SALEM, OHIO — Worthington Custom Plastics Inc. has changed its name in an ongoing campaign to take flight from the company's former image.
The injection molder hopes the new monicker, Blackhawk Automotive Plastics Inc., will help shed the patina of a stodgier, more conservative steel company.
In May 1999 Columbus, Ohio-based steel processor Worthington Industries Inc. sold Worthington Custom Plastics to an investment group that includes former Worthington managers, Cleveland-based Key Equity Capital Corp. and Blackhawk President and Chief Executive Officer Clifford Croley.
A year later, the Salem-based company is backing its aggressive, predatory-bird nameplate with action. It is investing heavily in equipment at its three plants, spending $15 million in the past year and at least $10 million in 2000.
The company also has taken an ownership stake in a new minority-owned automotive molder, Nescor Plastics Corp. of Mesopotamia, Ohio. Majority owner Darrell McNair purchased the company May 31, with Blackhawk buying a piece of it.
"We've taken on a new name, a new attitude, new activities and a new culture," Croley said in a June 7 interview in Salem.
The Nescor acquisition is one example of Blackhawk's new strategy to expand the business both organically and through acquisition. McNair, a former Ford Motor Co. executive in both the controllers office and purchasing, was seeking to re-enter the automotive market after heading up a health-care business in Detroit since 1996.
Croley and McNair, who had worked on projects together, decided to seek a company to acquire, McNair said. They found Nescor, a maker of injection molded and assembled air outlets. Company owner Nelson Shivley was ready to retire after starting the company in 1986, McNair said.
Nescor has grown to 130 employees and 17 injection presses with a clamping force ranging from 110-500 tons. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.
"Timing is everything," McNair said. "Automotive is in my blood, and this was a good way to come back to it."
Nescor will supply Blackhawk with air outlets for assembly with the company's instrument panels, and also will provide the products for other Tier 1 suppliers to General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler Corp. Nescor expects to record between $10 million and $12 million in sales this year, Croley said.
By purchasing a minority share in Nescor, Blackhawk also satisfies the requests of some of its automaking customers. U.S.-based automakers are asking their suppliers to make 5 percent of their purchases from minority-owned companies and to help those companies grow.
Blackhawk's purchase of a share of Nescor goes a step beyond those basic requirements, Croley said.
"It maintains the spirit and the language of what we are asked to do for minority-owned companies," Croley said. "We're doing this in a correct way by investing in a living, breathing company."
Blackhawk is seeking other acquisition candidates, as well as new plant locations, Croley said. He projects that sales will reach $210 million this year, up from $200 million in 1999.
Internal growth also continues to be a target at Blackhawk.
During the past year, the company added 12 injection molding machines. Seven more presses are scheduled to arrive at its plants within the next 90 days, Croley said.
The company also updated its plant operations in Mason, Upper Sandusky and Salem, Ohio. Robotic-arm pickers and automated conveyor lines have been installed on some machines, and the plants implemented a lean-manufacturing approach to operations, said Joseph Buzzitta, executive vice president for sales and marketing with Blackhawk and a former executive with automotive supplier Key Plastics LLC.
The company also has installed a companywide computer system that ties together supply chain management, project management and electronic-commerce functions, Buzzitta said.
"Our customers are looking for better speed and service offerings from their suppliers," Buzzitta said. "We're trying to give customers what they want to see."
That includes a full array of services at Blackhawk's plants. Its core molding work involves instrument panels, air outlet registers and deflectors, in-mold trim plates, exterior grilles and body side panels.
But the under-new-ownership company also has placed greater emphasis on other capabilities, including pad printing, silk screening, interior and exterior painting and in-mold appliques.
An instrument panel for the 2000 Chevrolet Impala from General Motors, Blackhawk's largest single customer, includes special touches from Blackhawk such as molded-in decorative trim with wood-grain accents and a liquid-rubber seal that also stems noise.
In the wake of recent financial troubles suffered by other automotive molders close to Blackhawk's size, Croley emphasized that his company is taking a fiscally conservative approach to growth.
"We want to keep this a stable, profitable company," he said. "We'll be ramping up more, but we intend to show good discipline when we do that."