The Rabin family has owned the business now known as ePlastics for 49 years. That still kind of makes them the new owners.
The Rabins' 49-year run covers less than half of the company's 102-year history in San Diego. It opened in 1914 as W.R. Rench Co., a grocery store and grocery supplier that in the late 1930s began supplying supermarkets with pricing systems made from cellulose plastics, such as the small plastic numbers on shelves. Those numbers still are available today. The firm's first uses of acrylic resin came in 1947 on decorative pieces for Buck Knives.
Arthur Ridout bought the firm in 1953, renaming it Ridout Plastics and growing it into a major plastics supplier in the San Diego area. In 1967, Seymour Rabin purchased the firm. Rabin — a grocer — had built and sold some of the first big box stores and was looking for a new business venture. Rabin was joined in 1975 by his son Elliott, who became ePlastics' president in 1990.
The company has operated mostly as ePlastics since 2008, when it renamed its website under that name. Today, the firm employs 48 at a 40,000-square-foot location and is a major distributor and fabricator of plastic shapes, including rod, sheet, tubing and film. Their site includes a 3,500-square-foot showroom that's open to the public.
Elliott Rabin said ePlastics has invested in equipment to cut, bend, form, machine, polish and decorate via computer-controlled machines. He believes this equipment makes the firm's end products “structurally better than 3-D printing and offers more flexibility than injection molding.” Rabin described ePlastics as “a one-stop shop for any plastic sheet or shape requirement.”
Elliott Rabin was 14 when his dad bought the firm. His sister Adele chose a career in academia and isn't active with ePlastics.
After earning a bachelor's degree at UC-San Diego, Rabin had to decide if he wanted to move East and attend Yale University or stay in the San Diego area. The West Coast won out.
“I stayed and got my MBA locally,” recalled Rabin, who's now 62. “Then I got involved in computerizing the company. I sat at every seat in the business.”
Like many family-owned firms, operating ePlastics has had its reward and challenges. “If the family relationships are good, and there are no entitlement issues, and you've earned the respect of family and non-family employees, then it's great,” Elliott Rabin said. “If the opposite is true, then you have a ticking bomb, risking everyone's long-term success.”
Succession planning, loan guarantees and financial performance “have presented challenges” over the past 40 years, he added. But all of these “were resolved by agreeing on a strategy together as family.”
On the financial side, Rabin said that, at one point, ePlastics “had a massive debt load” that was guaranteed by his father as majority owner. “Since he was retired, he had no direct control but trusted my financial management,” Rabin recalled. “There was regular discussion about that and ultimately was all repaid. Trust is what binds a family together.”
Where succession planning was concerned, Elliott said “I was always told ‘someday this will all be yours' by my parents, but there was no agreement on how that was to be completed.”
Both of Elliott Rabin's sons — Spencer and Jordan — have worked part-time for ePlastics, but neither of them currently is considering the firm as a career. Minority owner John Short's son Mason might work for the firm at some point in the future, Rabin said. Short also serves as ePlastics' general manager.
Elliott Rabin enjoyed working with his father — who passed away in 2014 — and was glad to have the same experience with his own sons for a while.
“I became very close to my father when we worked together, and then when we met for regular lunches weekly during his retirement,” he said. “When my own sons worked for me, we enjoyed the same bonding experience.”
Today, Elliott Rabin leans on his team.
“I have a great team that allows me to gradually take more vacation and stay out of the way,” he said. “My Dad and I saw eye to eye and he taught me a lot about how to make the right choices.”