CUYAHOGA FALLS, OHIO — Rotational molding veterans from the toy-molding hotbed of northeastern Ohio are running Premier O.E.M., a turnkey designer and manufacturer of outdoor recreational products.
Premier is housed in a 37,000-square-foot building in Cuyahoga Falls that was the former site of a building products company — and before that, a Children's Palace toy store. Chief Operating Officer Jim Nagy points out where the decorative archway entrance used to be, beckoning the children of Akron into the early toy chain store emporium.
That toy store connection is ironic, since Nagy and several other executives used to work at Step2 Co. and Little Tikes Co. But Premier turns out toys for adults — like super heavy-duty Orca ice coolers and center consoles and roofs for UTVs, the side-by-side utility terrain vehicles gaining in popularity. Customers include brand names Kawasaki, Honda, Bombardier Recreational Products, Club Car golf carts and Fluid kayaks.
Premier runs four rotomolding machines from Ferry Industries Inc., which is located right down the street.
Premier is more than just a rotomolder. Premier is a producer of what Nagy calls “practical premium products.” But you won't find Premier's name on the items.
“All of our stuff is branded by our customers, so we are the private-label company,” Nagy said. “Premier does not have is own brand, but instead, we're a trade brand. We're actually developing the product for them.”
Premier, which employs 57, handles the design engineering and rotomolding. It outsources injection and blow molded plastic parts and fabricated metal components from other suppliers, and handles final assembly and packaging. Mike Satina, the OEM account manager, has a background in graphic design, and can develop the packaging design with customers. He also had worked as project manager at Step2.
Premier does not release sales figures.
Nagy has 22 years in the rotomolded toy industry, in roles from product designer at Little Tikes and Step2, to manufacturing engineering to vice president of operations at Step2.
The origins of Premier O.E.M came in 2004, when Nagy was at Step2 in Streetsboro, Ohio. On his own time, he tinkered with aftermarket components for Yamaha Motor Co.'s side-by-side UTV, the Rhino.
“Instantly, you got in and you'd go for a ride, and you'd learn some of the shortcomings of the product,” Nagy said.
When the Rhino came out, the interior was pretty bare-bones.
“So when you sat in this thing, you had no place to put your phone, no place to put your drink, things like that.” Nagy said. So the team developed a center console with a cup-holder and other features.
The company made some molds and outsourced the rotational molding and sold them on eBay, 25 or 30 each day.
“We had a little map and we were going to put a pin in for every place we sold it. But after a couple of days, we said, we can't even do this anymore,” Nagy said, with a laugh.
What about the summer, when the sun beats down on the driver and passenger? Nagy looked online and people were jerry-rigging pieces of canvas or plywood. So the company designed a rotomolded, foam-filled roof.
It sold 15 to 20 a day on eBay. Nagy said they got parts back from the molder, put a FedEx label on the package and shipped them out: “Just boom, boom, boom.”
For the winter they made a windshield.
The design team bought a Rhino and developed an aftermarket package for hunters. A safari version. A version for a farmer's work vehicle.
“We took a really new category and did something special,” Nagy said.
Owners of the side-by-sides had already invested in the high-end UTVs, so they had no problem spending a few hundred dollars more to upgrade.
Premier exhibited at a power-sports trade show in 2006.
“The way it got started was, everybody wanted to go for it. So we did a design. And what we were doing is basically talking all of our collective experiences on how to do product development,” Nagy said.
It looked sharp. “We made a vehicle that had all the fenders, storage, roofs and everything that was integrated all together. It looked like it was meant for the vehicle. And a customer could buy this part, later add that part. And it looked like it was from the same company, vs. mix and match of things,” he said.
Nagy and the team from Premier drew on years of experience in the toy industry, building realistic foam models and hosting a professional exhibit.
“It was all very well-thought-out,” he said. “What we found out when we got there was, this is a completely disorganized industry. Anybody that had a welder, or could bend a piece of metal in their garage, was at this show.”