Jeff Fuller buys and sells a lot of steel, but it hasn't always been easy.
The president of Fuller Industrial in Sudbury works on an international scale, and when he goes to different vendors to sell his steel, he'll sometimes have to wait two or three weeks to hear back.
There is little direct contact, and a lot of waiting in an industry that Fuller said runs on outdated technology.
“The steel industry is like the travel industry was in the '80s,” said Fuller.
“Remember in the old days when you wanted to fly somewhere, you'd pick up a phone and call a travel agent, they'd find the best deal. Now, you just go online... you can book your flight right there.”
Now, Fuller hopes he can bring that ease to the steel industry.
In early 2016, Fuller and Joe Graci, a Toronto technology distribution veteran, started a company called Leap Group to address “the lack of fast and efficient access to metals suppliers.”
“These platforms and these systems are going out across all industries,” said Fuller. “There was a frustration there…why can't it be like these other industries? The answer is there's no reason, just nobody does this technology.”
But someone was doing this technology.
Shortly after forming, Fuller and Graci found Metal Networks, a Texas-based software company that directly connects buyers and sellers of steel. Leap Group announced their purchase of the network in November.
Founded by Jeremy Chapman in 2012, the software was already implemented at both mid-market as well as some of the largest steel suppliers in North America.
The software depends on cloud-based and e-commerce technology to facilitate deals over the internet, and has features that speed up transactions. A quote that would have taken Fuller two weeks to get before is now provided almost instantly thanks to automated systems.
However, the new software is compatible with existing systems and software, and Fuller said it doesn't require significant upgrades or changes by its users.
Chapman will continue to lead Metal Networks out of Texas, but there will now be offices in Toronto and Sudbury.
Fuller said the head offices in Sudbury ensure access to a strong infrastructure.
“If we need help it's easy to get help here,” said Fuller, pointing to supports like the local innovation centre, NORCAT (the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology), Laurentian University, and SAMSSA (Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Services Association).
Fuller said they will be looking at expanding the software to the Canadian market first, and eventually the international market.
He said ultimately, they hope the software makes the steel market more accessible and consumer friendly.
“People want the same experience with a business as they do in their consumer life,” said Fuller. “They don't want big hard ugly systems. They want it simple and fast.”