Hascalls Word Is Steel Bond

June 5, 2002
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GRANDVILLE – Dag Hascall knows the steel business inside and out. He has been living and breathing it since the tender age of 7 when his father, Wayne Hascall, founded Hascall Steel Company.

For eight years now, Dag Hascall has been president and CEO of the family-owned business, and he enjoys it as much today as he did nearly 30 years ago.

"It's all about people," he said. "Whoever comes through the door, we treat right. I've got a great staff and group of employees. When things are needed, they get together and split up the responsibilities and make sure it happens."

Hascall Steel is a flat rolled steel service center operation that cuts steel to size for customers in the automotive, furniture, appliance and building products industries, as well as for machinery makers. About half of the company's customers are located in Michigan, and the rest are scattered all over the country. Hascall Steel's specialty is short lead-time.

"When customers have a requirement that comes up quickly and they haven't had time to plan for it, we carry a very large inventory that allows us to respond to their needs," Hascall explained. "We're able to turn orders overnight because of the amount of steel we keep on the floor."

Wayne Hascall founded the company in 1972, initially operating the sales office out of his home and renting shearing and slearing equipment from local manufacturers. Two years later, the company began operating out of a leased portion of a 4,000-square-foot facility on Eastern Avenue.

Like other family members, Dag Hascall helped fill in employment gaps in the company's early years. Growing up, he held a variety of jobs at Hascall Steel in the evenings, on weekends and during the summer, including office janitor, plant maintenance helper, skid builder, stacker and shear operator.

He earned a bachelor's degree in Manufacturing Engineering from the University of Texas in 1985 and came out of college "with a lot of ideals and visions of a perfect world.

"I came back and tried to apply those ideals to my job and butted heads with my father," he jokingly recalled.

So he tried something different. He moved to Katmandu, Nepal, where he established a six-man silversmith shop and spent a year in the business of manufacturing, exporting and importing jewelry and handicrafts.

"If we saw an item we wanted to sell we would find the village where it was made and buy it there to eliminate the middlemen," he said. "I think the purchasing of products has always been one of my specialty areas."

Illness, brought on by the unsanitary conditions in Nepal, motivated him to return home. He subsequently swallowed his pride, rejoined the family business as a plant manager and agreed to run the business the way his father wanted it run, he said. The senior Hascall immediately began grooming Dag to take over, including him in on business deals and meetings with bankers, suppliers and customers.

In 1986 Dag Hascall assumed the title of vice president of operations, with responsibility for overseeing production scheduling and assisting in sales and purchasing. Three years later the company purchased its current 150,000-square-foot facility on Spartan Industrial Drive in Grandville. In 1993, he took the helm as company president.

"Our suppliers and customers accepted me at my father's word," he recalled. "He built the business up to a level and built a level of trust with people. He was always a man of his word and people respected that. I was able to start with his reputation then build my own on top of that."

Since then, he has increased company sales from $21 million to $26 million and upped the number of company employees from 80 to 100. Hascall Steel also incorporates an in-house division called Steel Studs Systems, owned by brother Karl Hascall, as well as a 50,000-square-foot plant in Allegan.

In the early years of his family's business, there was more stability in the steel industry, with very gradual market rises and falls, Hascall said. But the market changes so rapidly these days that companies have to have a keen understanding of when to lower or raise prices or they'll miss the boat.

"What we saw in 1998, and what we're seeing now in the industry, is a dramatic plunge in pricing," Hascall observed. "There's an over capacity of supply in the domestic steel industry right now; we're producing more steel than existing demand. In addition, we have the pressure of foreign steel coming into our market."

In the last four months the price of steel has dropped, as much as 20 percent for some commodities, he noted, and normally that kind of drop happens over an 18-month or more period. He said two major steel mills recently filed for bankruptcy, and it's anticipated that two to three more mills will file bankruptcy petitions in the next month.

"If some of these steel mills close down and don't reopen, then that's going to create a shortage of steel within several months," he said. "It's estimated that there may be nearly one million tons of excess steel in the market right now. If these steel mills close, it could cause another drastic rise in pricing as people scramble to place their contracts in other places."

On the plus side, the industry is making steel better and better all the time, he said. The steel mills are doing a better job, and a lot of the "junk steel" seen in past decades has been eliminated.

As with most other businesses, technology has enhanced Hascall Steel operations and helped add value to the goods and services the company provides. But as Hascall noted, moving steel and loading steel is still being handled the same way it was decades ago. Computers haven't changed the labor part of the equation.

Computers have changed the company's way of doing business with customers in providing additional means of communication via fax and e-mail, he said. But customers who prefer to do business in person or over the phone are just as easily accommodated.

"We try to make it easy for the customer. Everybody has different needs and different ways they like to do business," Hascall said. "We don't try to make everybody do it our way. We try to keep our system very wide open."

As for the company's business philosophy, honesty seems to be the best corporate policy.

"The thing I try to encourage with my workers and all the people I come in contact with is to do what you say; to keep your word," Hascall remarked. "I place a lot of importance on integrity and making sure that if I make a commitment to someone, I honor it. I think a big part of our success is being very honest with people."           

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