For those in the automotive industry, the buzzing surrounding Shoals Extrusion, a small press aluminum extrusion company based out of Florence, Alabama, may be hard to ignore. In just three years the company has more than tripled its number of employees, formed strong bonds with their high caliber clients, and garnered a reputation for quality that would normally be associated with more senior businesses.
Ron Ballman, Shoals Extrusion’s vice president of Operations, says there’s no real secret to their success other than hard work and dedication.
Shoals Extrusion originally began in 2015 and provides raw materials that create structural support for vehicles such as buses, trailers, and motor homes. Ballman says 30 to 35 percent of their business is automotive related. “Everything we supply goes into something extremely large. There’s nothing really small about the products that we work with,” he says.
The company originally consisted of twelve people and dealt in distribution parts with non-automotive clients. Ballman says it wasn’t until he joined in 2016 that the company began taking on more complex projects. “We’ve really been in the automotive market for about two years and we’ve seen our market share grow significantly,” he says. “So in the matter of just a few years we’ve really made some traction in the market space and I think we’ve garnered a pretty good reputation as a high-quality supplier.”
Ballman says one of the ways the company has set itself apart from the competition is their attention to even the smallest detail. “There’s a lot of small components that go inside the walls and windows and door frames and those kind of things that a lot of people kind of take for granted…but you know, [it’s] very important that the structural integrity is intact. High quality aluminum is extremely important and the dimensional integrity is [also] extremely important,” he says.
Shoals Extrusion also prides itself on their dedication to providing top quality production so clients can feel safe and secure. “We look at these school buses and these motor homes as it’s basically our responsibility to keep families safe…We take that very seriously,” Ballman says. “So that’s how we approach it is, ‘How do our products apply to keeping our families and our consumers and everyone else safe?’ and the only way we can control that is ensuring that the quality of our product is second to none.”
When the company began, according to Ballman, their supplier-client relationships were based less on quality and trust than on pricing and convenience. “The customer relationship had become more focused on, ‘What have you done for me lately when it comes to pricing?’ and not so much focused on, ‘What can we do to be big solution solvers for you and to be a good partner?’” Ballman says. “I’m not as concerned as doing that [obsessing over pricing] for customers as I am just providing them with the product they want and allowing them to call my plant and talk to a live person who actually knows their account, understands what their needs are, and cares about the quality standards that we’ve put in place.”
Ballman adds that one of the reasons their client base has grown so rapidly in the company’s short lifespan is because they have agreed to work with individuals that other extrusion companies have rejected for being too complex. “We tell them [the clients] almost the same thing the other extruders do, except for the fact that we actually care enough to be able to work with them, give them what they want,” he says. “It’s going to cost them but they’re going to get exactly what they ask for.”
When it comes to maintaining customer relationships, Shoals Extrusion places an emphasis on honesty. “We’ve built a business model based upon being honest with the customer,” Ballman explains. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and if you make a promise make sure that you deliver on it. As a result, we’ve made some really strong relationships and I’m really proud of the gap that we’re filling in the industry and I’m really proud of the hard work the people in this plant have done.”
In April 2018, Shoals Extrusion was honored with the Automotive Supplier of the Year award by the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association. Ballman says he was “very humbled” by the award but also surprised due to other extrusion companies having longer running time. “When the committee came into the building to do an audit and [took] a look at why we were nominated and what our operation looked like, they were very impressed with the cleanliness and the organization and the neatness of the plant and the dedication of the employees and how happy they seem to be here,” he says.
Ballman credits the award to devoted employees. He even had T-shirts printed with the award on the back for the whole Shoals Extrusion team. “This award, it was awarded to Shoals Extrusion, but…we couldn’t have gotten where we are on this journey without the hard work and dedication of the people who are drinking the Kool-Aid here,” he says.
Overall, Shoals Extrusion and its employees have only one plan: to continue providing the best quality experience for everyone involved and that, Ballman says, starts and ends with a company’s employees. “You put a culture in place coming through the door where excellence is expected and…you know the one thing that is so hard to find whether you have good employees or not, are people who care. And they [our employees] come to work every day caring about what they do,” he says.
For those still looking for the perfect extrusion company, Ballman wants them to remember what Shoals Extrusion cares about most. “One: we’re customer-centric. We care about our customers; two: we’re very quality minded. From the person who cleans the break room all the way down to the person packing the last stick of metal, everybody cares, everybody pays attention; and I think finally, from a competitive perspective, we can compete with anybody,” Ballman says. “Not only from a quality perspective but if they were to come into our plant they would be blown away by how clean and organized and functional it is, and they would see how happy and dedicated everyone who works here is.”