Quality Steel Corporation – The Strength of Steel

The history of Quality Steel Corporation, North America’s largest manufacturer of propane storage tanks, is a story of steady growth that is set to continue.

Quality Steel Corporation (QSC), a leading manufacturer of propane storage tanks, anhydrous ammonia nurse tanks and other ASME-certified pressure vessels for domestic and commercial use, boasts a history of nearly seven decades. Founded by Lowry Tims in 1957, the company has continued to grow as a family-owned business, both organically and through acquisitions.

QSC’s President and CEO Sean Wessel, a representative of the third generation of the family, describes the beginnings of the business: “The founder, my wife’s grandfather, originally owned a gas company but saw a need in his business for higher quality propane tanks. Early on, QSC was a regional player focused primarily on one size (250 gals) of a tank – selling in the states surrounding Mississippi. In those early years, our company was able to get production up to 45k tanks per year with one facility in Cleveland, Mississippi, employing some 90 people.”

Mr Wessel, who came to work for the business in late-2015 as the Chief Financial Officer and moved to his current role in 2019 following his father-in-law’s retirement, highlights the key milestones that have shaped the company:

“In 2013, we acquired our largest competitor at that time, American Welding & Tank.  Overnight, we added two more facilities – one in West Jordan, Utah and one in Fremont, Ohio – and increased staff numbers to 250 employees. More recently, in April 2019, our parent company LT Corporation acquired another family business – LP Cylinder Service, a tank refurbishment business with two facilities based in Shohola, Pennsylvania. And finally, in October 2020, LT Corporation added another family business with some 40 employees to the mix in the shape of the Buckeye Fabricating Company in Springboro, Ohio.”

He explained that the acquisitions significantly enhanced the product offerings and enabled the company to expand into new markets. While LP Cylinder allows the business to hedge the new propane tank manufacturing business by refurbishing vessels and tanks, Buckeye Fabricating Company has extended the portfolio further – Buckeye is an industry leader in the fabrication of custom-designed welded-steel ASME pressure vessels and non-code tanks, serving a variety of end-users in multiple industries.

Based on family values

Quality Steel’s success comes from the pursuit of unrivalled quality. The company commands a significant market share in the propane industry in the US and Canada, and together with its sister companies’ LP Cylinder and Buckeye and under the LT Corporation umbrella operates from six facilities in four states in three separate time zones, manufacturing and refurbishing vessels and cylinders for sale in all 50 states and 10 foreign countries, altogether employing more than 400 people.

Today, ownership of the company remains with both the family, who holds a majority of the stock, and with the employees owning the remainder through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, established in 2004. “Being a family-owned company, and not a division of some large conglomerate like many of our competitors, we are able to make changes quickly and react rapidly if consumers’ needs change. The partnership between employees and management promotes the focus on doing things right while maintaining the highest levels of quality.”

Lynn Hardin, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, who has been working for the company and participating in its development for over two decades, agrees that the human factor is key: “Our people are our great competitive advantage, as are the relationships we have been able to form with customers. We lead the industry with propane tanks in terms of lead times, delivery, quality and also with our customized delivery programmes. The propane industry is a very small sector within the overall energy sector, made up of a lot of smaller companies; an industry where a handshake still means something.”

The family values have also helped to define the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the introduction of a range of safety measures and online staff meetings. “We made sure we protected our most important assets – our people, the core of the business. Our number one core value is Safety First. I firmly believe that these difficult times have made us a better company,” says Mr Wessel.

“Unlike many others, the company did an excellent job,” adds Lynn Hardin, pointing out that the form of external relationships also needed to change. “We are a business heavily dependent on relationships that we have built, and those relationships need to be maintained. The various virtual platforms have worked very well for us, and – with a customer base spread across the US and Canada – have turned out to work even more efficiently than face-to-face interactions.”

Investing in the future

 Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Mr Wessel insists that the company remains in robust shape, ready to face the future, and in line with the growing demand for propane tanks, is investing in increased capacity with two significant capital projects going on at two of its facilities – West Jordan, Utah and Fremont, Ohio.

In Fremont, roughly $13.9 million is planned to be invested over a period of five years, to add 40,000 square feet as part of an expansion of the facility. The company broke ground in October with a targeted completion date of July 2021. The West Jordan project follows a similar theme, increasing production area capacity, and enhancing office and meeting space for the company’s growing workforce.

Speaking about the longer-term strategy, Mr Wessel affirms that the intention is to continue to expand the company’s market share by maintaining and further enhancing its high-quality products, excellent customer service and on-time delivery, through additional targeted capital investments in Quality Steel’s facilities. As before, people will remain at the core of the business, and investment in human resources, benefits, and training will continue to be an important part of the strategy.

“Our goal is to grow and diversify. Some of this growth will come organically while our parent company continues to seek and find suitable target companies that would further complement our core competencies, but also help us to diversify our product offerings for our customer base.”

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