Grow or die

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GLE Scrap Metal, with operations in Michigan and Florida, has grown by prioritizing fairness, respect and transparency in its business transactions.

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March 9, 2020

Photos by Jack Goras Photography
From left: GLE Scrap Metal co-founders Nathan and Danny Zack at the company’s wire chopping facility in Ocoee, Florida

If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

The management team at GLE Scrap Metal, with corporate headquarters in Warren, Michigan, and Longwood, Florida, has taken this adage to heart. The company evolved out of Great Lakes Electronics Corp., which Nathan Zack, then a 20-year-old a high school dropout, founded in his parents’ garage in Farmington Hills, Michigan, in 2000. After his cousin Danny Zack joined him in the business in 2005, the duo diversified into scrap metal recycling, forming GLE Scrap Metal. Over the years, the company has expanded organically and through acquisition from a retail scrap operation to a scrap processor, wholesaler and broker. GLE’s management team credits that growth in part to treating its customers with respect and to offering a level of transparency that can be lacking with some other companies.

“We know what it is like to be on all sides of a deal, and we subscribe to the Golden Rule—treat people how you want to be treated,” says Daniel Poris, GLE’s vice president of nonferrous. “We want to enjoy working with our customers and suppliers and be successful together.”

Geographically and operationally diversified

GLE and its sister companies operate eight facilities that are divided between Michigan and Florida and that employ nearly 200 people. Its most recent expansions involved establishing a stand-alone corporate office in Longwood that houses GLE’s executive, administrative, logistics and trading and purchasing teams. In 2018, GLE established a dedicated 60,000-square-foot wire chopping operation on 30 acres in Ocoee, Florida, that features a large volume MTB processing line that was supplied by Wendt Corp., Buffalo, New York.

“The wire processing facility has consistently grown in reach and volume since we began buying in 2018,” Poris says, adding that the company purchases material from throughout the U.S. “We are operating two shifts a day, six days a week.”

He says GLE’s Florida operations in Holly Hill, Casselberry and Opa-Locka are “heavily nonferrous with a product mix that skews toward postconsumer scrap and industrial production.” The company buys material from throughout the Southeast.

In Michigan, GLE’s Warren operation features a 100,000-square-foot warehouse and processes nonferrous scrap from industrial, wholesale and retail customers. It also is home to GLE’s Michigan corporate offices.

Its 20-acre Melvindale, Michigan, yard processes ferrous scrap and offers rail access, while its Sterling Heights, Michigan, location is home to Great Lakes Electronics Corp., which operates provides asset management, data security and demanufacturing services.

GLE’s Michigan operations source material from throughout the Midwest and the Atlantic Coast, Poris says.

How did a company that originated in Michigan end up operating in Florida?

Co-founder Danny, who also serves as CEO, says he and Nathan wanted to diversify beyond electronics recycling and were interested in learning about the nonferrous sector. The opportunity arose to acquire an operation in Florida from a veteran who wanted to exit the business. The cousins’ uncle, who operated a scrap yard in Florida, helped make the connection.

Danny says he and Nathan learned a great deal from their uncle, who taught them the industry.

From processing to brokerage

Nonferrous accounts for the bulk of GLE’s business. However, the company’s breadth of services and processing capabilities offer advantages, Poris says. “We have the unique and strong opportunity where we can walk in anywhere and find some way to work with them.”

Part of GLE’s strength lies in its commitment to serving its customers. “We are never not going to be in the market,” Danny says. “You may not always love our price, but we will always have one, and we are here to service you.”

GLE’s goal is to get the best results for its suppliers, he says, by maximizing their returns. In some cases, that may mean brokering materials through GLE Scrap Metal Trading, the brokerage business that was formed in 2013, as is. In other cases, GLE may further process it.

GLE Scrap Metal Trading purchases several hundred containers of copper and brass-bearing items, primarily, Poris says. This material and the scrap GLE processes are sold domestically and internationally, including to customers in Asia, Europe and South America.

“With GLE Scrap Metal Trading, we focus on relationship-based purchasing and try to not be everything to all people,” he says. “We try to avoid situations where someone will walk away unhappy. With an excellent team, we try to communicate clearly and manage expectations through the whole trading process.”

“We want what is best for everyone,” Danny says. “If you don’t find that, you are not going to succeed.”

Poris says GLE strives for transparency with suppliers to its wire chopping operation. “We believe very strongly in relationships, service, transparency and always paying our bills on time,” Poris says. “Nothing replaces a strong personal relationship between consumers and suppliers, but relationships only last when all parties’ expectations are met.”

GLE’s transparency comes in part from software and reporting systems that the company has developed. Poris says these systems “take the guesswork out of receiving reports and recoveries for wire chopper loads.”

He adds, “Our customers give us consistently good feedback on recoveries, settlements and quick payments.”

GLE also operates a lab to assay outputs through its wire chopper. Poris says this helps to give consuming customers confidence in the company’s material. “Many systems have been developed to manage both inputs and outputs to consistently produce high-quality materials.”

Danny says GLE strives to supply the right chemistries to the right users, with Poris adding that the company seeks to understand its customers’ needs and how GLE’s supply chain fits into them.

Growing in challenging times

Poris describes the last year as having been “difficult.” Despite that, GLE saw success by growing its processing and trading capabilities, he says.

“One of the greatest issues related to the supply-demand picture of red metals has been uncertainty regarding China’s quota and scrap categorization system,” Poris says as of mid-January. “There has been very little predictability and little notice when things change.”

GLE Scrap Metal’s corporate offices in Longwood, Florida

The Chinese government provided more clarity on the matter later that month when its State Administration for Market Regulation published documents providing details on proposed new nonferrous scrap specifications.

The proposed changes, which are scheduled to take effect July 1, would allow some grades of red metal and aluminum scrap to be imported under a “raw materials” rather than a “waste” classification and would eliminate quotas.

China’s scrap import quota system as well as tariffs on copper and aluminum scrap shipments from the U.S. have led to a shift in GLE’s consumer base. Poris says GLE has “managed this shift well, and it has opened many opportunities and made us stronger.”

GLE has seen success despite the difficult last year by being strict on payment terms and credit insurance. Poris says this helps the company “avoid problems in inevitable market corrections.”

Taking more control

GLE’s plan’s for additional growth include taking advantage of opportunities that complement the company’s core strengths, Poris says.

“We would like to pursue further processing of our own material to be more in control of our own destiny and less reliant on other processors,” he says. “With continued investments in our existing facilities, we want our suppliers to have excellent service experiences and be long-term partners. Our success depends on the quality of our customers and the strength of our relationships.”

Regarding investing in the business, Danny adds, “Timing is important. Timing is everything. When the time is right, we’ll be there.”

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at dtoto@gie.net.