Plastics machinery exec wants to transfer business success to steel fabricator

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Loveman Steel Loveman Steel specializes in fabricating very large metal systems, such as this assembly of a rotary hearth for the USS Lorain.

Bedford Heights, Ohio — The employees of Bedford Heights-based Loveman Steel Corp. had no idea what was going to happen to the business when it went into receivership in the summer of 2015.

Robert Campbell, who has been with the company for more than two decades, said it was tough, since no one knew if they’d have a job day to day. But some employees stayed, and more than a year later, the steel service center is under new ownership that’s investing time and money in the plant and in its culture.

Donald Kruschke, president and CEO of Solon, Ohio-based Plastics Machinery Group LLC, had never been in charge of a manufacturer before now. Plastics Machinery Group doesn’t make products of its own, and instead buys and sells equipment for its customers. It also does work in mergers and acquisitions, plant liquidations and appraisals. The company has grown in recent years, and Kruschke was looking for additional warehouse space when he came across Loveman Steel.

One of the company’s services is making large, fabricated metal parts for a variety of industries, from construction to steelmaking.

“I saw all these pictures of these neat things that were gigantic,” Kruschke said. “So that intrigued me. I went back. I met the people there. And I really took a liking to them and their attitude, especially as long as they had been in the receivership.”

Plastics Machinery Group Kruschke

Though he hadn’t planned on owning a manufacturer, he saw a possibility in Loveman Steel, and an opportunity to apply the sales and marketing model he uses at Plastics Machinery Group. Kruschke began managing the company in the summer, contacting the company’s customers from the start to share their new approach, and closed on the deal at the end of last year. He declined to disclose the purchase price.

Loveman Steel had been a family-owned business, started in the 1930s, said Rob Loveman. Loveman, now a sales executive with the company, said he had been a non-voting owner before the sale. Plastics Machinery Group’s involvement has changed the culture of the organization, Loveman said, and he hopes to see sustainable growth that allows the company to pay its employees and serve customers’ needs going forward.

Loveman had dropped to nine employees by the time of the sale, Kruschke said. Employment is now up to 11, and he’s looking to add to that. Kruschke said Loveman’s sales were around $17 million in 2015. At one time, he said he was told they had been as high as $52 million. His main goal is to get the company profitable, but he’d really like to see the sales back to that high level again.

The companies are being run separately in terms of financials, but there’s a lot of potential overlap between Plastics Machinery Group and what’s now being called Loveman Steel and Fab.

Plastics Machinery Group grew out of Stopol Inc., which was started by Kruschke, his brother and his father in the ‘90s. The recession was tough on Stopol, though, and in 2009, Kruschke ended up buying two of the company’s four divisions from his brother: thermoforming and blow molding. The other divisions were sold, and Kruschke decided to rename his portion. Since then, Plastics Machinery Group has added other equipment segments, like injection molding.

Today, Plastics Machinery Group has 13 employees, plus one in England (which technically counts as a separate business). Kruschke wouldn’t get specific on sales for Plastics Machinery Group, but he said they were above $20 million in 2016. The company relies on customer relationships.

“Everything I preach to these guys is relationship and quality of the equipment and quality of the deal,” Kruschke said. And he wants to bring that business model to Loveman Steel. Plastics Machinery Group is in “constant communication” with its customers, Kruschke said. The company also makes strong use of data, keeping track of its plastics customers’ lines of business, their preferred brands of machinery, the type of material they run and more. That means the company has a “finger on the heartbeat, on the pulse” of its customers, Kruschke said, and knows just when its customers will need something. He thinks that model can apply to Loveman Steel, too.

Plus, he already has seen new opportunities arise as he has brought the plastics-related customers through Loveman Steel’s plant, leading to quotes for products like platforms.

“And I wasn’t even expecting that,” Kruschke said.

Kruschke said he also plans to run Loveman Steel more efficiently, which will allow Plastics Machinery Group to do some of the additional warehousing it needed at that location. And he’s upgrading the building from top to bottom.

Long-term employee Campbell, who Kruschke made Loveman’s chief operating officer, said the upgrades to the plant — new lighting, new paint, soon-to-be-new floors — make for a better environment for the employees.

The company also is investing in a completely renovated office on the Loveman site, where both Loveman and Plastic Machinery Group will be located. In total, Kruschke said he’s investing more than $1 million in the plant and office renovations.