The Making of Conair, a book written by Conair Group founder and Plastics Pioneer John C. Reib, demonstrates just how small the plastics industry really is. Reib traces his history in the plastics industry, including the jobs he held at molding companies and details of how they processed plastics in the 1940s.
Reib takes us with him as he progresses from mold maker to foreman to salesman (he got tired of laying off the ``older men'' due to lack of work during the 1948 recession). He eventually started his own sales-rep company called Reib Associates, then started auxilary equipment manufacturer Rainco Manufacturing, which became Conair.
He credits his wife, Lille, for coming up with the name Conair by using letters from a Scrabble game to rearrange the name Rainco to Conair.
The Making of Conair is a history book filled with many recognizable names - a who's who in the plastics industry. Many continue to be prominent in the industry today. For example, Hub Scott is mentioned. His Houston-based company, Hub Scott & Associates, is a well-known manufacturer's representative for machinery and auxiliary equipment, and Scott still is pounding the pavement for orders.
Also mentioned is Robert Mor-rison, founder of Molded Resin Fiber Co., a firm known today as Morrison Molded Fiber Glass Co. Morrison negotiated with Reib to machine the core and cavity for a Wonder Bread tray that Morrison made for bread delivery trucks. Morrison, now headed by Richard Morrison, still makes bread trays.
There's mention of West Coast Plastic Distributors and Charlie Zimmerman, a crusty, California Plastics Pioneer who dropped the Conair lines in a dispute.
``That was the first and only time that a rep dropped us,'' Reib writes, ``except under the pressure of the AEC-Whitlock merger.''
Reib doesn't hold back. He tells the good, the bad and the ugly in the evolution of the auxiliary equipment business. He discusses ``The Disaster'' in one chapter and ``The Recovery'' in another.
There are many pieces of trivia throughout the book. Did you know that John F. Kennedy was assassinated on the final day of an NPE show in Chicago - Nov. 22, 1963?
``People simply left the show, and we exhibitors started tearing down our booths,'' he writes.
It also shows the incestuous nature of the auxiliary equipment industry. Reib hired David Whitlock, son of the founder of Reib's competitor Whitlock Inc., to be director of customer communication. AEC had purchased Whitlock and David was not happy there. He stayed with Conair until its sale in 1986.
Reib also was an early pioneer of business aviation. In a chapter he calls ``The Airplanes,'' Reib tells of getting his private pilot's license on Aug. 13, 1958, and of his own light plane he used to make sales calls. He also relates a close call one rainy night when the engine in a friend's plane quit and they had to make an emergency landing on a road.
Reib is not shy about inserting his opinions of people and institutions. He talks of his experiences with the banking community in a chapter called ``Bankers.''
When he turned 60, Reib confesses in the book, he ``felt as if the Peter Principle had finally caught up with me.''
``Running a small company was fun. The company was now so big and complicated that I felt I reached my level of incompetence.''
It's a feeling to which I'm sure many owners of small businesses can relate.
Reib's youngest daughter kept pestering him to write his memoirs ``for the grandchildren.'' One morning at 4 a.m. Reib woke up thinking about something that happened in 1948, so he got up and began writing. The result is a story told with humor and insight, with a sense of the human side of business.
If you've been in the plastics industry for many years and love the business, The Making of Conair is a must-read. If you're new in the plastics industry, there's no doubt that the book will give you an in-depth history lesson of the evolution of a great industry.
Copies of The Making of Conair can be obtained for $29 by calling Technomic Publishing at (800) 233-9936. All profit from the book's sales will go to the Plastics Pioneers' Education Fund.