CHICAGO (June 26, 3:30 p.m. EDT) — John Normandin has learned many lessons during nearly four decades in the plastics industry.
The president of Vision Plastics Inc. in Wilsonville, Ore., has his own views on caring for customers, investing in people and machines, and channeling innovation.
Ronald Stevens and two others founded Vision in 1988 in Tualatin, Ore., and moved it to Wilsonville in 1992. Stevens, who bought out his partners, serves as chief executive officer.
Vision also owns a 30 percent stake in recently formed Hong Kong Precision Co. Ltd. in Shenzhen, China. An injection molding and assembly operation, it began work in January 2005 and now uses more than 40 presses.
In Wilsonville, Vision Plastics employs about 165 and occupies 75,000 square feet including a recent 20,000-square-foot addition. It operates around the clock using 44 JSW, Arburg, Toshiba and other presses from 3-950 tons, including eight all-electrics. Each press is linked to a Shotscope process-monitoring system.
The ISO 9001:2000-registered firm had 2005 sales approaching $15 million with about 75 percent in the Pacific Northwest.
Normandin joined Vision in 1994 as sales manager and was subsequently promoted to vice president, senior vice president and, in January, president. He is a member of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. board, the SPI board's Processors' Council and Industry Growth and Development strategic management group, and SPI's Pacific Northwest Chapter board.
Based on his plastics industry experience since 1968, Normandin shared thoughts about aspects of the business, including some Vision Plastics perspectives:
Q: What was the origin of the name Vision Plastics?
Normandin: Apparently, it just sounded like a good name. We have no proprietary products and do not mold eyewear. Our largest customers are manufacturers of data storage devices, medical equipment, and test and measurement equipment.
Q: What steps should a U.S. plas-tics processor take to protect the viability of an existing business?
Normandin: First, the successful processor will nurture customers. By this I mean there will be no reason for customers to move their business. Customers rightfully expect parts will be defect-free, delivered on time and priced right. In our business, each customer has a team of employees that deals with them. Our customer service people are the customer advocates within the company.
The second thing that needs to be done is reinvest in the business. This does not just mean in machinery, but in people. The best machinery in the world will not produce if you do not have the personnel capable of pushing the limits.
Q: How does Vision Plastics make those teams effective, and, usually, how many people are on a team?
Normandin: Like lots of other things, it has evolved over the years. Each team has a minimum of two people. They take care of all the demands of the customer and utilize other resources within the company when necessary. Most of our customers have contact at different levels in the company, but we try and coordinate all activities through the two people who are assigned to the customer. Each team has a variety of customers that they deal with.
Q: Does that “people” reinvestment occur principally in employee training, other professional development and internal promotion, or does the investment occur mainly in recruiting top-notch individuals with prov-en skills, or some combination?
Normandin: A combination of all. We try to promote from within when it is in the best interest of the company. Internal promotion necessitates additional training for the new position. When we go outside, we recruit the best in the field for the position.
Q: What unusual — or perhaps underused — approaches warrant a processor's exploration and with what tools?
Normandin: I believe one of the ways to augment success is the utilization of the lean manufacturing tools. This approach is not unusual, but I believe it is underused. It is a consuming process, but the result will make a measurable difference in the cost of manufacturing parts. Small processors can, using these tools, eliminate wasteful activities and increase efficiency. Productivity increases lead to bottom-line gains.
Q: In what ways can a young person with a marketable idea enter today's world of plastics processing?
Normandin: This is such a tough problem for the young inventor. Finding the capital to get a new idea to market is a daunting task. Since we do not invest in new inventions, we send inventors to potential investors for funding. Over the years, we have seen a few of these ideas make it to market.
Q: What might determine whether that kind of person has any prospect for future success?
Normandin: Probably the best indicators are dedication to the idea and the ability to sell the idea to potential investors.
Q: What are recent examples of business momentum and/or growth at Vision Plastics?
Normandin: We have had nice, steady growth throughout the last few years. In particular, our China molding and assembly operation has done very well.
Domestically, we have grown at a measured pace, mostly with our current customers. We have added one or two new customers each year.
We have had modest growth and are now, with the addition of the new space, prepared to expand the business over the next few years. We have a strong balance sheet and are ready to step up with new technology to move the company and our customers forward.
Q: What can you tell me about the China operation?
Normandin: It was a startup in early 2005. We had a customer that was going to move production to China. They did not have any experience in doing business in China, and we did. We proposed to them that we would manage their move. That is basically how things started. Now, virtually all of the production from that plant goes to a variety of customers in Japan.
Q: What tenets do you follow?
Normandin: Many things make a company a success. I have reminders of a couple of them on my desk. Neither is original, just on the point. First, “The mark of an exceptional company is how it treats exceptions.” Second, “In the business of pleasing customers, perceptions are fact.”