Beliefs + Behavior = Excellence
Tri-State Cold-Formed Steel Components delivers turnkey structural framing for commercial construction
Tri-State Cold Formed Steel Components (Tri-State) provides light-gauge structural framing packages for hotels, apartments, dormitories and other nonresidential construction projects, including retail businesses and assisted living communities. The company designs and fabricates metal roof trusses, floor trusses and metal load-bearing wall panels in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, and provides delivery and installation services across the continental United States.
“We make sure builders have a great experience using our products,” says Stu Melvin, President and CEO, who (along with his partners) founded Tri-State in 2003. The company’s core values are respect, accountability, integrity, ethics and teamwork. “Our culture drives our beliefs; our beliefs drive our behavior. Those behaviors drive habits that lead to excellence,” he adds.
Stu emphasizes that using Tri-State’s prefabricated components ensures quality and minimizes installation time for construction contractors—and therefore minimizes costs—because the trusses and wall panels are manufactured in a quality-controlled environment, not at the job site. For example, five floors of Tri-State’s cold-framed products were installed in just 20 days during a project for Hampton Inn Baltimore Bayview Campus in Maryland.
Tri-State built its reputation on product expertise, creative problem solving and a commitment to a family-like workplace. Stu attributes the company’s stability and success to the quality of his managing partners and employees and to the higher purpose to which they all adhere. The company has grown steadily despite two major recessions and a shortage of skilled labor.
Today, Tri-State employs 50 people in its manufacturing and business operations. Optional installation services are performed by a trusted, exclusive contractor. While much of its operations are within Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, Tri-State’s trusses and wall panels have been installed in buildings in 28 states and Washington, D.C.
A Turnkey Solution from Engineering to Installation
In 2015, the company expanded its operations and began manufacturing load-bearing wall panels. Tri-State customer demand drove the decision; building owners wanted to purchase a complete package of quality components from their trusted supplier: floor trusses, roof trusses and wall panels.
To lead the new wall panel division, the company hired an experienced panel fabricator, George Swartz, now Tri-State’s Business Development Manager. The successful rollout of this strategic investment decision has been a prime driver of the company’s growth. The firm now provides customers with a single-source turnkey framing system, from floors to walls and roofs.
Leading the Way in Non-residential Construction
Tri-State has established a niche in the hospitality sector. “If there’s a hotel going up in light-gauge steel, we’re the experts,” Stu says. Tri-State has completed projects for brands like Marriott Hotels, Hampton by Hilton, Embassy Suites by Hilton, and Hyatt, for hotel properties located in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Notable projects include two properties near the Ohio River in Newport, Kentucky—Aqua on the Levee waterfront apartments and the Aloft Newport on the Levee; the Operational Readiness Training Complex at Camp Atterbury, Indiana; and the 860-room Army Lodge at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Several structures on the University of Notre Dame campus near South Bend, Indiana, were built using Tri-State’s cold-formed components. Architectural features for new construction projects must be a fit with the 177-year-old university’s existing structures. “Once the exterior of a building goes up, make no mistake: if the structure isn’t right, the building won’t look right,” Stu says. “We’ve established our expertise in accommodating their designs with our trusses.” Tri-State’s next project at Notre Dame is a new residence hall.
Assisted living is a growing market segment for Tri-State. Baby Boomers are driving demand for retirement communities nationwide. Tri-State’s expertise is a perfect match. “Roof trusses provide a homelike design with sloped roofs, not that boxy feel of an institution,” Stu says. In addition, light-gauge steel lasts much longer than wood and is 100% recyclable.
Creative Solutions for Complex Problems
Tri-State enjoys a design challenge. Architects and engineers regularly consult with the firm on truss and wall framing solutions. “Our approach is, let’s sit down and see what we can do,” says Troy Lutgens, Vice President of Engineering at Tri-State. “The easiest problem to solve is one that never happens,” he adds.
This problem-solving mindset has created significant repeat business for the firm. For example, the Tri-State team determined how to span a 75-foot space above a truck bay for a large shipping company in Portland, Oregon. Instead of using heavy structural steel, Troy proposed using cold-formed trusses to build a conveyor system. The final design and Tri-State’s fabricated trusses were featured in the August 2011 issue of STRUCTURE magazine, the official publication of the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations. This innovative use of cold-formed steel led to a decade of repeat work for similar designs all across the country, including orders for several additional conveyor system structures from the shipping company’s other locations.
