Chuck Meadors has seen his industry go through the good times and the bad. He's watched his own company rise, then fall. In 2001, custom composite products molder Zehrco Plastics Inc., based in Ashtabula, Ohio, hit rock bottom. The firm was affected by a confluence of factors, including the death of its founder, Bill Meadors.
``We found ourselves cut in half with a plummeting economy,'' Meadors said in a recent telephone interview. ``I had to do a little bit of a retreat and find myself in another way.''
Facing bankruptcy, Meadors sold 100 percent of Zehrco's assets to competitor GMR Technology Inc., also based in Ashtabula. GMR is owned by father-son duo Ralph and Tony Giancola. As a result of the deal, in June, GMR Technology formed Zehrco-Giancola Composites Inc., which has three plants in Ashtabula. Ralph Giancola is chief executive officer; Tony Giancola is chief operating officer.
``What we literally did was found ourselves eliminating a competitor,'' Meadors said. ``Collectively, we have enhanced our resources [with] facilities, locations, equipment and intelligence. This has made us much more effective in a common goal and objective.''
The combined firms have more than 70 presses and 100 employees. They focus on compression, thermoset injection and transfer molding.
``We already have been expanding in capital expenditures, in growing press capacity with additional equipment,'' Meadors said. ``With the absence of Bill, we are reunited with that entrepreneurship, family commitment and values. It's so much of that that is lost in this new era. Ralph brings that back to what we admired and respected so much. That's what excites me most about this new endeavor.''
GMR Technology will operate as a separate corporation for now, said Tony Giancola. That operation focuses on other areas, such as injection, phenolics and polyesters.
``If it makes sense in the future to combine it as one, we will,'' Giancola said in an Oct. 15 telephone interview. Still, officials are touting the companies as an integrated supplier able to handle compounding, product design, tooling, custom molding, subassembly, painting and machining.
Giancola said the companies offer a range of composite materials, including sheet molded compounds, bulk molded compounds, epoxies, phenolics, melamine, compression-molded solid surface acrylics and urea. Ashtabula itself has a rich history of composite production. In 1948, Robert Morrison founded Molded Fiber Resin Cos. In 1953, the company was chosen to produce all the fiber-reinforced plastic parts for the Corvette.
GMR and Zehrco have competed for 20 years, Meadors said, but Zehrco was hit particularly hard in 2001. It grew from $8 million in sales in the 1980s to a $22 million company in the 1990s, boasting developments like the composite material for the world's strongest shovel handle and awards for products like compression molded spill containers for use at gas stations.
By 2001, the firm was completing a $5 million SMC facility, with plans to consolidate two facilities into one. That had been the wish of Bill Meadors, who died in June 2001 from leukemia. That year introduced other factors, including the economic impact of Sept. 11, that would push Zehrco to sell the plant. By year's end, Zehrco had lost its second-largest customer.
Meadors sold the new SMC plant to Plastpro Inc., a Livingston, N.J., maker of composite doors.
``I had no option,'' Meadors said. ``I could not afford the cost of completion. Nor could I afford the costly project of moving from two operational manufacturing facilities into one. The estimated cost was $1.5 million and that's not financeable. That comes out of your pocket. And I wasn't about to get caught between third and home base. I didn't have the funds to make the move.''
Still, Meadors said Zehrco-Giancola is better off in the global economy.
``We aren't large enough just to expand to Asia or wherever, but it is our opinion and our belief that most people can buy anything they want for whatever price they're willing to pay, somewhere in the world. But they would just as soon do that by having world-class suppliers on a more local or domestic basis, where they don't have to deal with time zones, language barriers, dollar exchanges, etc.,'' he said. ``While we're not in China, we would like to think that we can perform competitively, sparing those unneeded or additional issues that we would have to deal with otherwise.''