By: H. Lee Murphy
CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS
January 30, 2013
BOLINGBROOK, ILL. — The man behind WeatherTech floor mats, Dave MacNeil, is one serious car guy.
A tour of his company's west suburban Chicago manufacturing plants finds him behind the wheel of a BMW M5, reputedly the fastest four-door sedan out there, and then a Porsche, after a stop to show off his private museum of vintage Ferraris and Mercedes. The road trip ends at MacNeil Automotive Products Ltd.'s retail showroom in Bolingbrook, where a pristinely restored 1965 Aston Martin DB5 — the car Sean Connery drove as James Bond in Goldfinger — greets guests by the front door.
MacNeil is serious about something else, too: waving Old Glory.
In an age when much manufacturing has been outsourced to China and other low-wage nations, WeatherTech's entire line of more than 5,000 car floor mats, rooftop cargo carriers, side-window deflectors, license plate frames and mud flaps is made in America, much of it in the 400,000 square feet of factory and warehouse space Bolingbrook and nearby in Downers Grove, Ill., he built in the past five years.
He reminds everyone of that fact in an almost-impossible-to-miss outpouring of print ads, billboards and television commercials.
The company is based in Bolingbrook, where it has thermoforming and injection molding operations. Engineering and tool- making operations are in Downers Grove. WeatherTech Europe, a warehousing and sales operation, is based in Parma, Italy.
"Many of our competitors make their products in Asia, and we had that as an option," said MacNeil, 53, a former Daimler AG exec who founded his company in 1988 from his home in Clarendon Hills by importing car mats from England. "But I was born here and I've always had great faith in American workers. I just felt we could make better products in America."
MacNeil is fanatical about his made-in-America promise. Virtually every machine in the company's plants is made by an American tool supplier. MacNeil Auto- motive Products employs 500 people, including 300 nonunion hourly workers, up from fewer than 100 overall 10 years ago. Though its facilities are highly automated, wages that average $20 an hour for semiskilled workers mean Weather-Tech's prices are high — as much as $100 for a pair of floor mats. Customers are paying up just the same.
"It's a great product, particularly if you have kids with muddy feet," said Gary Prestopino, a car parts analyst at Barrington Research Associates Inc. in Chicago who has WeatherTech mats in a couple of his cars.
MacNeil Automotive is 100 percent owned by MacNeil, who insists he harbors no ambition to sell in the foreseeable future. By his reckoning, sales have grown at a double-digit pace every year over the past decade and profits have never been a problem. Crain's estimated MacNeil Automotive's revenue topped $80 million in 2012.
The company, which quit importing from British suppliers five years ago, is now exporting to England and 20 other overseas markets, including South America and Asia. It also has moved more of its sales transactions online. Meanwhile, it's cementing more contracts with automakers themselves to supply WeatherTech mats as original equipment on new cars.
Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar is accustomed, like all mayors, to business owners demanding tax breaks and other goodies before bringing jobs to a town. But he said MacNeil has never asked for favors.
"He doesn't want government assistance. He wants to do it all himself. That's refreshing," Claar said.
While floor mats seem to be a commodity product, MacNeil Automotive's nonstop advertising sets WeatherTech apart from rivals: The product gets plugged in 100 print publications a month. "MacNeil is a marketing genius," said Peter MacGillivray, a vice president at the Specialty Equipment Market Association, a trade group in Diamond Bar, Calif. "They are everywhere with their advertising. They've raised the bar for everybody in their industry in the way they promote their brand."
MacNeil, who races cars in his spare time and sponsors races and race cars, is so fastidious about the control of each part of his operation that he even refuses to outsource marketing. WeatherTech commercials are recorded by company employees on sets erected next to the warehouse. The phone lines ring at another company building down the block.
"I know it's not the way most companies are set up these days, but we don't use the word 'outsource' here at all," he said. "I like to do things my way."