Geoff Wendt shinnied down the ledge, ducked under a guide wire and glanced back at the spot where workmen were sliding a new dock door into place. “Can’t afford to have any trucks held up because of a door malfunction,” says Wendt, the 40-year-old president of Midwest Metal Products. “Schedule’s too tight. They’ve got to get in and get out.”
Raw material deliveries are only one headache Wendt must deal with as the steel ring manufactur-er in Michigan City, Ind., completes an expansion project essentially doubling the size of its plant.
These are heady times for Midwest, which says it is the nation’s largest producer of angle rings and rolled structural products. Demand is up, production is up, and along with that comes the challenge of supplying an ever-expanding customer base with low-priced, high-quality products in a short period of time.
So far, it’s a challenge that’s been met — with great success.
“If there’s one thing I’m proud of, it’s how the entire team at Midwest Metal Products, both shop and office, has risen to the occasion,” Wendt says while surveying one of the five new shipping bays at the rear of the building. “We have great people at Midwest. Nobody was daunted by the challenges of growing the business while juggling the multiple aspects of the construction job.”
Midwest Metal Products, you see, is acting as its own general contractor on the expansion project.
“To say we have our hands full is an understatement,” Wendt says.
From humble beginnings in 1982 — the company started in a rented cement-block building on the other side of Michigan City — Midwest has grown into the company that spiral duct manufacturers keep handy on their speed dials.
Wendt’s father, Bill Wendt, started the company, offering prices that few competitors could touch and figuring out ways to move product out the door faster than anyone else.
By offering standard rings that could match any already existing on the market, Wendt eliminated the biggest reason for customers to go anyplace else.
Bill retired several years ago, but remains active in company operations, lending his expertise to the plant expansion project.
Geoff Wendt has dedicated himself to growing the company, forging alliances with suppliers nationwide and taking advantage of contacts he’s made through organizations such as the Spiral Duct Manufacturers Association.
SPIDA promotes the use of round and oval ductwork. Midwest makes round and oval rings. How more perfect a match could you get?
It was a face-to-face meet during last year’s AHR Expo show in New York City — called the “ASHRAE show” by many longtime exhibitors and attendees — that forged a solid bond between the two organizations.
“At last year’s ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers) show, I had a long chat with SPIDA board member Weldon Weeks, Wendt recalls. “He’s from M&M Manufacturing in Garland, Texas. He explained to me the many benefits of being a SPIDA member and introduced me to Toni Sylvester.
“By the end of that afternoon, Midwest was a Brad Thomas Research-level SPIDA member,” he says, referring to the association’s highest contribution level. “Anything I can do to support their research and development is good for Midwest Metal Products, our customers and the market in general.”
The company’s founder, Bill Wendt, would argue that the simple arrival of Midwest, 32 years ago, was good for the market.
“Before we came along, it used to be that manufacturers would just raise ring prices every year,” he says. “It didn’t matter what the state of the economy was, or the price of steel, or any of that. Up the prices went. We pretty much put a halt to that. To even try to compete, they had to knock it off.”
Low prices enabled Midwest to break into the market, but since then, it is the service aspect that has kept them there — and growing.
Stock rings ship within 24 hours, and even custom-made rings can go out the door in a day or two, depending on what they are.
Rolling to the top
It is the ability to respond quickly to the market’s needs that has rolled Midwest to the top of the angle ring heap. While some requests seem almost impossible — and the customer usually knows it — if there’s a way to get it done, Midwest will find it.
Over the past 30 years, Midwest Metal Products has invested tens of millions of dollars on improvements and renovations. And there are more on the way.
Midwest’s location on the tip of Lake Michigan provides easy access to the industrial heartland, and being in the center of the country means shipping times are reasonable to either coast. Whether a customer is located in New York, Texas or California, odds are Midwest can deliver rings more quickly, and at a cheaper price, than any local fabricator with an old Buffalo roll.
“We’re dedicated to the sales trinity of ‘quality, service and price,’ ” says Geoff Wendt. “Other manufacturers can say anything they want, but the fact we’re growing the way we are tells me that we must be doing a pretty good job of it.”
The idea, he says, is to always stay one step ahead.
“We still have new things to roll out, ideas that will add value unique to this market,” he adds. “Seriously, you haven’t seen anything yet.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of SNIPS magazine. This article and its images were supplied by Midwest Metal Products.