Q&A with Robert Whitehouse

Director of Business Development Carbon and Alloy Bar/A.M. Castle & Co.


What led you to your current position with Castle Metals?

I’ve been with Castle Metals for nine years now, originally working for them in the U.K. Previous to that I worked for Philip Cornes (TW Metals) for 16 years. I started my Metals Career on the shop floor, operating machine saw, to going into export sales and sales management. I then left TW Metals to join a new company called Metals U.K. in 2003 where I was the export sales director. During this time we were awarded the Queens Award for International Trade with export to over 50 countries. I eventually became a small owner in the company as we grew the business through market share and acquisition. Castle Metals approached us in 2007 with a view to acquiring us which was completed January 2008.

Tell me more about Castle Metals.

It’s been going for 122 years and we do about $1 billion a year in sales. We have branches throughout the North America, Singapore, China, Malaysia, U.K., and France. Aerospace, oil and gas, industrial, and heavy equipment are our main commercial markets. We are a service center and distribution source for carbon alloy, stainless, and nickel in round products and flat products. We provide the bars that gears are made from in cut pieces or in complete lengths, depending on customer requirements.

Do you do any finishing on the materials or strictly raw material?

For the gear industry, our main part is solid blanks and special heat treat requirements. We supply cut to length if required by the gear customer and we have the ability to do in-house heat treatment to meet specific requirements, again, depending on the individual gear customer’s requirements.

Have you noticed any changes in customer requests for types of material being specified?

I’ve only been in the U.S. since the first of the year. I started the gear initiative in January when I was asked to take up the challenge of putting the gear strategy together. So it’s only now that we are monitoring the individual sales to all the gear companies. So if we look at how the years progressed, it’s been very steady with our customers. Our gear customers work in mainly carbon, alloy and stainless products. We have a gear customer base of about 550 customers.

What did you discover about the gear industry when you began implementing your strategy?

The gear industry is about a $93 billion dollar industry worldwide and the biggest part of the gear industry, where a third of all gears are produced is in the Automotive Industry which is mainly carbon, alloy, and stainless bar — that is where we fit. At the moment in the U.S., the gear industry is still extremely busy and it isn’t seeing as much competition from the overseas market, so everything we are selling is domestic orders. We do have an export arm of the company, but at the moment in the gear industry we are only selling domestically.

Tell me a little more about your products for the gear market.

Our main products are carbon, alloy, and stainless bar products measuring anywhere from a quarter-inch in diameter to 20-inches diameter, from stock. We offer full cutting facilities by saw and heat treatment. We set up Kanban, consignment, and kitting programs with our gear customers and as well as other value-added services such as band sawing and flame cutting rings.

Is there a limit to the size orders you can fulfill?

We have gear customers who spend $1,000 with us a year and we have gear customers who spend $1 million a year. It depends on the size of the gear company and their applications.

What is the benefit of working with Castle Metals?

The benefit to gear customers is they don’t usually buy enough quantity to buy directly from the mill, so they like to buy smaller quantities and cut-to-length pieces that the mills don’t offer. They need a service center that has the inventory to support their needs with a service to match that can also offer commercial solutions to help them grow their business. With the gear industry, some of the smaller gear customers don’t actually know what they will be manufacturing every single month — it can change depending on the industry they are working in, so we have a vast array of inventory for this industry and we can deliver the product when they need it.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.castlemetals.com or www.amcastle.com or call 1-800-BUY-CSTL.