Sure, the auto supplier industry is in turmoil, with some molders and mold makers losing the battle to stay in business as their customers struggle to sell cars and trucks.
But some companies are bucking the trend and proving pessimists wrong.
Plastic Systems LLC, based in Romeo, Mich., has grown from $110,000 in sales in 2001 to a projected $18 million for 2008, with expectations to hit $30 million in sales in 2009. It recently purchased a new plant in Ohio and is looking for sites in Mexico for a planned expansion there next year.
And, said Chief Operating Officer Steve Belleville, it is not just a matter of adding sales to make Plastic Systems look good. The company, he said, is making a profit.
``In today's climate, there's been a lot of pressure to build business, but we've been picking our core competencies and working with a pricing structure that makes sense,'' he said.
For the company, those core competencies include two-shot molding, gas-assist molding, high-tolerance functional parts and parts requiring a high aesthetic level. It also has its own mold-making shop, which produces about half of its tooling.
``Those are parts that aren't in everyone's wheelhouse,'' Belleville said in an April 22 interview at the firm's Romeo headquarters.
At the same time, the company has picked its customers carefully so it is not overexposed to any one company or any one part. No customer makes up more than 15 percent of Plastic Systems' revenue. The company makes a range of functional and aesthetic auto parts, including speaker grilles, knobs and controls, seating components and side view mirrors.
Its range outside the auto industry includes paint trays, airplane seat buckle parts and air-filter covers.
Plastics Systems began in Shelby, Mich., with four employees and has grown slowly but steadily since then, said Mike Kelley Jr., director of sales and marketing and a partner in the firm along with Belleville; Kelley's father, Mike Kelley Sr.; and Chief Financial Officer Ingo Pridoehl.
In 2006, the company made its first acquisition, buying PME International LLC in Swartz Creek, Mich. A year later, it bought the shuttered facility in Romeo and consolidated tooling and molding there. The company still is doing final renovations at the facility as it readies for more growth.
In July 2007, Plastic Systems had a last-minute opportunity to acquire the assets of Innoplas Corp. of Kenton, Ohio, and swooped in just days before the injection molder was set to close and sell off its equipment.
The company has had other opportunities to acquire struggling molders, Belleville said, but the ones it chose were selected carefully — because of their people and their ability to bring new markets to Plastic Systems.
``We think about sales and presses, but the really important thing, every time, is the 165 people working here,'' he said.
Innoplas brought Plastic Systems some key nonautomotive business, including parts for the marine industry.
Creating a business that grows while still maintaining a profit is not easy, Belleville said. The firm is very careful about what jobs it takes and has had to turn down work that looked promising but did not fit into its structure.
``Just as you need structure on the shop floor, you need a systematic approach to sales,'' Kelley said.
Plastic Systems is hiring a new operations director to help it continue to grow, and it expects to add nearly 100 employees at its sites within the next year.