With the high price of gold, jewelers want to salvage every speck possible – even the bits that fall into the pile of a carpet or the cracks of a chair. And in South St. Paul, Minn., there’s a friendly family refinery ready to help.
Stebgo Metals is a full-service refinery, accepting gold, silver, platinum and palladium scrap. “The jewelers do sweeps from the manufacturing and polishing processes, and we do reclamation of all that,” stated Scott Stebbing, Stebgo’s president.
“Some of it is not real glamorous stuff,” he laughs. “If a jeweler is working over an area of carpet, minute particles of gold and silver might get caught in that carpet.
“Particles get stuck in the sandpaper and in the ultrasonic. When jewelers wash their hands, minute particles can get caught in sink traps. If a jeweler is sitting in a cushioned chair, gold can get stuck in that. Anywhere particles can get trapped – vacuums, filters, wipes, emery paper, brushes – we’ll process it for our customers. They can ship it in, or if it’s a large enough lot we’ll send UPS there to pick it up. When you have gold at $1,600 (an ounce), it doesn’t take much for it to add up for our customers.”
Profiting from High Gold Prices
The high price of gold has created a new opportunity for Stebgo’s jewelry customers who have added buying gold from the public to their business plans, Scott adds. “Recently, we’ve been helping our customers work with the rise in metal markets. We help them with skills in buying.”
Scott points out that with the struggling economy, jewelers have had to find new and creative ways to grow their business, which has fueled the increase in gold buying.
“People love and appreciate when their jeweler wants to buy scrap gold,” he says. “It’s great that the jewelers have adapted to buying from the public because it’s a great service, and I think they’ve figured it out and realize this is a service their client base appreciates.
“That’s why we offer education here, making sure they do it correctly. We teach them to look for mis-stamps, etc. We try to keep open channels so if they have questions about buying, they call and we’ll talk them through it.
“We try to help our customer base learn to buy more effectively and avoid fakes and other pitfalls that can trap them when buying scrap from the public.
“We also do free stone removal, and we offer to purchase the stones. Our jewelers really love these services because they don’t waste time removing tiny melee or risk chipping stones. The stones that we purchase get sold in India, Hong Kong or New York, and that’s why we can take those smaller lots that come in, combining it all to bring a good price.
“Some of the 2012 outlooks are bullish as far as the forecast on gold, so we still may see these high markets for a while longer,” Scott adds. “It’s interesting that it’s been so high for so long. It’s challenging for the jewelry industry as far as inventory, so they turn to alternatives.
“Buying gold is a good service for a jeweler to offer, and we’re here to help them buy smart and be their trusted refiner.”
Scott clearly loves his family business, and he has fun working with jewelers. But above all, the refinery’s president stresses integrity – a commitment that has resulted in a state-of-the-art pollution control system.
“We have integrity in all parts of our business, not only in returns for our customer base, but in making sure we have a system that’s environmentally sound,” Scott says.
“When we built this building, completing it in 2002, we upgraded quite a bit of pollution control,” he says. “It’s been a large part of the company’s investment.
“We work with different acid solutions here; it’s part of the refining process, so it’s critical that we made sure what we do doesn’t make a bad footprint on the environment. We’re a family business, and it’s important to us to have green, environmentally friendly procedures in place.
“When gold is chemically parted, it goes into an acid solution that digests it so it looks like a dark green, purplish grape juice,” Scott explains. “Then it drops out each element, such as gold. From the heat that’s created in that, there is a fume or steam that goes through a chilling system that makes it easy to drop down particles so we can make sure nothing’s going out of the stacks. The chillers cool the fumes first, before they go through all the scrubber systems that clean the fumes. It’s almost like a suspended refrigeration system, cooling down the fumes and making sure that chemicals aren’t going out into the atmosphere.”
The Stebbing family tradition of refinery work in the Twin Cities area stretches through four generations. Scott’s grandfather Sherwood Stebbing started working in the Mowrey refinery in St. Paul more than 75 years ago, focusing on dental alloys. Scott’s father, Tom, worked there as well before launching the family’s own business in 1978, shifting the focus to jewelry. Scott’s brother Tom, Jr. joined the year-old Stebgo Metals in 1979.
“I started working here in 1986, during my college years, then started doing it full time in 1989,” Scott says. “I was a musician also, but decided to go into this business, and I’ve loved it.
“My brother is now CEO, and I’m president,” he says. “And we now have the next generation: Two of my brother’s seven kids work here – his kids range in age from 25 to 8, including two children adopted from China – and my boy, who’s 18, comes and works during the summers. It’s the fourth generation in the refining business, and it’s exciting.
“It’s been a blessing to our family, and the kids enjoy it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
“We have contacts with great people in the jewelry, pawn and dental industries – it’s a fun connection with a lot of other family businesses. Especially in the jewelry industry, there are a lot of second, third and fourth generation family businesses, so it’s nice to connect and talk with them.”
Jewelry, pawn, gold buyers and coin shops make up Stebgo’s biggest customer base, Scott says. “We do dental too, but it’s not as much the focus as the jewelry industry is for us. That was the business model our father put in place, so why change it?
“One of the challenges and one of the messages you’ll see in our website and advertising is that anybody can quote anything. We choose to quote what we have to quote. It’s not about what the quote is, but providing the maximum return for our customers. We’re family, we have integrity, and we want to be around for years to come. The jewelry industry is a lot of fun!”