When people ask me what my favorite city to travel to for work is, I tell them Houston, Texas.
The people are great, the food (especially if you are into BBQ and Mexican cuisine) rocks and more importantly from an industry perspective there are tons of interesting people and companies to learn about, particularly in the industrial PVF realm.
One such company is Erne Fittings USA, a manufacturer of high-yield fittings with a 100-year-old history behind it via its Austria-based parent company bearing the same name.
A lot of times companies will point to game-changing moments that helped turn their fortunes. Erne is no different. In its case, a 50,000-square-foot former manufacturing building with an additional acre of outdoor space in Houston’s Northwest area near Cypress is that moment.
“We’ve had a presence here in the U.S. in Houston the last 15 years,” Erne Fittings USA Regional Account Manager Jeremiah “JJ” Jackson told me on a recent visit there. “But how much business did we miss in North America based on not having short lead times on material? Before, we were primarily a U.S. sales office that brokered material.”
Things changed when Erne’s parent company hired former AF Global executive Gary Armer Jr. to run the U.S. operations. “Gary was able to present this to leadership that we need to have a stocking warehouse,” Jackson says. “New ownership invested 20 million (Euro) in capital expenditures throughout the company.”
Erne’s new Houston location has been operational since February where it stocks primarily high-yield fittings. “We want to capture the midstream infrastructure and pipeline projects that require short lead times,” Jackson says. “We’re slowly building our team and as the business grows we will keep adding people.”
Jackson says the presence of physical product on the ground in Houston already has paid large dividends. “A typical lead time for high-yield used to be six to seven weeks and it had to come on a boat,” he says. “Now, we’re dealing mainly with distributors and our master distributors (Dodson Global and Industrial Valco) and filling those onsie-twosie orders that we’re able to ship on a flatbed the next day. We’re able to capture a lot of business now. We took those long lead times out of the equation with this inventory siting here. We’re just beginning.”
High-yield, Jackson adds, is just the beginning for Erne. Stainless, duplex, super-duplex, chrome and Inconel may be in the offing. “There is a vast array of things you can do, but we need to show leadership we can get good at this,” he says.
Erne is off to a good start. Jackson says sales in Q1 this year were up and the company is seeing huge upticks in the 20-24-inch market, along with standard wall, high-yield and Y-52, as well as N 12- and 16-inch. “As far as high-yield fittings, we’re blowing out of them,” Jackson says. “We’re seeing projects being released where last year it was more hurry up and wait. With Brent Crude and WTI (oil) prices so high, companies are profitable. We’re seeing a lot of pipelines going in with these LNG facilities going up. The small PVF supply houses we deal with say the last month was their best month in company history.”
Armer Jr. says his company has a game plan in place to continue to win business long-term in a volatile and competitive Houston/Gulf Coast market. He points to a recent Friday after-hours order that was fulfilled in less than 53 minutes as an example of above-and-beyond customer service.
“This building is a game-changer and there is a lot of buzz,” he says. “We’re going to continue to grow and retrain the process that we have inventory on the ground in Houston. We’ll continue to support the people who have been with us. We don’t sell to everybody. We have owners who are really invested in this and care about customers. This opens things up exponentially.
“I want people who do business with us to say the customer service is great and the product is high-quality. But first we have to learn to crawl. Once we start crawling we can start walking.”