Rotational molder Meese Orbitron Dunne Co. has grown by playing to its strengths: new technology, veteran employees and a strong integrated marketing plan using old-school postcard mailings and Internet sites geared toward Web surfers.
Meese Orbitron Dunne has invested in two fully automatic Leonardo rotomolding machines from Italy, one of only two U.S. companies to run a Leonardo. The company, known as M.O.D., runs the Leonardos at its plants in Madison, Ind., and La Mirada, Calif. M.O.D. has two other plants: a headquarters in Ashtabula and an operation in Saddlebrook, N.J. The company runs a total of 28 rotomolding machines.
The specific idea was to push the [rotomolding] process forward, and to modernize our products, Robert W. Dunne Jr., president and vice president of sales, said of adding the Leonardos.
The machines have played a key role in a new laundry cart a core product for the company. Meese Orbitron Dunne replaced the old 72P model with the 72S, a sleek-looking cart with rounded corners that is 16 pounds lighter but can hold an extra 200 pounds of laundry.
Dunne said M.O.D. officials studied the technology for more than a year, making two trips to Persico SpA in Nembro, Italy, and touring 12 molders in Europe that use the Leonardo. They bought the first one in 2007.
We were looking for something that would be an improved process, leading to an improved product. And there's no doubt, when you can control your wall-thickness better, it's an improved process, he said.
The high-volume laundry cart is an ideal candidate for Leonardo, because it just runs and runs, without the need for frequent mold changes. But Dunne said the company now is molding nine different products on the Leonardo machines, including its first custom parts.
We're expanding a lot faster than most people realize, he said.
Leonardo is a major departure for rotational molding. Instead of physically moving the mold through an oven and a cooling station, the mold revolves and remains in the same area. Heating comes through hot oil pumped through channels next to the mold, and chilled oil cools it down again. The machine not operators handles part ejection and material loading.
Dunne explained Meese Orbitron Dunne's strategy including its industry-leading marketing program during an interview at M.O.D. headquarters. His brother, General Manager William Dunne, has an office next door.
M.O.D. is No. 20 on Plastics News' ranking of North American rotational molders, with 2009 sales of $22 million, down 31 percent from 2008 sales of $32 million. Business is split 50-50 between custom products and proprietary ones like the laundry carts, material-handling products and the Pool Shot basketball hoop and backboard.
Dunne said the recession hurt the rotomolder's longtime customers. So far through mid-2010, sales have rebounded about 20 percent.
Despite the decrease in volume, we maintained profitability during the downturn, he said.
Roots in rubber
Meese Orbitron Dunne has a colorful history. The Dunne part started in Ashtabula in 1940, when Robert and William's grandfather, C. James Dunne, teamed with Charles Iten to buy Aetna Rubber Co.'s rubber glove factory, which had closed. Dunne Rubber Co. began making compression molded rubber parts, then expanded into extrusion and plastic injection molding.
The baby boom after World War II launched one major account. They did plastic extrusion of baby buggy tires, Robert Dunne said. They were the largest manufacturer of baby buggy tires at one point. They extruded them and a machine pressed them onto those spoked wheels.
In 1953 James Dunne's son, Robert W. Dunne Sr., joined the firm after graduating from Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. (He is the father of Robert Jr. and William.) In 1968, Dunne Rubber began rotational molding products such as a base for baseball and fuel tanks for riding lawn mowers.
The company sold the extrusion business in 1973 to concentrate on rotomolding, moving down the street to the current building, where a 12,000-square-foot expansion was added onto a family-owned office building. The following year, the business was renamed Dunne Plastic.
Robert Dunne Sr. became one of the founding members of the Association of Rotational Molders in 1976. He served as ARM president in 1982-83.
More building expansions followed in the 1980s.
Robert Jr. and William Dunne joined in the mid-1980s. Robert Jr. had run the western division of a large construction company.
Meanwhile, the pieces of what would become Meese Orbitron Dunne were coming into place. Tingue, Brown & Co., a family- owned company that dates to 1872 and made canvas laundry carts and other laundry and textile products, had purchased Meese Inc. in 1978, adding Meese's pioneering rotomolded plastic laundry carts.
In 1993, Meese and Tingue Brown bought Dunne Plastic and Orbitron Industries Inc., creating Meese Orbitron Dunne. A major expansion added 17,800 square feet to the Ashtabula plant in 1998.
The company got a California manufacturing location in 2000, purchasing American Rotational Molding Group Inc.
Given the importance of the laundry industry to Tingue Brown, officials at the parent company strongly supported buying the Leonardo machines for the new cart, said Robert Dunne Jr.
Dunne said reinvesting in the business is an important principle for M.O.D. leaders. We've always tried to put money back into the business in order to aid the growth. We want to have as our base good internal growth in the custom and proprietary business, he said.
One way to grow is to help longtime customers some dating back 30 years develop new products so they can get into new markets.
Marketing via Web
Dunne has become an authority on marketing over the Internet. He wrote a cover story on RotoWorld magazine with the headline: Customers Care About Their Product, Not Our Process. That spells out his belief that a rotomolder or really, any plastics manufacturer has to create a good website that does more than just describe the company.
The way marketing's done nowadays is over the Internet, he said. So you have to have a valid website, a current website. And it also has to be understandable to the person who's searching for the product. Just to say 'I'm a rotomolder' doesn't do anything for most people.
A website based on a company name will leave out product-oriented searches, he said. That's why Meese Orbitron Dunne has created a series of about 20 sites that link together. The user immediately sees the product and can easily get details.
The company also developed a series of dinosaur cartoon characters made out of its material-handling products, named Recycleosaurus and MODzilla even including the origin stories of the creatures.
M.O.D.'s websites also include some detailed case studies. One, from NuCanoe Inc. of Bellingham, Wash., describes how the company turned over complete manufacturing and assembly of its canoes to M.O.D.
What we've tried to do is to look backwards from the purchasers and engineering's point of view, and how are they going to find you. How are they going to find a product for their industry, Dunne said.
M.O.D. can e-mail brochures immediately to potential customers, and gets quotations out quickly.
It's also important to update your website, he said.
Meese Orbitron Dunne exhibits at just three or four trade shows a year. The company mails out postcards to customers both before and after the show.
We try to have an integrated marketing approach, and not just show up at the show, he said. If it costs you, let's say $3,000 to send out postcards before a show, well you're spending at least $5,000 to $10,000 at every show. So if you don't do the pre-marketing and post-marketing, that money could be wasted because you might not get the leads you need.