service centers
NIM Group employees who attended an intensive leadership course meet regularly to share ideas and best practices.
You can go out and buy plants and equipment, but people are the real assets of any successful company.
dick robinson, NIM GROUP
NIM Group employees who attended an intensive leadership course meet regularly to share ideas and best practices.
Coming Together
Service center organization evolves by developing people, staying true to culture and deploying high-tech tools
By Corinna Petry

IM Group has become one of the largest family owned and operated service center companies in America, having weathered 114 years during which the nation fought wars and overcame famine, plague and economic turmoil, while also seizing opportunities and helping employees, customers and the community along the way.

The private company was founded in 1908 as Norfolk Iron & Metal in Norfolk, Nebraska, and after many years of steady organic growth, Norfolk Iron & Metal purchased Metalwest (2018) and Cd’A Metals (2020). NIM Group was created last year as the parent organization for the three brands to leverage economies of scale at the corporate level and to prepare the company for additional growth.

The third and fourth generations of the Robinson family—Chairman and CEO Richard “Dick” Robinson and his sons, President Arnie Robinson and Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Jeff Robinson—continue to lead the company, bolstered by the vital contributions of 900 current employees.

“Being family owned and operated leads to a family culture,” Arnie Robinson says. “Our employees are proud to wear our brand, and they are active and respected members of the communities where they live and work; they make it a better place. The kids are proud to say where their parents work.”

Dick Robinson says the company and employees sponsor events and raise funds for a variety of philanthropies across the country. “We believe in the success of our communities and want to help as many organizations as possible. My wife, Betti, and I care about youth education, sports and teaching business. We see it as investing in the future.”

For example, he says, the company has endowed a scholarship for public school students in Norfolk that encourages them to pursue dual-credit college-level classes. The program supports over 100 students per year. Arnie Robinson adds, “We are invested in high school and college students and, along the way, we hope to show them how cool the metal industry is. We have great success with hiring students and getting them in the door and promoting and developing their skills.”

Get stuff done
“You can go out and buy plants and equipment, but people are the real assets of any successful company. We want to empower, train and develop quality people,” says Dick Robinson.

NIM Group believes in leading and developing, not managing, its employees. One leadership development tool employees take part in is an intensive three-day leadership academy. The information and skills that participants learn, says Arnie Robinson, “cascade out through each of their roles. This group meets at least once a month to talk about how we are leading our groups.”

As a result of such investments, “we have people ready to expand their responsibilities. For example, we just had a national sales conference, and many of the 100 employees in attendance started in an entry-level position and have been promoted and grown in their roles with the company,” he says.

Inventory is being monitored closely to be able to make more accurate forecasts on the purchasing end.
The value of that employee development becomes apparent very quickly, Arnie Robinson continues. Each location operates with a fair amount of autonomy, with different departments working together to foster close customer relationships. “When we talk about investments in equipment, the best ideas come from employees asking our customers what they need and how we can help them grow their business.”

Employees are empowered to make big decisions and hold themselves accountable for those decisions. “They’ll work to find the customers to fill new machines,” he says. “They will even ask for a second machine while working to fill the first one.” That occurs because “there is a great deal of peer-to-peer communication. They work across facilities to support each other and get stuff done.”

Dick Robinson notes that because NIM Group is privately held and there’s “no big board of directors” to consult, employees experience short lead times internally to make results happen. “Within a week or two, we will make a decision. We trust our people. In today’s world, we have to be nimble.”

The company is focused on a long-term time horizon, Arnie Robinson says. “We know today’s decisions regarding investments in our workforce, facilities and equipment are about the future. It may not show up in this month’s income statement, but we are looking ahead. Our customers, vendors and employees know that, too.”

Jeff Robinson adds, “Internships are a great example of this future-focused philosophy. We had one intern work in three different departments, and he recommended three friends to come interview and work here.”

NIM Group continues its focus on growing the business and closed on an acquisition of a small service center in Colorado in February. It’s working hard on future acquisitions as well, according to Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Brad Noel.

Executive Vice President Jeff Simons says NIM Group’s territory now includes over 30 states. “We have plants from Spokane, Washington, to Monroe Township, New Jersey.”

