Steve Spaulding never thought his company would need a Japanese interpreter in the small, central-Kentucky town of Lebanon. But working with the booming Japanese automotive industry in that area has given Ken-Mar Tool Inc. not only a chance to expand its business, but to develop good relationships with people from half a world away. Spaulding, sales manager for the firm, recently hired a salesman, Steve Mason, who speaks fluent Japanese, to accommodate those customers who prefer doing business in their native language.
``I think they ought to be teaching Japanese in American schools instead of Spanish or French,'' Spaulding said.
Owner Ken Marrett founded Ken-Mar in 1976 as a one-man shop specializing in metal fabrication, machining and the manufacture of tools and dies.
In 1989, he moved the company with its 33 employees into a 40,000-square-foot facility.
Last year, Ken-Mar built a 30,000-square-foot building next door to expand its capabilities, including making injection molds for the plastics industry.
Getting into mold making was not difficult, just different, said Spaulding.
They turned for help to Plastic Products Co. Inc., a Lindstrom, Minn.-based company with a plant near Ken-Mar.
Toolroom manager George Findley took two of Ken-Mar's employees under his wing and taught them the finer points of mold making.
``It worked out excellent for us,'' according to Findley.
``They were good toolmakers to start with, and we were so busy at the time that it was nice to have the extra help,'' he said.
After eight weeks, the two men went back to Ken-Mar. The company has built several injection molds, according to Spaulding, who sees injection mold making as an area of growth for the company.
According to Findley, it is good to have a shop like Ken-Mar nearby that can work on molds for him, since his facility is a small repair and maintenance shop.
Plastic Products in Lebanon operates 41 presses with 70-700 tons of clamping force, and primarily serves the home appliance industry.
In six years, sales have grown from a half million dollars to a projected $8 million this year. The company currently employs 115.
Ken-Mar offers computer-aided design and manufacturing, computer numerically controlled machining and turning, conventional and wire electronic discharge machining and laser cutting.