WORCESTER, MASS. — The challenge for management at ECM Plastics Inc. is finding a way to go easy on the brake pedal as the 5-year-old compounding firm races ahead.
"We're trying to go at a managed rate," ECM President Wayne Marquis said in an April 19 interview at ECM headquarters in Worcester. "It would be really hard on us if we tried to double our size overnight."
The firm already has added two extrusion lines this year and will add a third before year's end. At that time, ECM's 12 lines will have annual capacity of about 70 million pounds.
Sales are expected to hit the $20 million mark this year, after finishing around $17 million in 2000. ECM's employee count is expected to grow from 80 people to 90 this year as well.
ECM has room to install about six more lines in the 120,000-square-foot building it bought last year from American Polymers Inc., Marquis said. The spacious building, which originally served as a grocery distribution warehouse, includes a rail siding.
A majority of ECM's business is in custom color compounds, with its largest end markets in cosmetics and personal care. Gillette Co. is one of ECM's larger customers in this area. Boston-based Gillette honored ECM as one of its top suppliers in 2000, a distinction given to only 19 of Gillette's 1,800 suppliers.
The injection molding market makes up the bulk of ECM's sales, although the firm also does some business in extrusion. About 30 percent of ECM's compounds are based on polyolefins, with the rest of its product mix coming from styrenics and engineering resins such as nylon, acetal and acrylic.
The firm plans to stick with its custom-heavy approach rather than produce mass-market grades of color compounds, Marquis said.
"Our customers like the fact that we're 100 percent custom," he said. "There's a lot to be said for customer service and jumping through hoops for people."
ECM can fill order sizes as small as 50 pounds and can turn small orders around in 24 hours if necessary. In one extreme case, a customer shipped ECM a resin for compounding that ECM did not have in stock to complete an emergency job.
Marquis credits the experience level of ECM management with some of the firm's early success. Marquis and his three co-owners — sales Vice President Mike Madden, marketing Vice President John Coz and manufacturing Vice President Randy Youngsma — worked together for more than a decade at Coz Plastics Inc., a Northbridge, Mass.-based compounder founded by John Coz's father, Henry, in the late 1950s.
The ECM quartet left Coz in 1996, shortly before Allied Products Corp., the Chicago firm that had bought Coz in the late 1960s, sold the business to PMC Inc. of Sun Valley, Calif.
The foursome then bought American Polymers' compounding unit, which consisted of a mere three machines at the time.
"Some people thought a four-way partnership wouldn't work," Marquis said. "But we've known each other for a long time. Everyone has their area of expertise and sticks to it."