Crossing a bridge
Focusing on the essentials helps distributor ride out troubled waters
[The texas branch] has grown, helping support existing customers and we have won new business.
lance shelton, christy metals
By Corinna Petry


he team at Christy Metals is no stranger to economic cycles. In business since 1964, the master distributor of nonferrous metals in strip, sheet, coil and bar has seen many ups and downs, although the cause of the current situation—a global pandemic—is novel.

Nonetheless, Vice President Lance Shelton, who also serves as president of the Copper and Brass Servicenter Association, keeps his eye trained on gradual growth.

For example, the company built out an additional 20,000-square-foot manufacturing space in its El Paso, Texas, service center and installed a slitting line. “It is light gauge. We go from 0.005 to 0.020 and it’s 12 inches wide for small specialty items,” including grade 260 brass and grade 110 copper, Shelton says. Producing strip in Texas means Christy doesn’t have to ship from its Northbrook, Illinois, headquarters and can deliver just in time throughout Texas and into the maquilladora manufacturing sector across northern Mexico.

“There’s an electrical market and automotive stampers on the border,” Shelton says. Christy sells processed copper and brass to makers of electrical connectors and automotive connectors in the region. Because of the El Paso location, “those customers don’t have to wait two weeks.”

The Texas branch opened five years ago. “It has grown, helping support existing customers and we have won new business. We can stock material quickly. We have our own truck that delivers every day.”

Christy Metals added a new slitter in Northbrook, too, which accepts coils up to 24 inches wide and runs thicknesses from 0.006 to 0.032 inch.

Toll coating

Christy Metals’ sister company, Chris Plating, installed a new tinning line last year, which can coat up to 10,000-pound coils. “We do commercial coating, 100 percent tin,” with a range of thickness from 0.00002 to 0.00008. The line accepts material up to 14.625 inches wide and can perform an intermediate coat.

As customers reduced their inventories, “we started selling a lot more because we had enough metal that we even sold to competitors,” Christy Metals’ vice president says.

“We have had all the big connector companies come in to approve the product,” says Shelton. “Most of the domestic mills approved our ability to coat their material, as well. We are 100 percent toll processing on the tinning. We serve mills, distributors and the connector companies that buy their metal mill direct. We run 6 days a week, 14 hours a day. Millions of pounds of product go through there.”


Christy Metals and Chris Plating are considered essential industries. Christy Metals helped out with a response to COVID-19 by making products for medical equipment and for masks. “We didn’t do ventilators but IV pumps and the aluminum strip in the mask. Everyone used it for the nose piece,” Shelton says.

By the end of September, the distributor was starting to see order rates return to 2019 levels.
everyone follows safety protocols, social distancing, masks, intense cleaning.
lance shelton

As far as operations, he says, “The office had staggered work shifts. The 55 shop guys were here every day. Everyone followed safety protocols, social distancing, masks, intense cleaning. We retained all our employees during COVID. We are proud of that. We had no layoff or furlough. And we were lucky no one got really sick.”

In terms of order activity, “April and May were horrific. June and July were better. August was very busy when automotive came back. September was strong. We are back to 2019 numbers. That is a good sign.”

Due to COVID-19, many customers, including other service centers, lowered their inventory levels. “We started selling a lot more because we had enough metal that we even sold to competitors. We helped them out, which was good. So many distributors are working together now to buy and sell certain products.

“When the automotive production restarted and housing starts grew again, not everyone had the inventory they needed. Mill lead times are now out to the middle of January. That’s where customers need distribution.”

There was another result from the pandemic and that is copper pricing. In September and October 2020, Comex’s average was $3.02,” says Shelton. “Last year for those same months, the average was $2.58. So that’s 44 cents—that’s good when getting old material off the floor. For a distributor that does three to five turns a year, at least we are getting inventory sold at higher price.” However, it costs more to restock.

Christy Metals workers moving material
Christy Metals staggered work shifts for its 55 employees
Christy Metals staggered work shifts for its 55 employees, who perform a wide variety of tasks in the Northbrook, Illinois, and El Paso, Texas, service centers.

Since March, Christy has done “a lot of Zoom calls and conference calls on the sales desk. Most of our customers are not allowing visitors, and our customers can go to dinners and lunches, but most won’t allow mill or customer site visits. Our mills have been to see us face to face but not at the plant,” says Shelton.

Even the 2021 supply contract talks are being conducted over Zoom, he says. “I think that will change next year. When we get a vaccine, that should change. I love face-to-face visits. You learn more about the person and their family. But what’s happened with the Zoom and GoToMeeting” methods of communication, he surmises, “There will be more of that in the future.”

Christy Metals, Northbrook, Illinois, 847/729-5744,