With his purging compound business up against a mature market and a slow economy, RapidPurge owner Dennis Slavin decided to take a chance by moving his company down dual paths.
Slavin placed a bid to buy another local company, Preferred Pattern & Model Co., a maker of solid-wood patterns for vacuum forming applications. The small company was looking for a buyer, but works in a completely separate area of the plastics industry, Slavin said.
RapidPurge won the bid to purchase Preferred Pattern and will close the sale March 20. After that, the company's equipment and lead patternmaker will move to RapidPurge's facility in Stratford, Conn.
``We're doing a little diversifying,'' Slavin said. ``We did not have the best year last year and could either go behind the wall and hide, or expand. We decided to put in a bid on a company that was available and turn it around.''
Preferred Pattern, also based in Stratford, is well-known in the modeling world, having been in business close to 40 years. But the company also was struggling to survive the death of owner Ernest Gosteli seven years ago, and longtime shop foreman William Peck in 2000, said President Helen Pipa.
Pipa, Gosteli's daughter, had come in to help handle the operation and had not planned on running it, she said. But with a longtime patternmaker still employed and a group of customers, she did not want to close the business.
Gosteli's children were not experienced patternmakers, a craft that cannot be taught easily at trade school, she said. The business was on the market for two years, while Pipa and one patternmaker continued to run the shrinking operation.
``We kids were kind of dazed and confused,'' she said. ``When [Peck] died, we felt like we owned a restaurant without knowing how to cook.''
Slavin plans to keep the Preferred Pattern name and will add a toll-free number for customers, separate from that for his chemical-purging business. Equipment - including a host of saws, workbenches and tools - will move to the RapidPurge plant. Operations there are to begin April 1, he said.
Bill Schumaker, the 67-year-old head patternmaker for Preferred Pattern, will join the RapidPurge team, Slavin said. The company also has hired a younger patternmaker, Michael Appel, and will groom him to run the vacuum form modeling operation, he said.
Preferred Pattern will occupy about 4,000 square feet in RapidPurge's 15,500-square-foot facility. The company hopes to boost employment from two patternmakers to eight once business grows, Slavin said.
Preferred Pattern is one of a handful of U.S.-based companies that make wood patterns to form the halves of many vacuum formed consumer products, including packaging for cosmetics and candy makers.
The labor-intensive patterns, made of mahogany and other solid woods, are used as prototypes before tooling is completed.
For about 21 years, RapidPurge has produced chemical compounds used to clean contaminants from molding equipment, Slavin said. That business, while steady, also is maturing, he said. Competitors from Japan have entered the U.S. market in recent years, depressing prices, he said.
``I'm not one to stay on the sidelines and watch things roll out,'' Slavin said. ``You have to work to turn things around and the only way to do that is to be aggressive.''
For Pipa at Preferred Pattern, the sale to RapidPurge gives her some relief, especially because the company name will continue and Schumaker will remain in the business.
``I can sleep well at night now,'' she said. ``It feels good.''