COOS BAY, ORE. - The idea for pet coffins - called Pet Beds - was born in one of the monthly meetings of Quadel Industries' managers. During the meetings, Everett Luckman polls his managers for product ideas. At one meeting, the manager of the rotational molding department mentioned her friend who bought a Quadel shipping box to use as a pet coffin.
From that moment on, Qua-del's vacuum forming department began making Pet Beds and selling them.
Only a tiny fraction of Qua-del's output is for the custom market - that is, manufacturers who buy plastic components. Instead, Quadel designs, makes, markets and delivers 95 percent of what it produces. Therefore, brainstorming during meetings is not only a rich source of product ideas, it is a necessity for a firm whose location, only a stone's throw from the Pacific, puts it out of the ordinary marketing loop.
``The vast majority of our business is proprietary,'' said Luckman. ``We sell about 450 varieties of our own products. We run our own truck line and our own five-person sales force. We mail out a catalog and sell in 39 states and half a dozen other countries.''
The foundation of Quadel'sbusiness - about 65 percent of its output - is rotomolded tanks. The firm sells its septic tanks, water tanks and agricultural tanks to plumbing, electrical and agricultural retailers.
``We have more than 40 varieties of tanks, ranging from 30-3,500 gallons in size,'' Luckman said.
Luckman would not disclose sales figures for his firm.
Quadel's tank-making business was part of what Luckman, his wife Lorraine, his brother and his wife purchased in 1984. At that time, they had the Pacific Northwest market largely to themselves.
``In the Northwest, we were the only tank manufacturer. We broke a lot of ground for our current competitors. In the California market, we were only one of two. Now, we're one of seven or eight and competition is fierce. But we maintain our position because the market has grown so much,'' said Luckman.
It is a market that has been taken over by plastic, since it is easier to handle, quicker to install, and almost always less expensive than metal or concrete. Luckman says Quadel is the second-largest plastic tank maker on the West Coast.
The Luckmans immediately realized their growth potential lay in niche marketing. To begin, they had to expand their tank line. Another reason for expansion was to provide the firm with a market during the winter when rain and cold weather cuts tank-market activity to half its summertime average.
In 1988, the Luckmans bought extrusion machinery and a smallmesh-making business from another local plastics manufacturer. What they got was seedling protectors - mesh cylinders which the Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service fits over tree seedlings to protect them from browsing deer or elk.
``Using our protectors, they can boost the yield of seedlings from 65 percent of those planted to 85 or 90 percent,'' Luckman said.
As the trees mature, the forestry managers protect it with another, larger mesh net made by Quadel or its Auburn, Wash.-based competitor Norplex.
The next step was to expand the extruder business. The Luckmans said they have been so effective at broadening their line of flat mesh bags that they estimate their current market share at 85 percent. It includes everything from bags for flower bulbs to extremely fine mesh bags used for shipping ladybugs and praying mantises to gardeners.
The addition of the extruded-product business also enabled the Luckmans to smooth out the hills and valleys of their rotomolding business. They have cross-trained their employees to shift from rotational molding in the summer to extrusion in the winter.
``That way, we aren't laying off and hiring back with the hope that the people will still be around when we need them,'' said Luckman.
In 1990, the Luckmans decided to expand southward. Shipping costs limit their tank sales to a 600-mile radius. To make it possible to cover Southern California, they bought a rotational molding plant in Porterville, near Bakersfield.
Then, in 1992, they expanded in another way.
``I was offered a hell of a deal on a vacuum former,'' said Luckman.
He and Lorraine decided they could use the former to manufacture components for products they already were making in rotational molding. For example, they make and sell a portable restroom called Gottago John. Its shell is made by rotational molding. Now, the only worker in vacuum molding makes its vents and domes using vacuum molding.
They hope their new vacuum formed product, Pet Beds, will blossom into a profitable item. So far, it is being sold through direct-mail advertising to pet cemeteries and veterinarians.
Although the Luckmans concentrate on proprietary, end-user products, they also produce a handful of custom products. They make parts for tube slides for Portland-based Compass Toys. The slides are sold to schools and public playgrounds.
The company employs a total of 45 in both plants. Everett Luckman is president and Lorraine Luckman is vice president and treasurer.
The Luckmans' decision to operate a plastics plant in relative isolation from the rest of the industry was deliberate.
They met in Detroit where Everett Luckman was in the military. In 1968, they married and moved to Coos Bay to help Luckman's father run an equipment rental store. Luckman's brother and his wife joined them in the purchase of the rotational molding business in 1984. When his brother was killed in a farm accident, Luckman and his wife bought the remainder of the business from their sister-in-law.
The Luckmans' two sons have joined them in Quadel. Jason, 22, sells rotational molded products to retailers. Eric, 26, is in charge of maintenance and engineering. His wife, Connie, handles direct-mail advertising and telemarketing for Pet Beds.
The Luckmans have been urged to move their business to Eugene, Ore., or another larger community, but decided early on to keep the business in Coos Bay and live in Coquille, Ore.
``We liked the idea of bringing up our kids in a smaller town,'' said Lorraine Luckman. ``I love it here. It might hurt us in our ability to grow fast, but we're happy where we are.''