PureFlex Inc. is expanding its fluoropolymer fluid-handling and fluid-sealing product manufacturing capability, as well as its research and development operations for Teflon products, with the relocation of its headquarters into a 65,000-square-foot facility. PureFlex attributed the expansion to six years of "explosive growth," despite a tight labor market and the founder's bout with leukemia early in the company's existence, said national sales manager Michael Matz.
Kentwood, Mich.-based PureFlex makes plastic hoses with varying abilities to withstand high temperatures and chemical handling. The firm also produces FlexChem, a rubber-covered Teflon hose, as well as gaskets and seals.
"We're right to the rafters and it's getting tough to move around," Matz said. "We more than doubled our sales last year, and we're on track to nearly double them this year." He declined to give exact sales figures.
Fabrication, extrusion and machining will take place in the new facility. Ring-seal molding and Task-Line gasket production will continue at PureFlex's 30,000-square-foot plant located about one-half mile from the new operation.
The new facility will give PureFlex more space for product improvement work, according to Ron Andronaco, company founder and president.
"Our goal is to come out with two new products every year," he said. "At any given time, we have 12 research and development projects going on at once."
The new headquarters will more than double the production capacity, both in terms of volume and hose diameter capability. Matz said the move into the leased facility should be complete this summer.
"We will be able to extend product size offering, mostly in the hose area," he said. "It also will improve our efficiencies, which will reduce our costs."
PureFlex has been on this growth track for the past several years. In March 1994, Andronaco, then 34, said he jumped on an opportunity and founded PureFlex with four employees in a 5,000-square-foot building. Today the company has grown to about 50 workers.
When Andronaco was diagnosed with leukemia in October 1995 and had to take time off for a lifesaving bone-marrow transplant, fewer than 10 employees kept PureFlex alive.
"Since I've been back, which was roughly March of 1996, we've grown close to 2,200 percent in sales," Andronaco said. "We've got some history behind the company which makes us very unique."
In December 1997, PureFlex opened a 30,000-square-foot facility after it purchased the Task-Line gasket product line and started manufacturing ring seals.
Now Andronaco said a shortage of employees is the only thing slowing down his company's growth. The firm normally employs between 45 and 50, and typically has openings.
"The 2.2 percent unemployment in Grand Rapids right now — that's what's limiting our growth at this point," he said. "Otherwise we'd be growing much faster than we are."
The company acquired two smaller fluoropolymer manufacturers in the past two years, and plans to acquire more companies as PureFlex grows, Andronaco said. He did not give details on the acquisitions.
PureFlex has reinvested all its profits in the company for new equipment and product research, he said. Though PureFlex continues to grow, its decision-making body does not.
"We make decisions in Internet time," Andronaco said. "That means that we don't have huge bureaucracies that we need to weed through before a decision can be implemented."
PureFlex's growth comes at the expense of its competitors, not from market growth, Matz said.
"We're giving [the customers] better products quicker and at better prices," he said. "We've been in business six years and we've surpassed people who have been in business 40 years."