“We don’t shy away from getting involved in what may appear to be a crazy idea; that’s what we thrive on,” Troy says.
"We’re committed to being the best supplier of turnkey solutions in the construction business. We’re equally committed to the success of our customers and employees. The only good transaction is a win-win relationship. No one should ever have to lose.” Stu Melvin, President and CEO, Tri-State Cold-Formed Steel Components
Driven by a Higher Purpose
Tri-State’s purpose and plans are reflected in its core values and company culture. “My partners and I believe that we have been established to take care of the FEW (families, employees and the weak—those who are hungry, homeless or hurting). We are sustained by our faith in God,” Stu says. The first item on the agenda for partner and operations meetings is an opening prayer.
Their bible-driven mandate goes well beyond making a profit. “We take care of people,” Stu says. “They like working here. We have fun, and we laugh every day. We’ve never had to fire any of the office staff and have nearly zero turnover.” He attributes the company’s significant repeat business to the quality of its people.
Tri-State treats its people like family. “I know that a lot of companies say that,” Stu says. “For us, ‘family’ means that we all support each other, inside and outside of work. We’re always going to use the resources of this company to help each other out as much as we can.” Recent examples include employees rallying to quickly repair a co-worker’s house badly damaged by a storm, and when an employee’s spouse was diagnosed with a serious illness, the team generously presented him with donations to cover two weeks of his pay. When an employee experienced car trouble, Stu picked him up and drove him to work. Stu knows his employees’ personal situations as well as the names of their children and the sports teams they play on.
“Our people are breadwinners—when they experience a personal issue, their families are impacted,” Stu says. The company provides an employee assistance program to connect them with resources so they can work through challenges and issues and continue to provide for their families.
Giving Back to Community
The company also supports several local social services organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Room In the Inn and Heart of My City, Inc., which serve homeless families in Bullitt County, The Lord’s Supper Soup Kitchen Mobile Ministry in Elizabethtown, and Turnaround Resource Center of Lebanon Junction. “We need to be a blessing for others by sharing our resources to meet the needs of those who can’t help themselves and can’t pay us back,” Stu says. “We want to reflect the compassion of Christ.”
Stu has served as a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana and was named 2017 Big Brother of the Year.
Making Everyone Feel Important
In a tight labor market, Tri-State’s values have created a good word-of-mouth reputation that it’s a great place to work.
Visitors to Tri-State are introduced to its employees in the office and in the shop. That makes employees feel worthy and recognized. “I have confidence in them and value their work, and I make sure that is demonstrated,” Stu adds. “Employees, customers and bankers all feel good about the mutual respect and relationships we have.”
Employee benefits include a 401(k) program. Fun perks and rewards range from cookouts, lunches and anniversary rewards to unscheduled—and highly popular—paid time off before special events, such as the Kentucky Derby weekend.
Stu is also known for showing his appreciation to employees who go above and beyond their duties with “twenty-dollar handshakes.” He comments, “That’s our culture; that’s who we are.”
An All-Hands, Hands-On Approach
During the course of the company’s growth, the managing partners have performed every job, from cutting steel and building trusses to cleaning the bathrooms. Stu recalls one night when a truck had to be loaded for shipment but somehow the shipping order had not been communicated. He and two of his partners returned to work that night, parked a trailer underneath a light and spent the next few hours loading products.
It’s not unusual to see Stu, Troy, Ed French, Vice President of Operations, or Steve Beck, Vice President of Finance, out on the production floor, pulling inventory and helping workers move trusses. “We may sit in an office, but no one here walks around with egos and titles,” he emphasizes. Employees tell him that they’ve never worked in a place where the owners roll up their sleeves and work alongside them to get orders out the door.
“We’re committed to being the best supplier of turnkey solutions in the construction business,” Stu adds. “We’re equally committed to the success of our customers and employees. The only good transaction is a win-win relationship. No one should ever have to lose.”