At Rowmark Inc. in Findlay, geese, squirrels and fish greet guests and employees. Murals boast of a ``critter culture,'' in which each animal represents a positive cultural attitude.
Twelve times a year, an employee is honored as the ``Squirrel of the Month.'' Three plasma-screen televisions are spaced throughout the 55,000-square-foot complex to showcase extrusion output, key measures of profitability or employee birthdays.
President Duane Jebbett walks around quoting J. Paul Getty and Charles Darwin, keeping the company focused on being a speed-to-market manufacturer that is approachable and determined to survive.
``We don't plan to be bought,'' Jebbett said in a recent interview. ``We're always strategically moving the company forward.''
It's a necessary focus in the increasingly global marketplace, officials said, especially for a small, privately held manufacturer. Rowmark specializes in signage and engraving sheet.
Rowmark management has blended two motivational philosophies to create the critter culture: Gung Ho! and the Fish! philosophy of Seattle's famous Pike Place Fish market.
The emphasis has to be on people and motivating employees to carry the company forward, Jebbett explained in a recent tour of the facilities.
Rowmark recently changed its tagline to ``Great People, Great Plastic,'' with a new marketing campaign that uses Rowmark employees.
Jebbett and company emphasize human capital, keeping employees motivated to want to do their best. The firm is considering a number of options for capital expansion.
Officials are upgrading extrusion lines, replacing a 21/2-inch line with a 31/2-inch line, improving the downstream equipment to process sheet 60 inches wide. They then will have a 21/2-inch coextrusion line, a 31/2-inch line, and a 41/2-inch coextrusion line. The firm installed two new Walton/ Stout dryers. Now, the company has seven base resin dryers and six concentrate dryers.
``We will be able to accommodate any size of a project very efficiently,'' Jebbett said. ``Flexibility and speed are two major areas of concentration.''
The company, which employs about 75, also has to address succession planning. For instance, what happens if someone is killed in some type of accident? For Rowmark, that fear became a reality in 1997 when owner Fred Kremer was killed in a plane crash. Pilots Harvey Pace and Phillip Wyse, also killed in the accident, were Rowmark employees. Kremer had purchased Rowmark from pipe maker Hancor Inc. earlier that year.
``We're growing so fast, if someone is hit by a bus, what happens?'' Jebbett asked during the plant tour. ``We're always thinking about that succession planning.
``We have to train our people on the vision that we're trying to create, and therefore your skill requirements change over time.
``We're going to hire interns. We don't hire interns because we're trying to get rid of money. We do it because we know there's a future employee there. We work hard at being proactive vs. reactive. I think a lot of companies miss opportunities because they don't allow employees to make decisions.''
Premier Material Concepts, the sheet extrusion unit established in 2003, is growing ``like crazy'' now, Jebbett said. The Kremer family owns it, and officials will not disclose exact numbers. But for both firms, sales volume through April is up roughly 20 percent, with significant growth in profit.
``Fred is gone, but his family carries his legacy on,'' Jebbett said. ``The company has never not paid profit sharing and there has never been a layoff. We chose to not participate in the economic downturn - even with some significant price increases in raw materials, packaging, labor and benefit costs, transportation, energy costs - profits are up significantly over last year.''
The company will continue to work to expand.
``We'll control the growth by keeping it in small, bite-sized pieces; and making sure that we have clear, strategic directions for those units, [and then by supporting them with] financial resources and human resources,'' Jebbett said. ``If you're not into continuous improvement, you're asleep at the wheel, and the bottom line is, you will be chewed up.''
The firm is looking at joint ventures to increase its worldwide marketing initiatives.
``The most important thing to us in a joint venture is the integrity of their culture,'' Jebbett said. ``Without a culture that will mesh with ours, we will not venture into that relationship.''
The company entered a joint venture a year ago with rubber stamp manufacturer Trodat GmbH of Wels, Austria.
Last year, it also established warehousing operations in Ozoir, France. In August, it closed its sales office in Nijmegan, the Netherlands.
``We're exploring another [venture] right now with another foreign entity,'' said Jebbett, who was not ready to disclose information on the pending deal, or another one he expects to formalize in the next several months.
PMC will stay focused on unique products, avoiding commodity status. The company has developed products for firms like Little Tikes Co. and Newell-Rubbermaid Inc.
In May, it announced it was extruding a nonskid mat for a step-stool application in conjunction with Advanced Elastomer Systems LP of Akron, Ohio. Together, the firms developed a four-resin thermoplastic elastomrer blend exclusively for that use, officials said.
``We're not trying to get into truckloads of ABS for pennies a pound,'' said Eric Hausserman, PMC director of custom operations and engineering.
``We're looking for the niche markets, higher-margin, that quite frankly, other people don't want to mess around with, spending time to develop those products.''
Hausserman cited the example of inserts for Little Tikes and Rubbermaid products.
``Those folks were having trouble finding someone who would even do that, and now we have a nice product that we've been running for a year now. That's a nice margin; the customer's happy.'' Hausserman said.
``So I think that's another important element: really understanding the markets that you're going into and the products that you choose to supply to that market.''