Four months after being acquired by Israeli investment firm Arko Holdings Ltd., plastic housewares maker Aero Housewares LLC of Leominster, Mass., made its showing at the International Home & Housewares Show with the product lines it acquired from defunct StyleMaster Inc. and Holiday Housewares LLC.
Aero drew a lot of attention as an example of what has to happen in the North American plastics housewares market in order for firms to stay competitive.
Now backed by its foreign owner, Aero now has a plan for acquisitions and to establish facilities on the West Coast and the Northeast by the end of 2008, said Joe Manos, Aero's vice president of sales and marketing.
Before its own bankruptcy filing in 2005, Aero had consolidated production into a site in McDonough, Ga. The 500,000-square- foot facility has plenty of capacity, Manos said.
The company has added new machinery and auxiliary equipment, and has purchased some equipment at auction.
``So we pretty much feel like we've got the Georgia facility right where we want it,'' he said. ``Now, any additional growth will come through the acquisition of other facilities.''
Arko has a vision to position Aero among the top three housewares suppliers in North America. The company may look at overseas acquisitions, with a goal of increasing Aero's product breadth and depth in North America, Manos said.
But Manos said it is not Aeros' goal to build its brand recognition to equal Rubbermaid or Sterilite.
``We have no intentions of building that type of brand recognition in a short period of time,'' he said. ``My philosophy is to build category recognition ... for example, like our visuals line, which is our clear tote storage line. Now it's almost become a generic term in the industry. We've carved out a niche and we've gotten brand recognition in categories rather than through a corporate identity.''
The plastics housewares sector has been plagued by bankruptcies and plant shutterings, but still is in need of consolidation, several sources said at the show.
Like some competitors in housewares, Manos is willing to look at manufacturing with materials other than plastics.
``There is nothing that I won't take a look at to try to strengthen our position in the field and broaden our product offering,'' he said.
Manos said his first goal this year will be to integrate product lines and create brand recognition, then look at other materials, including canvas and wicker.
``There's no limitation,'' he said.
Aeros uses reverse design, identifying a price target and then designing the product around that. Aero uses in-house designers and also taps outside sources.
``Having designed products for the last 20 years, and knowing other people that have been in design, you sometimes get tunnel vision and you get too close to your product,'' Manos said.
Aero is careful not to tie itself too closely to any single customer. StyleMaster, which was based in Chicago, had that problem: When Kmart Corp. filed for bankruptcy in 2002, roughly 50 percent of StyleMaster's business was tied into the big-box retailer.
One of the most attractive parts of Holiday was that its top five customers had no overlap with Aero's top five, Manos said. ``So there's very little cannibalization.''