November is always a special time for Online Metals. We love the Fall and anything Thanksgiving related. But, it also marks the birth of our company! This year OLM turns 19, a less exciting year. We can already vote but aren’t yet old enough to drink or get discounts on car insurance.
Looking in the time machine, Online Metals comes from extremely humble beginnings. We are brainchild of two men in Seattle named John Byrum and Chris Sypolt. Byrum had a background in the metal sales business. While Sypolt had worked for what was then Copper and Brass Sales.
It was in the midst of the Dot-com Boom. These two friends decided that small quantity, custom cut to length metal available online was an opportunity that hadn’t been realized. Therefore, in November 1998, they created OnlineMetals.com. Byrum worked to purchase material from various vendors. Sypolt handled the tech and finance side. In fact, Sypolt entirely created the website which is still used (with frequent modifications) to this day!
But there was a problem. Specifically, they didn’t have a warehouse. So they made do with the next best option: a shed in Byrum’s back yard in suburban Seattle.
Despite this modest start, the company did well and saw immediate and steady growth. After two years, in 2000, they had finally saved up enough to move. The new warehouse was on Nickerson Ave, across the street from Seattle Pacific University. The warehouse was small, only about 3,000 square feet. Also, the staff was small, three office workers and one material handler. There weren’t any forklifts, so loads of metal had to be manually moved using a cart and their bare hands. They also didn’t have any sort of internal scanning equipment or labels. Consequently, all of the inventory was manually tracked and identified with tape and marker.
Employees from that time describe the environment as being “like the Wild West.” Sypolt’s antics and schemes were also described as resembling those of “a mad scientist.” But the small team was full of energy, humor, drive, and Online Metals continued to grow.
2003 saw another big jump! We moved from the warehouse on Nickerson to the warehouse which we still occupy on Ewing Street. Significantly larger, the new warehouse allowed for an increase in production capability. The staff also grew to 14-20 people. This proved to be very important, and growth continued.
Significantly, this caught the attention of larger customers, suppliers, and others.
The biggest eye that we caught was that of thyssenkrupp AG. They are a conglomeration of two old German steel giants, Krupp (founded 1811) and Thyssen (founded 1891). tk is one of the top 10 steel producers in the world. They approached Byrum and Sypolt, and offered to purchase Online Metals. Our two founders decided that backing from such a giant would provide us with great opportunities for growth.
In 2007, thyssenkrupp Materials North America acquired Online Metals. Amusingly enough, this meant that we had become a sister company to Sypolt’s old employer, Copper and Brass Sales. They had been acquired by thyssenkrupp about 7 years earlier.
With new resources available to us, we put plans into action! This culminated in 2010 with Online Metals taking a big step out of the beautiful Pacific Northwest. We opened our second warehouse in Northwood, OH. This allowed us to provide better support to our customers in the eastern half of the United States. The expansion proved to be hugely successful. So much so that in 2012 a dedicated full-time customer service team was added there. Additionally, that same year, a third warehouse was opened in Orlando, FL.
Business was booming, with sales more than doubling between 2010 and 2012. As part of this momentum, Online Metals opened two more warehouses in 2013! The first in Wallingford, CT, and the other in Grand Prairie, TX. Riding this wave of success, John Byrum and Chris Sypolt decided to retire. Both men stepped down and were replaced by Shawn Lynam as president of OLM. Under his watch, the website design was updated for the first time since Chris Sypolt first built it in 1998! Talk about a reliable platform!
2015 saw some more big changes and hurdles for Online Metals. We decided that the southeast needed more coverage than Florida could provide. The Orlando warehouse closed down in the end of 2015. But a new, larger, and more impressive facility opened in Acworth, GA in January 2016. As part of this redesign, we implemented new infrastructure upgrades and additional updates to the website.
Personal tragedy also struck Online Metals in 2016. Our co-founder, Chris Sypolt, unexpectedly passed away at age 47 on March 30. Though he had not been with OLM for a few years, he was close with many of his former colleagues. He remains in their hearts and is still sorely missed.
2016 also saw another change of leadership. After 3 years of hard work and continually impressive growth, Shawn decided to resign as president of OLM. He transferred to another department in thyssenkrupp Materials North America. Near the end of 2016 we selected a new president.
Greg Raece took over the position in December. Greg had previously worked for Microsoft, and also as a karaoke machine deliveryman in Tokyo!
All of this brings us to the present. As always, we are working hard on improving ourselves. We have seen steady and continuous growth for two decades. But we know there’s always room to improve, and given the nature of e-commerce, there’s no time to rest on our laurels. Beyond smaller programs to continually increase efficiency and behind the scenes capabilities, we are also working on an entirely brand new website, scheduled to launch in 2018.
We’d like to thank our customers for sticking by us during this journey, we will keep working hard to serve you better, and we look forward to celebrating our 20th anniversary with you next year!