In terms of acquisition strategy, “product line diversification creates opportunities,” Noel says. “If carbon flat-roll sales are down, stainless sales might be going strong. We see the benefit in offering a full product line to our customer base.”

many employees [who] started in an entry-level position have been promoted and have grown in their roles.
arnie robinson, nim group
Besides a diversified product base, two benefits of acquiring companies are talented people and good equipment. Says Simons, “With Metalwest, the entire management team in place prior to the acquisition is still on board at NIM Group. We increased our presence on light-gauge, cold-rolled and coated material. We also added processing capabilities that didn’t exist in house: slitting in four locations and polishing for stainless with the New Jersey plant.”

Noel notes that NIM Group pays close attention to best practices and different systems among its acquisitions. “We seek to improve our processes and can pick and choose the right ones that work across all locations. Going through the process, we can see what works and what doesn’t, which makes our company better. As one unified team, we can promote outstanding customer service, create greater operational efficiencies and strive for excellence across 17 locations.

“We are seeing the reward of those combined efforts in increased revenues—we reached a record $1.3 billion during 2021. As we make decisions on a long-term time horizon, we expect profits will continue to grow in the future.”

An employee at C’dA Metals works on a fabrication.
Data driven
Service centers don’t want to gamble with inventory cycles and forecasts anymore. NIM Group is among those that have invested in computer modeling and data analysis tools to work alongside the human intelligence.

“The demand cycles that previously lasted 12 to 18 months are now six months,” says Executive Vice President Mike Bamsey. “We want our local leadership groups to prepare expectations in the short term.”

During a monthly meeting with company leadership, the local management teams set expectations for a rolling three-month period. “It’s a comprehensive look at the market. Narrative-based projections that come from the outside sales team are combined with supply chain intelligence, such as lead times and what vendors are saying,” Bamsey says. “Those are reconciled with forecasts that are numbers based.”

A NIM Group employee checks the surface measurements of drilled angle irons exiting a shot blasting machine.
NIM Group also uses an AI modeling tool.  “You find various data sets and mine them to look for correlations with lead times, different drivers of demand in different end markets, and then match that with demand for actual products,” Bamsey explains.

The second tool is an inventory system forecasting tool that uses historical demand on an item-level basis. “It takes into account seasonality, and you can make changes that allow you to run super lean or run on the heavier side, like last year when steel was scarce,” says Bamsey.

“It is actionable on a day-to-day basis so that you are getting ‘buy’ signals and placing orders at a mill. It is in-the-field, active information. We are able to have our people make decisions on a live basis. It’s almost just the opposite of canned-reporting software,” he continues.

As part of sales, inventory and operations planning, service centers must review inventory health monthly. NIM Group now uses a color code to determine, “on an apples-to-apples basis, what is happening with inventory across the locations,” Bamsey says. “You want to keep inventory as current as possible. It’s an old fundamental with a new twist. The color coding is intuitive. Users are able to see the spectrum of colors and know when they have more work to do to keep inventory in alignment—not too much, not too little but just right, like Goldilocks.”

Jeff Robinson notes, “We are trying not to have material in stock that has birthdays. This tool also allows us to match what the customer needs more exactly. So much of the forecast is built from sales teams’ interactions with customers. We are using that and this system to make sure inventory matches up. You won’t be one for one every time, but by keeping up with what customers want to buy, they don’t have to worry that they will receive it when they want it delivered,” he says.

A cut-to-length line at NIM Group’s Metalwest location.
“We are big fans of decentralized leadership,” Bamsey says. “It’s one thing for leaders to say ‘just stick with the customer’; it’s another to equip our teams with the right tools to make the right calls. This helps us to execute. And it helps us provide our customers and employees what they need to be successful at the local level.”

One of the main objectives of NIM Group team meetings is to check previous performance and learn ways to improve its process for the future. “We compare the outcome with the forecast and try to be accountable with the numbers we put out there,” Jeff Robinson says.

With all the resources the company puts in the hands of an ambitious workforce, it’s not difficult to imagine another 114 years of survival and success to come.

NIM Group, Norfolk, Nebraska, 800/228-8100,