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Steel City Colors Supplies Colorants To Produce Mulch
Company''s product is environmentally friendly and wil not fade in UV light.

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 5/1/2003

CANONSBURG, Penn.— Steel City Colors puts a tough name behind its mulch colorants. Steel is synonymous with strength, and the name aptly describes the company’s competitive outlook.

"We saw a sizable market," said Richard Barcelona Jr., sales manager for Steel City Colors. "We thought we could give help" to companies interested in producing colored mulch.

The principals of Steel City Colors (Richard Barcelona Sr. and Moe Galis) brought experience from the iron oxide industry, where they had worked in various capacities but with a general focus on developing and marketing colorants for bricks and mortar.

Steel City Colors, with 12 employees, produces liquid dispersants for coloring mulch. The colorants are easy to apply. "All that is required is a simple mixing before usage to make sure all the ingredients are thoroughly blended after shipping," said Richard.

In short, the colorants are designed to be very user friendly. No special equipment is required for application. A stationary or mobile coloring machine, tub grinder with a color pump, or other system will produce a good quality colored mulch with Steel City Colors colorants.

The customer starts by reviewing the wide palette of liquid dispersants offered by Steel City Colors. Standard colors include jet black, dark brown, chocolate brown, brick red, medium red, vivid red and cypress. If the customer does not find a match among the standard colors in the palette, the company will work with the customer to develop a unique custom color. Specialty colors are "kind of our niche," said Richard. "A ‘crazy’ color or any color" is considered a challenge to be met. Custom colors have included blue violet, blue green, teal, purple, gold and dark orange.

A full-time laboratory technician does the formulation, color testing and quality control for all the company’s products. All the colors are free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and are considered environmentally friendly.

Quality control gets serious attention from Steel City Colors. The laboratory at the company tests every color to make certain it will withstand exposure to weather.

Customers requesting standard colors can expect their orders to be filled quickly —within one or two days, said Richard. For special orders, Steel City Colors tests a sample of mulch provided by the customer with the custom formulation in order to get the precise desired color.

Steel City Colors is based in Canonsburg, which is about 18 miles southwest of Pittsburgh and has a population of about 9,200 people. The company has a warehouse in McKees Rocks, which is just northwest of Pittsburgh; the warehouse location provides excellent access to all geographic points served, thanks to its proximity to the nexus of Interstates 70, 76 and 79. The company also has a marketing location in Melbourne, Fla., where Richard is based.

Steel City Colors keeps a large inventory of its standard colors at its distribution center. Because of its proximity to the Interstate highway system and especially the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Interstate 76), Steel City Colors can make good use of contract trucking. Besides offering a delivered price for colorants, the company also offers a reduced price to customers who want to arrange for pick-up and shipping.

Steel City Colors sells primarily throughout the East, Midwest and Southeast, but it is quickly expanding to the West. From his vantage in sales, Richard has had the opportunity to observe trends in colors. "The reds are extremely popular in the Southeast," he noted. In the Northeast, browns and blacks are favorites, along with red.

Steel City Colors ships colorants in three sizes of containers, depending on the quantity required by the customers. "We package in 30 gallon drums, 55 gallon drums and 250 gallon totes," said Richard. "No customer is too small or too large." He noted customers that buy one drum at a time and others that order by the truck-load.

Each container carries the Steel City Colors logo and product codes for all ingredients. Mulch producers, wood processors, wood waste recyclers and really, "any company that has a wood source and is capable of grinding and coloring wood," fits into the customer base of the company, said Richard.

"The amount of wood mulch that a 30-gallon drum can color is very dependent on the wood that is being colored," explained Richard, "and the quality of the end product that is desired. A good range for a 30-gallon drum is between 70 and 100 cubic yards — again, depending on the coloring process and the end quality desired."

To be sure, the test runs of mulch and colorant that Steel City Colors provides for customers at its laboratory ensure optimum match between colorant and mulch. The colorants work on all wood, said Richard, "hardwood, softwood, pallet wood."

Steel City Colors recently began offering a mobile mulch coloring service. A subcontractor for the company goes to customer sites and provides coloring services at the rate of up to 200 cubic yards per hour.

A native of Pittsburgh, Richard said that what he likes most about his work is "meeting a lot of different people" and helping them meet their needs. He sees the colorant business as customer-driven. Responding in creative ways to assist clients is something he enjoys.

"We have a consistent product," said Richard. "We have outstanding service. We work with customers" to ensure that they "have a product they are satisfied with."

The symmetry between the name Steel City Colors and its mulch colorant products actually goes much deeper than the strength of the color dispersants. Well into the 19th century, the purified or reduced iron needed as a starting ingredient for steel was made by smelting common iron oxide with charcoal. No coincidence, then, that the early steel industry in the U. S. grew up in wooded regions — for fuel — like the one in the Allegheny Mountains around Pittsburgh.

For all the refinements that have come in the steel industry, its beginning still is firmly planted in trees. Once wood was burned to smelt or push out water and carbon dioxide from raw iron as well as to oxidize sulphur in the iron. Now, experience garnered in the steel industry informs the work of a company, Steel City Colors, which is making colorants for wood mulch.

Today, customers may be thinking more about aesthetics that past links. Even so, the ties are a nice reminder of the innovation and serendipities that drive American industry.

"Customers like colored mulch because of the bright vivid colors that they can achieve," said Richard. "Unlike bark mulch, which loses its color and decomposes very quickly, colored mulch will hold its color much longer and decompose much more slowly. Also, the wide variety of colors of colored mulch gives the landscape architect, as well as the homeowner, the ability to color-coordinate landscaping with the overall surroundings of the landscape."

As for other trends, there is huge growth potential for colored mulch in the West, said Richard, and his company plans to help meet the demand. Moreover, the interest consumers have in colored mulch is something that is likely to persist and grow, he said.

Richard is optimistic about the future of Steel City Colors. He said he believes customers will respond to his company’s colorants because they are easy to apply and they are also "light fast" and "won’t fade under UV (ultraviolet) light."

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