After a dismal 2009, Conair Group's auxiliary equipment business rebounded by 25 percent in 2010, and business has remained solid this year, said Larry Doyle, vice president of global sales and marketing.
As we planned for 2011, we took a very conservative approach, he said. But we're very optimistic about what we can deliver this year. What we're seeing so far in 2011 is a continuation of the second half of 2010, and that's business picking up in a variety of different market segments: packaging, medical and even automotive. Now we're seeing an even broader cross-section of market segments coming to life.
Doyle reviewed Conair's prospects in an interview March 31 at the company's headquarters in Cranberry Township, near Pittsburgh. Conair does not reveal sales numbers, but Doyle said the machinery maker ended the first quarter well above plan.
That progress, Doyle said, should continue because of pent-up demand. Also, most of the good used equipment has been bought up, he said, and companies that might have purchased used are now willing to buy new.
Even so, this year it's difficult to predict much more than a month or two ahead, he said.
The one cautionary piece is that visibility is still very low. It's not very far out. And we've heard that from other folks in the industry, he said. It's not like you have a pipeline of six months of opportunity sitting out there in front of you.
Conair President Christopher Keller echoed that outlook as the first quarter ended. Our markets rebounded significantly during 2010, and it is difficult to see such a high rate of growth continuing, he said. We remain practical and conservative planning our operations going forward.
For plastics machinery, 2009 was a historically bad year. The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. reported that net bookings for auxiliary equipment plunged by nearly 50 percent from the total in 2008. Like other equipment makers, Conair had layoffs and implemented shortened workweeks during part of 2009. In late 2008, Conair closed Conair Europe Ltd. in England.
But Conair since has rehired some laid-off employees. The company also hired a number of key new people in late 2010 and this year has added several manufacturers' representative firms.
In another move, Conair has positioned an expanded its range of equipment and employees for processors making film and sheet for thermoformed packaging.
In August, machinery veteran Steve Petrakis joined Conair as vice president of sales for the U.S. and Canada.
These are the new hires:
* Michael Mueller, a 25-year veteran of heat-transfer equipment who also has a background in resin handling and drying, has joined Conair as heat-transfer sales manager. He came to Conair from ACS Group.
* Peter Armbruster, formerly a regional vice president of sales at Novatec Inc., now manages Conair's activities in the Midwest and Northeast, as well as Canada.
* John Heinrikson will oversee sales in the north-central and Southeast. He came from Piovan PET Systems US, where he was PET business manager for North America.
* William Oscar, also a former regional vice president of sales for Novatec, now handles Conair territories in the south-central and West.
Conair also promoted Eric Gulnac to inside sales director, where he manages a team that supports North American regional managers and independent sales reps. Since joining Conair in 1995, Gulnac has held a variety of positions. Most recently, he was electronic-sales manager at Conair's online store, BuyNow, a responsibility he will retain in his new position.
In application-specific news, Conair has aligned part of its operation to target packaging, including film and thermoforming sheet. The company has assigned key people, including Gene Flockerzi as vice president of sales for packaging; Steve Buckley as extrusion product manager; and Alan Landers as extrusion engineering manager.
Buckley and Landers were instrumental in developing new extrusion technology that improves the way processors control their sheet and film lines, blend materials and manage their in-house scrap. That includes the equipment brands TrueWeight, TrueBlend EXT, and ScrapSaver, and the FSG-series granulator.
Doyle said 2011 also is an important year for Conair globally. Conair's joint venture in India, Nu-Vu Conair Pvt. Ltd., started manufacturing operations in April at a new plant with nearly 85,000 square feet of space almost twice the size of the previous site.
Conair exhibited at India's Plastivision trade show in January. In May, the auxiliary maker will exhibit at major back-to-back shows, Brasilplast, followed by Chinaplas.
And Conair officials have begun gearing up for the 2012 NPE show in Orlando, signing up for the company's largest amount of booth space ever for an NPE.