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Talking tariffs

Politics aside, how are tariffs impacting construction costs in Dane County?

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One of his biggest frustrations is the uncertainty in today’s market and receiving short notice from suppliers when costs increase. For example, one of the country’s largest steel suppliers let Qual Line Fence know on Sept. 21 that steel pipe prices would increase by 6 percent effective Oct. 1. “That’s one week notice!” Statz says. “What if we had been in the midst of a big commercial bid?”

Another longtime friend and independent distributor of Chinese-made products the company carries upped his prices 10 percent as a result of tariffs, also on short notice. The friend also warned the company that an additional 15 percent tariff would take effect Jan. 1, meaning anything ordered now from China is upcharged.

“Sometimes companies tell you that if you want the lower price you have a little time to order product, but this guy is saying, ‘Sorry, anything that you order now won’t get here until after Jan. 1 because it’s literally on a slow boat from China,’” Statz explains, “so it’s now a 25 percent increase.”

In just six months (April to September), Qual Line’s costs for a flat, four-by-eight-foot sheet of aluminum increased nearly 36 percent, and a popular aluminum post-hole paint the company has carried for at least 25 years will also increase by 8 percent on Jan. 1, likely due to its aluminum content, he says.

“These are things we know,” Statz emphasizes, “but there are a lot of things we don’t know, and that’s the real problem, the uncertainty of everything. How many more increases are out there? I’ve been doing this for 63 years. Sudden, unexpected tariffs never used to happen and there’s probably more to come.

“But whatever it is, we’ll muddle through.”

Statz says he doesn’t always know where the materials come from. “We buy our metals from Eastern Metals, which has four U.S. locations, but we don’t know where they get it from.”

His suppliers don’t specifically blame the tariffs for cost increases, either, according to Statz. “They’re saying, ‘we don’t have a choice, we have to raise our prices.’ We, in turn, have to say that, too. Most of our customers understand that.”

But he’s clearly troubled by longer delivery times. For example, one particular order for a couple tons of a specialty product was supposed to take 12 weeks, he was told. “That was 14 weeks ago,” Statz remarks, and on the date of this interview, wait time was approaching 15 weeks. “Some customers just won’t wait that long,” he laments.

For years, U.S. manufacturers have been forced to order parts from foreign countries because the factories no longer exist in America. The fencing industry is no different, Statz says, particularly when it comes to things like fence fittings for certain types of fences. “Nobody builds a fence without having some foreign-made parts,” he explains, “so when you bid a job like that, it has to be primarily made in America.”

Statz has found a happy medium, however — India. “We’ve found the quality of products made in India far superior to China’s. I don’t care if it costs a little more, the quality is there, and that’s what I really like and what’s most important.”

He’s always had a reputation for choosing quality first and price second, Statz says, even when it comes to the cars he and his sons race — Corvettes and Porsches. According to the company website, Statz also “recently” took up autocross racing with his Beck Spyder.

“Is that what it says?” he asks, before clarifying. “I did that when I was 70 … about 14 years ago,” he laughs.

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