Finding a niche

John McAtee

Searching for answers to the eternal question of how to succeed in business can produce some tortured overthinking, but the basic principle is fairly simple: Identify a consumer need and find a way to fill it in an efficient manner to turn a profit. In practice, it is a little more complicated than that, and there are many factors that determine how successful a business might become.

As an example, take Gulf Coast Screw & Supply Co., founded by James McAtee in 1966. A salesman for Premier Fastener Co., McAtee struck out on his own and established a small parts business in his home on Hyde Park in Beaumont. He plied his trade up and down the Gulf Coast serving a variety of industrial customers. His son John joined the family firm, eventually buying the company when James was ready to retire.

It was a good business and in time their focus shifted from screws to hydraulic hoses, air hoses and truck hoses, made to order for a wide range of applications. They also carry a variety of adapters, metric nuts and bolts and electrical parts in addition to certain oils and lubes, but hoses became the core business.

John McAtee said opportunity knocked after Hurricane Rita in 2005 and it has transformed the way Gulf Coast Screw & Supply serves their customers. In the wake of the storm, there was widespread destruction and a lot of hydraulic hoses that needed to be replaced.

“We had a large industrial crane that needed 63 different hoses,” recalled McAtee. He realized that instead of removing each hose and taking it back to the shop to fabricate a replacement, it made more sense to bring the equipment to the site and do the job there. A new business model emerged, born out of necessity. Now Gulf Coast Screw & Supply comes to the customer, a fully stocked mobile warehouse in a step-van with hydraulics for marine and heavy equipment operators, contractors and 18-wheelers.

Joey Nors is a skilled operator who stocks the mobile warehouse, drives it to the location and expertly crafts the required hoses. This method greatly enhances efficiency and reduces downtime.

When a backhoe deep in the forest clearing a path for the Keystone XL pipeline sustained damage, the mobile unit went to the scene and got it up and running in a matter of hours, not days.

Oil refineries and chemical plants utilize many hundreds of hoses and fittings. During routine maintenance or a planned turnaround, the demand of parts can be both voluminous and unpredictable. The Gulf Coast Screw mobile unit can set up shop in a refinery parking lot, putting its assets close at hand without actually entering the plant. This eliminates need for the exhaustive security screening that has become an all-too-familiar part of the post 9-11 world.

Another strategy McAtee has devised is leasing portable hose crimping machines for a dollar a year to entities who can use his products to fabricate their own hoses. He said he has more than 40 such devices in use, greatly expanding the market for the parts he supplies.

Gulf Coast Screw & Supply has found success by identifying a business niche and devising new and innovative ways to meet customers’ needs. Their method was not found in any book, but they are writing their own success story every day, one hose at a time.

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