Winchester Metals is a steel distribution, processing and fabrication company from Winchester, Virginia. The company has three primary operations through which it performs various services. It has an inventory warehouse where it stocks steel products for end users to buy, a processing operation enabling the company to transform the steel into a size or form that suits an end user or manufacturing application, and it has a structural steel fabrication division that makes weldments for residential, light commercial, and other structural steel applications.
Winchester Metals’ fabrication facility is American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) certified. AISC is an internationally recognized industry organization that sets quality standards for structural steel companies. Having this certification means that Winchester has been through an initial evaluation and that it is subject to annual reviews confirming that all procedures follow industry best practices and all personnel are properly qualified and certified for the work they do.
The company was founded in 1975 by Charles Zuckerman under the name Charles Zuckerman & Son, Inc., but its roots reach further back to Charles’ father. Having fled Russia in 1917, Louis Zuckerman opened a small scrap metal operation in northwestern Virginia and grew it into a moderately successful business and provided for his eight children. When Charles took it over, almost sixty years later, he expanded into metal fabrication and distribution, and the company has continued to grow as a successful family operated business ever since.
Winchester President Josh Phelps now works with his father and brother as the third generation of leadership for the company. They have made an effort to maintain the feel and atmosphere of a small family business despite the company having grown significantly over the years.
Today, the distribution, processing and fabrication arms of the company are located in two separate facilities on the same property in Winchester. The distribution and processing division operates from a 30,000-square-foot warehouse, and the fabrication/manufacturing division is roughly 20,000 square feet. At these two facilities, the company employs sixty-three fulltime workers over three shifts that run five days a week.
The small family business culture at Winchester has enabled it to keep a very contented workforce with a long tenure. Having a team that has spent a great deal of time working together – some for forty years or more – results in high-quality teamwork and a level of expertise that is uncommon in the industry. Its ability to retain personnel demonstrates that the company values its workers, and this has also proven to be an effective attraction for up-and-coming professionals who want to join the team.
Winchester leadership understands that quality work comes from a secure, stable workforce, and to maintain one, it invests in much cross-training. This provides employees opportunities to advance, both in responsibility and in pay. Despite being a relatively small company, it is committed to helping its employees find a path toward a career through ongoing education and internal hiring and aims to make the company a career destination where employees can find personal fulfillment.
Underlying everything are several important principles, the first of which is a commitment to customer satisfaction. “Customers come first,” says President Josh Phelps. “We make sure on day one of a new hire, when we go through orientation, that every employee’s highest priority has to be the satisfaction of the customer.”
The second fundamental principle is that all employees treat each other with respect and dignity every day, and this is key to Winchester’s ability to keep a productive workforce. It is an ethical company that will sacrifice to do the right thing. It believes in continual education, and it works diligently to provide learning opportunities through training programs. These values are vital to the success of the company.
Winchester Metals has been growing through the acquisition of new equipment, enabling more processing capabilities. In 2013, the company adopted an advanced operating system, which was an immense undertaking in terms of the technology and the training required to operate it. In 2015, it purchased laser cutting equipment, and that gave the company access to a new sector of the steel processing market. In 2017, it purchased its first robotic welder and a second laser cutting machine that can do both laser cutting and mechanical punching – the process of physically pressing holes into metal sheets.
Acquiring this new equipment has opened new market opportunities, and the company has been able to expand into the precision sheet metal market. Historically it has worked with structural and carbon steel processing but now it is working with lighter gauge steel which allows it to perform more parts and components processing. Having these capabilities have enabled it to process and sell parts to other manufacturing companies. “These are significant changes to our business, and they came from investing in equipment where we took some calculated risk,” says Phelps.
Winchester has additional steel processing capabilities available to customers. It can saw beams and bars for clean-edged applications. When a clean edge is not necessary, it can use its fifty-ton ironworker, which is a hydraulically powered steel shearing tool to chop large quantities of smaller shapes quickly. It has a computer controlled plasma and oxy-fuel cutting apparatus that can cut shapes into steel sheets and braking presses that can be used to bend and form sheet metal into various common shapes. Finally, it has plate-rolling equipment that can roll steel to a custom radius. The company’s team of highly trained operators can process metal to customer specifications for many varied applications.
Having access to all of the processing equipment has allowed the company to explore other revenue opportunities. One of these is Winchester’s popular fire ring line. These eleven gauge carbon steel sheets are bent into rings with custom laser cut shapes and are designed to be placed around a fire pit. It even offers a removable cooking rack to go with it.
Winchester has also recently embarked on a venture manufacturing an outdoor, wood-cooking grill called the Watchman Stove, invented by a customer named Kirk Salmons. The idea was to build a robust, long-lasting, high-quality outdoor stove that was both affordable and built locally. Winchester is now manufacturing, marketing and selling the product. It is made from carbon and stainless steel and has useful features including a stove top designed for maximum burning efficiency, adjustable legs that allow the stove to sit level on any surface, a built-in warming plate, and a bonfire mode where the grill plate lifts open for access to open flame.
One of the largest challenges in the manufacturing industry across the board is a shortage of workers. Collaborating with the community on workforce development projects and promoting manufacturing as a viable and appealing career option at local high schools is an important part of Winchester’s approach to solving the problem. Complementing that strategy is Winchester’s ability to minimize employee turnover.
Before the company brings someone on board, it makes sure to have spent enough time with the person to know whether or not they are a cultural fit for the existing workforce, taking care to bring in only positive people with values that match the values of the company. This ensures a friendly work environment conducive to teamwork, and that makes for a very smooth workflow and keeps the team productive.
Winchester Metals takes pride in the work it does. With thorough staff training and the company’s diligent attention to detail, failures are infrequent, but when mistakes are made it works to solve the problem the same day it was discovered. Whatever the problem, Winchester employees will work hard to find the best possible solution.
Things have changed a lot since the small scrap metal operation that Louis Zuckerman started one hundred years ago, but the family remains in the steel business and has worked very hard to keep their people close. “We strive every day to make all of our employees feel respected, appreciated, needed, and it’s something we’re very proud of, and we’ll continue to operate that way,” says Phelps.