After more than six decades in business, Joslyn Manufacturing Co. Inc. still is working to grow. The Macedonia-based thermoformer is spending $350,000 on equipment for a new design center, an improved quality-control lab and an enterprise resource planning computer system. Those projects are expected to create three or four new jobs and increase the firm's annual sales which were about $4 million last year by at least 20 percent.
A lot of customers know they want something, but they don't know what they want, Joslyn President Bret Joslyn said in an Aug. 11 interview in Macedonia. Now we'll be able to take their [computer-aided-design] files and run an analysis of different thicknesses and show how different plastics will form in the tool.
The firm began using the new design center in early August, with the quality-control lab expected to be online by the end of the month. The new ERP system will be in place Jan. 1.
In addition to the technology investment, Joslyn might add computer numerically controlled routing equipment and other pieces of thermoforming equipment next year. If that happens, the firm will need to add three or four production jobs as well. We're looking at 2010 as a year of organizing in a leaner sense, and at 2011 as a year when we'll focus on efficiencies, Bret Joslyn said.
Joslyn currently runs 10 thermoforming lines in a 105,000-square-foot space, making parts as small as a few inches wide to ones that measure 6 feet by 10 feet. The firm thermoforms sheet made from a range of resins, including most commodity and engineering materials.
Joslyn employs 30 and expects to post sales of about $5 million this year. That's down from a peak of $7 million in 2005 and 2006, but Bret Joslyn pointed out that the firm didn't have to lay off any of its workers during the worst of the recent economic downturn.
Industrial parts for original equipment manufacturer component machinery make up a big part of Joslyn's business, with medical and consumer products also doing their share. In the last year or so, Joslyn has picked up business from tools transferring from other thermoformers.
Some other companies have gone out of business or had problems, Bret Joslyn said. We've focused on quality and the technology behind quality.
The firm also makes racing shells that are used in the All-American Soap Box Derby, an event held every summer in nearby Akron, Ohio.
The Joslyn family's manufacturing history reads like a plastics industry version of an Ernest Hemingway or John Steinbeck novel. Call it The Sun Also Rises in Macedonia. Or maybe Of Tractor Seats and Men.
First off, Bret Joslyn's first name is actually Charles, making him the fourth Charles Joslyn to run the company. Each of the men had a different middle name, so there's not a junior among them.
Bret's great-grandfather Charles P. Joslyn launched the family business in the mid-1940s, making replacement tractor seats and other farm supplies for farmers in and around Macedonia, a small town between Cleveland and Akron. By the mid-1960s, Bret's grandfather Charles H. Joslyn had begun making those tractor seats out of vinyl fabric, which officially got the family into the plastics business.
Joslyn made other plastic products as well, but a large room was devoted to tractor-seat production, and was filled with female workers making the vinyl seats on industrial sewing machines.
In the early 1970s, Bret's father Charles A. Joslyn, who goes by Chuck got out of the U.S. Air Force and joined the family business, which he then steered into thin-gauge vacuum forming. By the late 1970s, Joslyn was getting about 70 percent of its sales from thermoformed point-of-purchase displays.
Bret Joslyn's own route to running the family business hardly went in a straight line. He had worked summers at the plant during high school, running thermoforming equipment. But Bret now admits that he never really saw the business as an opportunity I almost saw it as a burden.
I wanted to be in the office helping to make decisions, and my dad wanted me on the production floor, learning that side of the business, he said.
That changed after Bret graduated with a finance degree from Depauw University in Indiana and spent a year working as a bank analyst in Chicago. The job was hardly glamorous, convincing him to go back to the family business. He earned an MBA from Purdue University before joining Joslyn Manufacturing in a full-time management role in 1996.
Chuck continued to run the company before retiring in 2005. Bret's brother, Brian, also works for the company and is in charge of operations. The brothers are in the process of buying the company from their dad. A sister isn't involved in the family business.
My dad left the decision up to me, Bret Joslyn said of his choice to return to the firm. There was no pressure or anything.
Bret Joslyn now describes his father Chuck as retired with an opinion. But he does admit that it's nice to have someone to talk to about the business who's been through it all before.
The future of the company has it looking to expand through a merger or acquisition. The firm has been checking out other thermoforming firms in the Midwest for the last year. We're not looking to take over assets and buildings, Bret Joslyn said. This would be more business-related.
And any family that's been in business as long as the Joslyn family is bound to have some remarkable stories. One such event occurred about five years ago when Bret and his brother saw an elderly man slowly walking up the site's driveway holding something in his hand.
We couldn't tell what he was holding until he got closer and we saw that it was an old tractor seat, Bret Joslyn recalled. He said he had got it from us and wanted to know if he could buy a new one. There was a hole in the fabric and all of the stuffing had come out.
The seat looked to be about 40 years old, and it was a product Joslyn had stopped making about 25 years ago. But Bret remembered there were still a few in the building, so he went and got one.
I handed it to him and he asked me how much he owed me, Bret said. I said, 'No charge,' and I think he just about skipped down the driveway.