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Be Prepared

Barbara Manzi, Founder, Manzi Metals, Manzi Metals

When you're an African-American entrepreneur, and a woman in a male-dominated industry, you learn some lessons very quickly. Manzi Metals, Inc. is a multi-metals distributor, specializing in steel, aluminum and high-temperature exotic alloys sold in all shapes and sizes to Aerospace, the Department of Defense and other large corporations. From that day in 1993 when I opened the doors of Manzi Metals, I learned that if I were to survive, I would have to work harder and know my product line. And, I learned that I needed to be prepared with quality, service and competitive prices.

On September 11th of this year, I learned another lesson: that there are some things for which you can't prepare. No one was prepared for the terrorist attacks of that horrific day, and for the carnage that ensued. It was a day that no one will ever forget, and on a personal level, it was particularly devastating, because my husband was formerly one of New York City's finest police officers.

In its aftermath, however, as well as in the wake of the other mounting woes of this year - the collapse of the stock market, economic difficulties that have turned into a full-blown recession - I find that I am reaching back to that mandate of preparedness.

When Crisis Strikes

I believe that thoughtful preparation will help Manzi Metals face the vastly different business landscape that 2002 promises to be. I believe that it could serve as a beacon for other entrepreneurs, as the nation's company builders collectively face this uncertain future.

Let me explain. As I consider today's economic situation, which has evolved from an impending recession to one that is all too real, I think back three years, when I first began taking the steps that are now enabling my company, not only to make it through, but to thrive.

I've always kept on top of things, going to trade shows and listening to the small business administrators from top aerospace industries and the Department of Defense. A while back I read in Metal Center News that by the year 2000 all distribution centers, such as ours, would have to be ISO 9002 compliant as well as be certified by federal regulators in order to do business with these large corporations.

So we prepared. During those years, Manzi Metals sought out and worked with a certified federal representative to rewrite our standards to meet the new guidelines. As a result, we have been rated tops in quality, service and competitive prices. We have also become ISO 9002 compliant and that has made a difference on our bottom line during this difficult year. Even as the downturn took hold, our sales have steadily climbed, and we have already exceeded our sales from last year. At a time when other companies have been laying off, we continue to train new employees.

Having the Passion to Strive for Improvement

In the aftermath of September 11th, as the Department of Defense gears up for war, we are hopeful that our business will thrive. Our materials are utilized by prime corporations to produce many defense-related products, including ammunition, tanks, helicopters and airplanes. This means that we need to be even more conscious about delivering exactly what the customer ordered and nothing less. Everything about this industry is serious. We sometimes don't know what the end use of our materials is going to be; therefore, every detail is important.

My goals for 2002 are to expand our facility, to make it more comfortable for my employees to work, to continue to excel in our quality system and to improve, improve, improve. With every day a challenge, we need to respond faster and more efficiently to customers. On the drawing board are steps that will enable us to do that, such as designing better working areas for our employees and installing the latest computer equipment.

In other words, as 2002 approaches, we will continue to strive to be the best female-owned, operated and controlled distribution center in the United States.

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