Twenty-eight years later, and disposable plastic cutlery maker Xactico SA de CV has yet to report a single year's negative growth.
So says founder and President Norman Wright, who claims his company holds as much as 60 percent of the Mexican market for disposable plastic knives, forks, spoons, cocktail picks and drinking straws.
Yearly injection production is in excess of 16 million pounds, applied solely to the various cutlery products made in polypropylene and polystyrene. Xactico employs 600 hourly workers at its factory in Atizap n de Zaragoza and 120 administrative personnel.
``We are one of the largest [plastic cutlery] manufacturers in North America,'' Wright said in a recent interview. Xactico owns a warehouse and distribution company, WOW Plastics Inc., on the outskirts of Houston, which, according to Wright, had sales of more than $8 million in 2006.
The company markets its products under the WOW brand. WOW and WOW Products are both registered trademarks. However, according to Wright, ``much of what we produce is sold by our customers under a different brand.''
Still, Xactico sees many successes.
In February, the company installed eight new high-speed, 300-ton package injection molding machines to add to the 30 molding machines already running disposable cutlery. Wright declined to identify the supplier of the new machines, but pointed out Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. supplied some of the plant's existing equipment.
``Many machines run on stack mold systems, with most molds made in-house,'' said Wright, a second-generation Mexican whose grandparents moved from England to Virginia.
Xactico also owns proprietary soda straw extrusion lines.
In 2006, Xactico changed all of its cooling towers to a new system bought from Frigel Firenze SpA. ``It's a water system that does not allow the water to come into contact with the air, thereby eliminating air contamination, water evaporation, dust and clogged waterlines in the factory,'' Wright said.
Another ``very important'' change last year, he said, was made in the company's soda straw extrusion division.
``Water in each machine now circulates its own crystal-clear filtered water for sanitation purposes,'' Wright said. ``This change eliminates the need for using common factorywide water from central tanks that might use chemically treated waters or contain certain fungus growths that can be transferred to each straw.
``Plantwide water for cooling the straw extrudate is not a good practice, but unfortunately is widely used by many factories.''
The latest enterprise resource planning software, including real-time monitoring of the factory from IQMS Inc., is being installed and should be in operation by May, he said.
Educated at a college in the United States, Wright was about 25 when he set up his first business, making plastic baskets for strawberries. His company now exports some production to Central America and the United States.
``The competition in Mexico is very strong because a lot of little guys are coming in and we have guys copying our product. This is a price market, not a quality market,'' he said, also stressing Xactico makes its products with the highest standards.
Founded as Plasticos W in 1968 in a small, rented 8,000-square-foot warehouse north of Mexico City, its first product was PP strawberry baskets.
``Believe me, it was not an easy ride,'' Wright said. ``For example, when we started making straws in 1969, we didn't have enough money for the air supply to the machine. Our solution: We bought some huge tire tractor inner tubes and a bicycle foot pump and that was our air supply for straws coming out.''
He then explained the old procedure. ``A filled tube was connected to the extruder,'' he said. ``As the air ran down, another tube was quickly connected and so on. You can imagine what the straws looked like. Our first spoons looked like rowing oars on a six-cavity mold.''
Wright's ``delivery truck'' was a Volkswagen Beetle with three seats removed, bought with an American Express credit card.
A typical day, he said, was ``fill up the VW with raw material, come back and make the products, fill up the VW with finished product, then go out to the streets - sell and collect. Round and round it went.
``We wept during rainy season, as it was always flooding the plant,'' he said. ``I guess my well-developed persistence and faith in plastics was the clue to survival then and now.''