By Drew Hardman
Whether it’s high-performance metal coatings for the booming oil and gas industry in the Middle East, fire-resistant insulation to meet China’s rigorous code regulations, or portable mills supplying metal panels to the most remote areas of Thailand and Indonesia, CENTRIA International is delivering high quality products and services across the globe.
Founded in 1996, CENTRIA was born from a merger between manufacturers H.H. Robertson, E.G. Smith and Steelite. Headquartered outside of Pittsburgh, the company earned its domestic reputation over a century as a leading manufacturer of metal wall and roof systems, and its international roots run nearly as deep. According to CENTRIA’s Bruce Swallow, vice president of International, each of the company’s predecessors had a hand in international markets, founding multiple companies and producing building products whose impact can be felt today. Saudi Arabia’s Hesco, a leading producer of protected metal cladding, has its origins with E.G. Smith, while the Robertson name is still respected worldwide as a quality cladding manufacturer.
“A lot of these companies have changed hands, changed ownership over the years, but we still do business to this day with international entities that were founded by our predecessors,“ Swallow says.
CENTRIA launched its own international presence to capitalize on the fluid, worldwide construction market. As CENTRIA Vice President & General Manger Ray Caudill notes, the market is varied and cyclical. An economic dip in the United States may coincide with a spike in the Middle East or Asia, and even the opportunity for growth and development. Investing in the international marketplace has provided the company with a global economic balance.
“The foundation of the international business model is to both provide incremental growth to the CENTRIA building products business and to counteract the cyclical nature of the construction markets—the crests and troughs of the industry across the world,“ Caudill explains.
CENTRIA International has grown immensely in recent years. With dedicated personnel in the Middle East, Europe and India; Southeast Asia; Northeast Asia; and the Americas, CENTRIA International has quadrupled its business since 2009.
This growth includes all regions of the CENTRIA International business segment, which accounts for a wide variety of products and services. While the Northeast Asian market may demand Structural Standing Seam (SRS®) roofing panels or FormaShieldTM DSR, a metal panel system that incorporates mineral wool insulation, the top seller in Middle Eastern nations may be coil coating services, or more specifically, the premium Versacor® Ultra coating system—designed to offer the highest level of protection for harsh climates and environmental conditions.
This kind of product diversity has become CENTRIA International’s greatest strength, and has led to an ever-changing business philosophy: think globally.
“You have to look at this from a global perspective,“ Swallow reports. “What’s going to make our company the most competitive; what’s going to be best for our customers?“
Caudill says the international business strategy has evolved greatly over the years. He cites the Chinese market as an example, noting that CENTRIA International started business with a 100 percent export strategy leading with composite foam panels. Chinese policy influenced a change of direction over the course of 18 years, starting with a trend towards in-country manufacturers followed by a government declaration against combustible building products.
“Now we rely on an in-country manufacturing strategy leading with mineral wool panels,“ Caudill notes. “And as a result of that, we’re developing a very solid footprint in the Chinese market with the CENTRIA brand.“
The international marketplace has helped to change the way CENTRIA does business, especially when it comes to added-value services. Whether the company is supplying safety retention cables for a roofing project in Australia or PVC downspouts for a power facility in Russia, CENTRIA International is not reluctant to buy locally and create a package of products and services that meets the owner’s specific needs. This kind of adaptability creates a single source of responsibility for the customer.
“Overall, our product offering is one of the best in the world, and our quality and services are by far the best in the world,“ Swallow notes.
While CENTRIA’s success domestically doesn’t necessarily translate to sales overseas, the company’s impressive reputation for aesthetics, performance, sustainability and value can be a huge benefit. CENTRIA makes an effort to reach out to American architects that have a hand in international work.
“Our larger domestic architectural firms also have offices in foreign countries,“ explains CENTRIA’s Dean Kauthen, international business development manager. “They often share work with their US-based counterparts, and vice-versa. We are seeing a lot of international projects coming out of the US architect offices.“
“I think the growth opportunities are tremendous,“ Swallow adds.
The biggest challenge stems from the differences in the international business model. In the United States, the architect serves as the predominant resource for the building owner. In other parts of the world, however, the general contractor holds the reigns, thanks to a major emphasis on the bottom line. Swallow says this influence primarily originates from Asia, but is swiftly moving to other markets.
Once again, the solution lies in understanding the dynamics from one market to the next, while furthering business relationships.
“It’s always been my belief that the fundamental way of doing business in the construction industry is through relationships,“ Caudill adds. “Whether it’s in China, the United States or Dubai, building relationships with contractors and architects is a very important element of our business model.“
The latest achievement from CENTRIA International is a new, 75,000-square-foot fabrication and office facility in Lin Gang, Shanghai, a region that’s seen an impressive growth boom in the last 20 years. With an increase in sales volume and continued demand for CENTRIA’s FormaShield DSR panels, CENTRIA International acquired the new facility to expand operations in the country’s thriving construction market. The facility includes an updated panel production line, as well as office space and expanded storage accommodations.
According to General Manager Asia Pacific Mark Gray, CENTRIA International, the new manufacturing facility has been a hit with both local and international customers, leading to an increase in the export market and product quality.
“The new plant is just the latest in an impressive stretch of milestones for CENTRIA International as we continue to expand in response to the global demand for our high-performance products,“ Gray says.
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