TALLMADGE, OHIO - On June 16, 2000, equipment supplier Milacron Inc. officially closed the doors at Akron Extruders Inc. after purchasing the company.
Three days later, Akron Quality Feedscrews Inc. hung a shingle and opened for business inside the former Akron Extruders building in Canal Fulton, Ohio.
Turnabout is fair play. But in the case of some former employees of Akron Extruders, that turnabout meant scrambling quickly to launch a new company and become budding plastics-equipment entrepreneurs.
``I went to a situation where I decided to take control of my own destiny,'' said Thomas Allen, president of Akron Quality Feedscrews and former manufacturing manager of Akron Extruders. ``Everyone here feels that same sense of responsibility.''
For Allen, a 29-year plastics-industry veteran, owning a start-up company was never in his cards. Before the acquisition, he had planned to retire from Akron Extruders and remain in the Akron, Ohio, area where he had spent the past three decades.
But life did not work out that way for Allen and more than 30 other employees of Akron Extruders, when gargantuan Milacron bought the small maker of extruders and screws.
Milacron set in motion its plans to move production of the small extruders from the Canal Fulton company in northeastern Ohio to its plant in Batavia, Ohio, where it makes single-screw extruders. Akron Extruders' screw products shifted to Cincinnati-based Milacron's Wear Technology screw and barrel plant in McPherson, Kan.
Milacron offered Allen and many other employees positions in Batavia. Although not eager to move about four hours away to southern Ohio, Allen met with Milacron officials in early June 2000.
Making the pitch
The meeting soon shifted from a discussion of relocation packages to one of starting a new company to serve Milacron and others. The large equipment supplier wanted someone to repair and rebuild screws and barrels and continue to serve former Akron Extruder customers.
``They didn't have anyone that they had decided upon to do that,'' Allen said. ``I told them, `Let's talk.' And instead of building my resume, I built a business relationship.''
Allen soon lined up a silent partner to help fund the new company. Less than two weeks after the meeting in Batavia, the feed-screw company was launched. Nine former Akron Extruder employees were hired, and three more people were added as the company grew.
Now, a year later, the company expects sales to exceed $1 million in 2001. It has expanded its customer base beyond Milacron to include plastics and rubber extrusion companies and other equipment manufacturers.
The company has brought a new attitude to some former Akron Extruder employees, who were dismayed when their livelihood was cut from under them with the sale. Milacron is not to blame for that, only the economic times, said Akron Quality Feedscrews manufacturing manager Mike Wenhold, a former purchasing manager for Akron Extruders.
``We were given the opportunity and ability to grow,'' Wenhold said. ``We're on our own here, and we like it that way.''
Managers decided to leave the more-expansive Canal Fulton site for a more manageable location, Allen said. After scouring the Akron area, the company decided to lease a 12,000-square-foot plant in Tallmadge.
The company has room to add 4,000 square feet if business keeps growing.
Milacron helped the new company get started by selling Akron Quality Feedscrews the equipment that had been in the Canal Fulton plant for a good price, said David Bertke, general manager for Milacron's plastics machinery applications business, which includes extrusion and industrial blow molding.
In return, Milacron gained a loyal supplier to rebuild screws on the company's Akron Milacron single-screw line that was created after the acquisition. Akron Quality Feedscrews also assembles electrical cabinets for Milacron machines.
``We feel like we helped the people there by filling the shop with work that they are doing for us,'' Bertke said. ``But it also makes economic sense to have someone standing behind our work that knows the service part of it.''
Akron Quality Feedscrews has been careful in two ways, Allen said. The firm does not want to be known merely as a Milacron vendor and has worked aggressively to broaden its customer base.
``We've knocked on a lot of doors,'' he said.
The company also has broadened its capabilities to make new screws - from three-quarters of an inch through 12-inch diameter - and barrels, as well as launching screw design and nozzle and tip assemblies.
While doing that, the company makes certain not to compete with existing Milacron customers for new screws and barrels, according to Allen.
Meanwhile, the new company is working like a start-up, with employees volunteering to work late nights and weekends when needed.
``It's been a pretty painless transition,'' Allen said. ``It's been a good way of servicing and salvaging extruder lines that others have, while keeping some of us from an uncertain fate.''