SMU Community Spotlight

SMU Spotlight: From Shoes to Steel

Written by Becca Moczygemba

There’s something special about tales of yesteryear. Stories of a bygone era — before cell phones, virtual reality, and self-driving cars — can create a longing for nostalgia. For the Quality Metal Stamping (QMS) family, those tales of old are engrained in the company’s history.

Steel Market Update sat down with Stephen Serling, a member of the founding family and current QMS vice president, to hear how a 1930s shoe company transitioned into a 2020s steel company. 

QMS SteveBelow is the full text of the interview. 

SMU: What brought you to the steel industry?

Stephen Serling: I went to school for finance and economics and I never thought I would find myself in the steel or manufacturing industry, but I was very fortunate and blessed that my family owned a metal stamping and tool and die shop. In 2010 I went back to get my master’s degree at night and the business was at a crossroad of growth, so my father asked me to come and learn about the business during the day. I got in and never looked back. I’m 12 years into the business now and couldn’t be happier.

SMU: Nice, a family business. Tell me more!

SS: We’re a fourth-generation family owned and operated business. My great-grandfather started the company in the 1930s as a shoe last (a human foot-shaped form used for making shoes) manufacturing company, QMS, and we were one of the nation’s largest shoe last manufacturers at the time with footprints in Long Island City, New York and St. Louis. My grandfather took over eventually and started servicing the global shoe market. In 1960 the shoe industry started going to the southeastern part of the country, so my grandfather expanded and built a plant in Henderson, Tenn. Our biggest customer had developed a presence in the South, so the Henderson plant was really built to service their demands. My father got into the business in the late 70s when a lot of the US shoe and textile manufacturing started moving overseas. His growth strategy became one of diversification. At the bottom of the shoe last was a small metal heel plate, so my father and grandfather strategized to utilize that stamping press that we had and build upon it. In the 80s our Tennessee facilities started getting more into machining tool and die and a bit of stamping work. Then, in the 90s, the shoe business fully fled the US, so we closed down the facilities in New York and St. Louis and focused on becoming a metal stamper. Now we have our office in Rockville Centre, N.Y., our manufacturing headquarters in Henderson, Tenn., and our newest addition in Humbolt, Tenn.  My brother Colin joined the business three years ago, so it is truly a family-run business.

SMU: That’s a pretty interesting back story. What’s it like working with family?

SS: We take great pride in being a family owned and operated business, four generations, and that family atmosphere and family culture within our organization is something we believe gives us a competitive advantage in the market. The innovative mindset and strategic vision that my grandfather and father deployed to be able to pivot from a shoe manufacturer to a metal shop is something I admire; their leadership style and mentorship inspired me to be the leader that I am today. I think I’ve been blessed that my brother is my best friend. He’s been a lifelong teammate during our lacrosse career in high school and college, so we have a special bond. I think that bond has translated well in our working relationship; we’re really aligned as ambitious businessmen. We’re on the same page with our decision-making styles, how we want to treat our customers and employees, and that helps us stay focused on how we want to move forward with QMS.

SMU: Do you feel like having someone so close to you that also works with you is beneficial in pushing you to grow and evolve?

SS: Absolutely. I think we both share the same mindset that we always want to strive for greatness, we always want to push each other and the company to maximize our full potential.

SMU: What makes up the bulk of your business?

SS: QMS strives to be a one-stop shop for all of your metal working needs. Our manufacturing capabilities include metal stamping, laser cutting, forming, welding, assembly, powder coating, tool and die. Our goal is to offer vertically integrated solutions to the market.

SMU: You mentioned a newly added location in Tennessee. Are you looking to expand into other states?

SS: I think the recent acquisition of that facility gave us additional manufacturing capabilities, but we’re always looking for opportunities that may give us a strategic advantage and enable us to better serve our customers.

SMU: Being in a leadership role can have its challenges. What’s some advice you can give to future leaders?

SS: I don’t know if I’m in a position to give advice. For many years I had a chip on my shoulder and felt like I had something to prove to external parties that I was more than the owner’s son. I always wanted to blaze my own path, so that was a hesitancy of joining the family business. I think today I’ve matured to learn that the passion and energy you have is really what is contagious. And treat people how you want to be treated.

SMU: What’s something you want people to know about Quality Metal Stamping?

SS: Our mindset as an organization is we’re going to do whatever it takes. It might sound cliché, but as a company we are bought in on providing our customers with solutions where the differentiator in the marketplace is that mentality of doing whatever it takes. I think our customers and potential customers, when they tour our facilities and meet our team, can see that our dedication is lived day in and day out. We want to partner with our customers and suppliers and continue to invest to be the best in the industry.

You can find more information about Quality Metal Stamping here.

By Becca Moczygemba,

Becca Moczygemba

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