Right in the middle of the changeover to digital high-definition television is an injection molder and assembler that will open another North American plant by year-end and projects 1998 sales of more than $100 million.
Mulay Plastics Inc. estimates that it molded cabinets for almost 40 percent of all TVs sold in the United States in 1997, according to Jack Shedd, executive vice president. Separating out in-house captive molding business — at Thomson Consumer Electronics Inc., Zenith Electronics Corp. and Matsushita/Panasonic—from available custom work boosts Mulay's portion to more than 60 percent, Shedd said.
Mulay molds cabinets for nine TV manufacturers in all, including Sharp and Sanyo. It competes for that business with independent molders such as California firms Kyowa America Corp. of Costa Mesa, Compass Plastics & Technologies Inc. of Gardena and Industrial Molding Corp. Plastics of Rancho Dominguez.
Sam Mulay and six others founded Mulay Plastics in 1969. Back then, at age 52, Sam Mulay was entering unfamiliar territory, never having run a manufacturing business before, said his son Douglas. But he knew what the customer wanted, Douglas Mulay recalled during interviews in Coronado, Calif., and Ciudad Ju rez, Mexico.
Sam Mulay was born on a Vineland, N.J., farm in 1917 and lived there until his family moved to Chicago in 1934.
He took a job in an Admiral Radio Corp. factory and became known as a skilled athlete on company baseball teams. In the late 1930s, he settled into a position as a purchasing agent in the early TV industry, picking up his first sales skills from those representatives pitching products to his employers.
He became a manufacturer's representative himself in 1950, for plastics, springs, stampings and corrugated materials firms.
The plastics outfit he represented, MSL, had 70 injection presses in a large Franklin Park, Ill., plant. Facing manufacturing and market issues, MSL, a unit of the Minneapolis St. Paul Railroad, decided in 1969 to exit the plastics business. That was Mulay's cue.
Using his sales skills, he talked the holding company into keeping the plastics operation going for another seven months. He convinced plastics customers that he would place their future work.
Behind the scenes, he borrowed and leveraged against every family asset and lined up six men with skills vital to establishing a molding business and a willingness to invest.
The business started in January 1970 in a leased, 26,000-square-foot plant in Addison, Ill., with five Lombard presses.
Sales and customer service were Mulay Plastics' strengths, unlike some firms with tooling or manufacturing roots. Along the way, the Mulay organization built those capabilities.
Sam Mulay remained the outside sales link and correctly read a series of wrenching industry shifts, most leading to Japanese ownership of TV makers.
Regarding the Japanese entry, Douglas Mulay said: ``Dad wasn't afraid to take risk. He embraced the culture [and] their future way of manufacturing.'' Some molders resisted the intrusion, he said. ``They're not around now.''
None of the transitions was easy, but the Addison operations grew to encompass five separate buildings that molded and finished radio and TV housings and refrigerator components.
By 1978, Mulay was supplying Sanyo in Forrest City, Ark., and listening to industry talk about manufacturing in the Sunbelt. Although it lacked a big customer base, Mulay Plastics put itself closer to the action by acquiring a struggling Holly Springs, Miss., plant with a half-dozen molding machines and 20 employees.
Even retooled, the operation became a financial and emotional burden, and, by 1980, Mulay's accountants told him to sell Holly Springs. Feisty Sam Mulay's eventual answer: Change accountants.
Today the Holly Springs plant has grown to 180,000 square feet and 350 employees.
By 1988, Mulay was ready to expand into the Southwest, encouraged by longtime customer Sony. Its 160,000-square-foot plant in Casa Grande, Ariz., which employs 330, is roughly equidistant from customers with Mexican maquiladoras in Tijuana and Ciudad Ju rez, and plants in Southern California.
At age 75 Sam Mulay became chairman emeritus and, while technically retired, came in daily as a senior trainer of regional sales directors and others.
Douglas Mulay, who became president in 1991, hired James Rabelhofer as chief financial officer. Shedd was hired in 1994 as vice president of sales and marketing. He now also oversees operations.
In mid-1995, physicians found an inoperable cancer in Sam Mulay, who took the news in stride and opted to make a stylish exit: an elaborate, upbeat, personally funded party seven months later. About 500 attended A Salute to Sam's Friends at an Oak Brook, Ill., hotel in January 1996. Each woman received a piece of Waterford crystal, and each man, a sweatshirt imprinted with a party logo and Sam Mulay caricature.
``He had a blast,'' Douglas Mulay recalls.
Meanwhile, Mulay executives were pursuing customer-driven expansions in Tijuana and Forrest City.
Douglas Mulay said: ``Over eight months, we started Forrest City, started Tijuana, phased out Addison and lost Dad.'' Sam Mulay died in November 1996 at age 79.
Today, the firm's 130,000-square-foot Tijuana plant employs 315 and custom molds orders for eight accounts. Mulay Plastics' Forrest City operation came out of a Sanyo request to establish a fully dedicated molding plant adjacent to its TV assembly plant. The Forrest City plant occupies 90,000 square feet and employs 125.
Market shifts and expansions to the South and Southwest led to the Addison plant's closure. Fifteen of 190 Addison workers accepted offers to relocate to other Mulay plants, and the firm helped place most of the others over five to six months.
``We had placed 92 percent [of the work force] by the time we closed'' the operations, Mulay said.
The 100,000-square-foot Addison plant is in escrow, and the sale should close in September. Soon, Mulay's senior executives, accounting operation and design engineering staff will find new offices in the Chicago area.
Mulay Plastics' most recent development supports customer Philips Consumer Electronics Corp. in Ciudad Ju rez. By year-end, the maquiladora Mulay de Ju rez SA de CV will begin molding housings in a 105,000-square-foot plant now under construction.
In addition, a joint venture of Mulay and Skokie, Ill.-based stamper Electro-Metal Products Corp. will begin assembling plastic and metal components in the Mulay plant. The venture, also involving Electro-Metal's El Paso, Texas, plant, was announced May 20.
Television molding, finishing and assembly account for about 68 percent of Mulay Plastics' sales; computer housings, 22 percent; and telecommunications enclosures, 10 percent. All plants use Gain Technologies Inc.'s gas-assisted molding process.
Mulay management, Dubin Clark & Co. Inc. of Greenwich, Conn., and Cigna Corp. of Hartford, Conn., all hold a financial stake in Mulay Plastics.