Compassionate customers, suppliers and even competitors helped La Pac Manufacturing Inc. rebound from a massive fire two years ago.
La Pac, a Crowley, La., manufacturer of woven polypropylene bags, lost its equipment, building and inventory in a fire April 20, 2003.
``It was vital that our customers stuck with us,'' recalled La Pac General Manager Edward Leger. Some paid ahead of schedule to help La Pac's cash flow; others accepted revised designs and graphics because La Pac could not fill all orders the way it used to.
Leger feels La Pac's emphasis on service - such as hopping into a pickup truck in the middle of the night to deliver PP sacks to a rice mill before the grain spoiled - helped make customers sympathetic to his firm's plight.
``We take pride in our customer service,'' but never expected La Pac would have to draw so heavily on customers' goodwill, he said.
La Pac's main resin supplier, BP Amoco Chemical Co., temporarily gave the Crowley company favorable payment terms. And some competitors helped out by filling orders for La Pac rather than trying to steal customers away, Leger said. One notable helper was Intertape Polymer Group Inc., which lent La Pac production equipment at no charge.
La Pac is now at about 90 percent of the capacity it had before the fire. Leger expects to reach equivalent capacity soon, when electrical hookups are done for a final bank of looms. Employment is at about 100, which is two-thirds the level La Pac had before it burned to the ground.
The company has installed two tape extruders sourced from Taiwan that have more capacity than the four extruders destroyed in the fire. The new machines also make flatter tape, boosting quality of the finished woven PP bags, Leger said.
Shortly after the fire, the private firm moved operations to an unoccupied facility a half mile away, which it since has expanded to nearly 150,000 square feet, the area of its original building, Leger said in a phone interview.
Leger declined to estimate damage done in the fire except to say it was in the millions of dollars. The firm's owners, Peter and David John, barely hesitated before planning to start anew after the setback. Well after the blaze, investigators pointed to an exploding forklift battery as the likely cause, not a lightning strike as initially thought. No one was injured. A sister marketing company, Louisiana Bag Co., shared the destroyed facility.
Leger said operations were very cramped in the former Crowley Garment Factory that La Pac occupied after the fire. With only 35,000 square feet of space there, La Pac was forced to rent warehouse space offsite. When the company could not make a deal on a larger building nearby, it decided to expand the Crowley Garment site. The addition was featured in an open house May 27.