After two years of development, thermoformer Grimm Bros. Plastics Corp. has produced its first proprietary product, a drying cabinet in which to hang wet clothes after washing.
It might be a stretch to say that Grimm is betting its future on clothes drying. But the custom thermoformer, based in Wapello, is hoping to move into its own proprietary product line as a hedge against a tough market.
The company is no stranger to making cabinets or appliance components - its first product was an electronic cabinet made of particle board that was introduced in 1985, said sales and marketing manager Larry Moser.
In the past, the company has made a diverse mix of products, choosing not to ally too closely to only one customer, Moser said. The medical, food and beverage, recreational and off-road equipment markets are some of its areas of penetration. And since 2001, the company has been an approved supplier to Caterpillar Inc., making components for construction equipment.
But with the industry fairly flat and its owners looking for new opportunities, the idea of a drying unit was born. The company has experience with similar-looking parts, including appliances, and owners Curt and Kent Grimm decided to try something new, Moser said.
``We still have to identify the market we want to serve and how we want to sell this,'' said Moser, interviewed May 13 at the Grimm facility in southeastern Iowa. ``We're not giving up on our custom work, but we think a proprietary product can add another level to the company. It gives us a good mix.''
The unit, thermoformed from ABS sheet with a high-gloss acrylic cap, features a sophisticated ventilation system that Grimm Bros. developed through its knowledge of other household parts, he said. The cabinet, called BreezeDry, is made of 11 separate parts. The design features an arching groove in the door for added style.
The company is attempting to sell the product to upscale consumers who do not want to hang wet clothes on a line but prefer their apparel to be air-dried, Moser said.
``People don't always want to hang clothes under a stairway or in a closet or shower stall,'' Moser said. ``It's an economical way to dry delicates and other clothes that you don't want to tumble dry.''
Though the product is ready to go, the company still has to convince others of the concept and find a distribution method. Curt and Kent Grimm were in Las Vegas in early May to attend a kitchen and bath show and to look for potential marketing leads, Moser said. The thermoformer would like to launch the drying cabinet by the end of the year, he said.
Business is starting to pick up at Grimm after several slower years for many heavy-gauge thermoformers. The company recently has added new services to help boost its presence with customers, he said.
One of those changes has been a new computer numerically controlled machining center that moves Grimm into tooling production. While the company has repaired and maintained tools in the past, it now can make its own molds for customers. The high-speed Fidel mill will help Grimm control costs on projects and speed delivery on some parts, he said.
The unit recently was installed and will start operation this summer, Moser said.
The company also has installed a 33-ton Arburg injection press to sample parts and make some sub-assembly pieces that can be used with its thermoformed parts, he said. The injection molded handles on the new drying cabinet are being made with the Arburg press.
But the move into proprietary products is the biggest change for a company that always has been a custom-driven thermoformer.
Company sales have remained fairly flat, at about $9 million per year, and employment has remained steady at about 90 people, Moser said.