Located at the edge of Ohio's Amish country, management at Superb Industries Inc. thinks it's found the keys to progressive manufacturing in small-town values and global vision.
The injection molding and metal-stamping business in Sugarcreek has managed to thrive despite the recession, with year-over-year sales growth of 25 percent in 2009 and an expected 35 percent year-over-year growth in 2010, according to John Miller, the company's president and co-founder.
John Miller and his brother, Dan, grew up in the Amish faith but left the community as young men. They founded Superb in a two-car garage as a metal-grinding operation in 1986. This year, they expect to reach $8 million in sales, compared with $5.7 million in 2009 and $4.7 million in 2008, with sales split about evenly between plastic and metal products.
Superb's plastic and metal components and parts are found in products in automotive, electronics, home appliance, hardware, security, medical and other markets. Of the 5 million to 6 million parts Superb ships monthly to North American, European and Asian clients, 2 million to 4 million are sent to Chinese customers, John Miller said during a March 4 interview at the company's 50,000-square-foot plant.
My vision was always that if you're going to do something, you need to do it right hence the name Superb, he said.
About 40 percent of Superb's business is automotive. One brand-new product line, a plastic key fob for German auto supplier Marquardt GmbH, can be found in Volkswagen AG and Chrysler Group LLC vehicles. Other molded plastic parts can be found in the steering columns of Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles, as well as the window trim of semitrailer trucks.
The company's clients include some of the biggest names in home appliances, such as General Electric Co., Whirlpool Corp. and Frigidaire.
Superb's biggest single customer is Emerson Electric Co., making up about 19 percent of sales, Miller said.
Superb employs 40 and has seven injection molding machines: two Newbury 75- and 150-ton shuttles, two Van Dorn 200-ton presses and three Battenfelds of 35-, 100-, and 230-tons.
The firm processes engineered resins including nylon 6, nylon 6/6, Lexan and Delrin. Superb's facility is ISO 9000 and TS 16949 certified.
Plastics operations manager Steve Blickensderfer said Superb's operation, which includes a tooling and mold-building shop, design and prototyping services and a testing lab, plus the metal-stamping lines, allows for one-stop shopping for superb customers, especially those who require overmolded metal parts.
He said the company uses up to 20 percent regrind in molding jobs for customers who are recycling-conscious. I don't run anything that we can't recycle, Blickensderfer said.
Miller said that because most of Superb's raw materials are engineered resins, price volatility hasn't been a major concern; the company has instituted pass-through pricing, with computerized line-item invoices to show customers that they're getting value for their money: It's been a struggle, but in most cases we've been able to negotiate with customers, he said.
Superb has partnered with A.R.E. Accessories LLC, a manufacturer of truck caps and fiberglass tonneau covers in Massillon, Ohio, to introduce a wireless, solar-powered, keyless entry system.
Another project in the works is developing the company's in-house Superb9000 quality management software and BottomUp Management system into a salable product. Miller developed the concepts, which are outlined in a handy acronym in the handbook that every Superb employee receives at hiring:
* Superior quality.
* Unbeatable value.
* Performance on time.
* Equity, empowerment, environment.
* Bottom-up management.
We turned our organizational chart upside down, so that I, as president of the company, am at the bottom of the heap, Miller said. Responsible managers serve the team those who are out on the floor getting things done. We have eliminated politics from the workplace. Every job has a set of measures and those measures feed into the larger picture.
Recently, Superb was recognized by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland as one of the state's fastest-growing manufacturers. Miller has more plans for growth: On his desk, he keeps sketches for an eventual plant expansion that would double the size of the facility to more than 100,000 feet by about 2020. He also plans to develop a spur to a nearby railroad so that Superb can stop receiving resin in gaylords and build storage silos.
Above all, he said, Superb is focused on U.S.-based manufacturing, something too many manufacturers have sent overseas, he said.
If the last 18 months haven't taught us that trading derivatives and commodities on Wall Street doesn't build wealth, than nothing will, he said. If somebody in Washington doesn't get the idea that in order to create wealth, we've got to take clay and make bricks, take steel and build cars, take wood and build homes if they don't do that, [the U.S.] will become a service industry in which we will serve tea and coffee to the people that do.
As a side business, Miller owns Stitches USA, a seasonal U.S. flag-making operation that employs 25, many of them Amish women, in Superb's basement. Miller took over the firm in the 2000s after a tenant went bankrupt. Stitches USA supplies 750,000 flags annually to Annin & Co., which claims to be the largest U.S. flag retailer.
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