later, the Alabama facility reopened for business and the company began forging ahead – some say even better than before.
It was the company motto, says marketing manager Tassone, that acted as a driving force in the rebuild: “Quality, Integrity, Service.” Adhering to these key points, the company’s Illinois facilities in Chicago and Marseilles soon picked up the Decatur workload, and out-of-work employees were offered placements, accordingly – a proud accomplishment, he says.
“We’ve been in business now for 40 years now, and if you think back over the course of those years, the steel industry went through some pretty tough times,” notes the marketing manager. “We’ve never laid anybody off, and we wanted to keep that record, so to speak, intact through the course of the rebuild.”
In true Independence fashion, the company reopened its Decatur doors with a bang. Already a leading North American manufacturer of square, rectangular, and round structural steel tubing, Independence Tube now offers 14- and 16-inch OD pipe piling (which, pre-disaster, was only available up to 12 ¾ inch).
“We feel like we know the square and rectangular tube market; we’re kind of newcomers to the pipe piling market. We have a pipe piling specialist, Jim O’Shea, and he has a dedicated inside salesperson, Lisa Kingsbury, who handles all of the piling quotes and orders,” he says. “By increasing to the 16-inch OD, it gave us much more credibility in the market. We’re a much bigger player now than we were before the tornado.”
Bigger player is right. In fact, Independence Tube was recently honoured with an FMA Industry award, as well as a The Tube and Pipe Journal (TPJ) Industry Award for their gallant efforts throughout the natural disaster. Fast-forward to today and the company has not lost any of their momentum. Some might say they are on the leading edge of service, delving into the latest in mobile apps for smartphones and iPads. They even have their own development team to continually better their online portal where current customers can view inventory, place orders for material (both off the floor and from up-coming rollings), print bills of lading, test reports, invoices, and receive auto-email notifications. A yearly rolling schedule is also readily available to customers.
“Technology is a huge part of business these days,” the marketing manager adds. “When we started the portal three years ago, we were kind of skeptical as to how it would work, but over 50 per cent of our customer orders now come in through the portal.”
Founded in 1972, Independence Tube Corp. steadily evolved from a 53,000-square-foot facility on the southwest side of Chicago to three facilities totaling over 1 million square feet. In 1997, the company opened their second location in Marseilles, and in 2006 the Decatur site opened its doors. In 2009, a second mill was implemented into the Marseilles division and the hiring of additional crew brought the number of total employees up to 265.
As Tassone confirms, plans for the immediate future are focused on expanding the A252 pipe piling portion of their portal to support the continued growth they are seeing from their piling customers. They are also redesigning their website, www.independencetube.com, to expand the technical pipe piling information that their customers are asking for. The main focus over the last 16 months, however, has been on getting Decatur up and running.
“Even though Decatur had been producing since 2006, with the improvements we made during the tornado rebuild—increasing the piling sizes offered by adding 14-inch OD and 16-inch OD, adding three 90’ spans to allow for better material transfer to the outdoor pipe piling yard [which also was increased in size during the tornado re-build] – they kind of need to let everything and everyone settle in and let life get back to somewhat normal.”
“That being said, Independence Tube has steadily grown over the last 40 years, continuously adding new facilities and new products. We pride ourselves on doing what we say we’re going to do, and the quality has been built in since day one,” adds Tassone. “We’re continually looking for new opportunities to grow, and a lot of it is through feedback from the customers – what they want us to do, what they want us to make. We’re always open to their suggestions.”