The US steel distribution industry includes about 8,000 companies with combined annual revenue of about $200 billion. Major companies include Metals USA, Reliance Steel & Aluminum, Ryerson, and ThyssenKrupp Steel. The industry is concentrated: the 50 largest companies generate about 50 percent of revenue.
The industry includes metals service centers and companies that distribute metals other than steel, but not companies that distribute precious metals or metal ores.
The health of the manufacturing and construction industries drives demand for steel. A distributor’s sales volume determines profitability because many costs are fixed. Large distributors benefit from economies of scale in purchasing, processing, and distribution. Small companies can compete by specializing in particular products or offering special processing services. The industry is capital-intensive: average annual revenue per worker is more than $1.7 million.
PRODUCTS, OPERATIONS & TECHNOLOGY
Steel products are made from carbon or alloy, stainless, or specialty steels, and come in the form of sheets, plates, bars, rods, tubes, and structural items like rails and I-beams. In addition to selling steel mill products, distributors sell various processing services that customize products for particular customers. Because of the large number of steel products, most distributors specialize in the types of steel they carry and types of processing operations they perform. Different grades of metal and the varying thicknesses and sizes of materials result in a large variety of products. A large distributor may handle more than 100,000 products.