B&M Plastics Inc. hasn't slowed down since moving to Evansville from nearby Mount Vernon, Ind., last year. If anything, the 22-year-old firm is growing faster than ever.
B&M now has a 300,000-square-foot compounding site that's four times the size of its Mount Vernon digs. Sales for its new fiscal year, which launched July 1, are expected to be around $24 million, a jump of more than 25 percent over the previous fiscal year, according to B&M President and owner Bill Gillenwater. In Evansville, B&M employs 65, but that number should grow to 100 by 2007.
B&M also has added three extrusion lines since making the move to Evansville. Two of the lines are single-screw, giving the firm a total of 10 such lines. The third new line is B&M's first-ever twin-screw line.
``Eleven [extrusion line] slots is plenty for this location,'' Gillenwater said. ``This site brings merit to us being a real compounder. That plus our longevity works in our favor.''
Along the way, B&M has had to grapple with its relationship with GE Plastics, which operates a massive plant in Mount Vernon. Gillenwater worked at GE for a decade before launching B&M, and for the first 15 years of B&M's history, GE was far and away its biggest customer. In some years, toll compounding for GE made up 90 percent of B&M's sales, Gillenwater said.
But the situation grew more one-sided over time.
``GE was our biggest customer, but they were asking us for price reductions and we were losing money on every pound,'' Gillenwater said in a recent interview in Evansville. ``GE got us to where we are today and we're very grateful, but we had to take the business in a different direction. GE can love you to death.''
Gillenwater decided to make the split from GE in 1999. Instead of toll compounding, he opted for B&M to focus on custom compounding. It had begun to do similar work for GE's Polymerland resin distribution unit a couple of years earlier.
Between 1999 and 2004, B&M did no business with GE, even though the B&M plant was only a few miles away from GE's huge polycarbonate plant in Mount Vernon. The two firms began working together again at a far-reduced level earlier this year, but B&M still sources less than 5 percent of its PC from GE, even though almost two-thirds of B&M's products are based on that material.
Now, B&M does a good deal of custom compounding work for heating and air conditioning markets, as well as in the electrical/electronic area. B&M is looking to do more work in the automotive sector, particularly in exterior car and truck parts, Gillenwater said.
Automotive currently accounts for about 20 percent of B&M's sales, and Gillenwater said he'd be comfortable if sales into that competitive sector made up as much as 25 percent of his firm's total. B&M also does a smaller business in distribution of generic grades of PC.
For the most part, B&M has been able to pass on to its customers the major PC price increases that have hit the market since early 2003. The firm has benefited from Gillenwater's somewhat contrary practice of keeping more resin inventory on hand than many customers do; B&M typically has about three months of inventory.
Gillenwater is the sole owner of B&M. He also owns a minority stake in Azimuth Custom Extrusions LLC, a sheet extruder that uses some B&M compounds.
Azimuth, located about a mile away from B&M, employs 35 and has annual sales of about $15 million.