■ By Sharon Thatcher
Long Creek Steel is a family business that took roots near the shores of a small creek running through a South Dakota farm near the town of Lennox. A father and his two boys had a “pipedream” for starting a business that today employs more than 35 workers. The initial machines have been joined by over a dozen more in a shop teaming with activity. When they moved to their new facility, the quiet scenery of the farm and Long Creek a few miles away was replaced by a busy highway that leads to Sioux Falls in one direction and Sioux City in another.
The founder of Long Creek Steel, Paul Hofer Sr. and his two sons Paul Jr. and George, were all general tradesman by profession. According to the company’s present-day general manager Pat Strouth, the Hofers “are all very talented at many different avenues, but Paul Sr. always wanted to fabricate steel wall and roof components for the ag business.”
Their journey into fabrication started with a metal roofing business. At first, the steel they used was purchased from suppliers, “and Paul Sr. thought, ‘why don’t we start rolling our own?’” The cost of the needed machinery couldn’t be justified for just their own work, however, so he began also to sell his panels to other roofers and post-frame builders in the area.
The business grew and continued to do well with the help of his two sons and other family members. Seeing that there was greater potential they looked to hire someone with industry experience and the ability to help take the company to the next level. In 2011 they hired Pat Strouth.
The plan to build a new facility was laid in place as they knew the old facility where they started would not be able to support the business that was going to come. “The ground was broke for the new state-of-the-art facility along 1-29 between Sioux Falls and Beresford,” said Strouth.
The company was transformed from mostly direct sales to distribution in the following months. Instead of selling to tradesmen, they redirected their focus on selling to lumberyards and wholesale companies. “Long Creek Steel has a geographical footprint of about a 300-mile radius around us and every lumberyard in that radius has the ability to buy from us,” he explained.
What they sell has few limits. “Whether it be commercial, architectural, industrial, residential, agricultural, we will try to supply what our customers need,” he said.
The Steel Market
Like many roll-forming shops around the country, 2020 figured out to be a good year for orders, and 2021 has started out strong. However, Strouth wonders if higher steel prices aren’t reversing historical trends in his area with bigger orders being placed now in preparation for what’s ahead.
“We’re getting bombarded with price increases and I think there’s a lot of advance ordering going on; they’re trying to beat price increases,” he said, adding: “The dynamics of 2021 are going to be very intriguing.” Historically, he noted, “January, February and March are normally our slow months; from there, everything starts ramping up, and then September, October and November are normally our big months.” Because buying has continued to be very strong in what is normally the slow months, he speculates that the business year will be flipped end for end. “What’s happening is, projects are coming forward that probably wouldn’t have been done until later in the year,” he said.
For its own part Long Creek Steel tried to prepare for the crazy ride of higher steel prices. “To be honest, we thought we saw this coming, so we were preordering heavier than we would normally for that time of year,” Strouth said. “Who knows, 30 days from now it could all be different, but as of right now, it’s business as normal, the orders are coming in and we’re all trying to cope with the [steel price] increases.”
He’s expecting to see some fluctuation in pricing throughout the year, then an eventual settling down, but thinks “2022 is probably when it really stabilizes and gets back to whatever normal is.”
In his own experience being around the industry, Strouth says the one thing he’s noticed is the impact women are having on metal industry trends. “Women in the world are getting more involved in the operations of things; a farm operation today is a husband-and-wife team. A lot of the old color [on buildings] was white. Now with a female’s input, there’s beautiful buildings being used for confinement. There’s now a vivid eye out there making decisions.”
That’s especially true with color: “You’re seeing all kinds of things done today that 20 years ago weren’t being done.” And those decisions tend to change more often. “Black might be the big color today, and a year from now it might be back to the clays and taupes,” he said.
What type of building is selling in South Dakota? A little bit of everything but housing in particular has been strong in part due to low interest rates. Of special appeal are hobby shops with housing (“shouses”). “Shouses are huge,” he said. “They’ve just been really strong for over a year. It gives people the opportunity to have a beautiful shop and a house all in one.”
Long Creek Steel is fortunate to have a solid workforce helping to produce the orders that will one day end up on those shouses. In addition to the Hofer family, there are other family and friends on the payroll. “It’s a very family-oriented business. I can say I’m very, very happy and thankful. I have great people surrounding me, we have great customers surrounding us; we’re very fortunate.” RF