Updated — Resin distributor Chase Plastic Services Inc. has gained a lot of experience in cutting ribbons lately.
The Clarkston, Mich.-based firm officially has opened a $6 million warehouse in South Bend, Ind., and a $1.3 million customer service center in Clarkston, in June. The warehouse covers 126,000 square feet, while the Clarkston project adds 14,000 square feet, doubling the amount of space the firm previously occupied there.
In a June 10 interview in Clarkston, Chase Plastic President and co-founder Kevin Chase said that the new customer service center will help its sales staff more effectively serve its customers.
“Those relationships are the most important part of our business,” he said. Chase was founded in 1992 by Kevin Chase and his wife Carole and now distributes more than 6,400 grades of resins and compounds from more than 30 suppliers. In March, the firm took the top spot in Plastics News 2016 Best Places to Work list.
The new floor plan being used in Clarkston is an open space that resembles the office of a Silicon Valley firm. Officials described it in a news release as “a contemporary, open and collaborative first-floor workspace” that “provides the collaboration and idea-sharing spaces needed to foster innovative solutions.”
“The goal was to bring every member of our team into the area,” Kevin Chase said in Clarkston, where the firm employs 63. “We wanted to showcase the team working together instead of in cubicles.”
The center has a computer network that offers up-to-the minute updating of resin pricing and availability, allowing sellers to immediately quote prices to customers. “We don't want our people going back home or to the hotel and doing two hours of work every night on quotes,” Kevin Chase said.
The site also includes video monitors featuring lean ideas that have been generated by employees. Kevin Chase said the firm has saved “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from these ideas.
The South Bend warehouse replaces a 90,000-square-foot site that Chase had been leasing. The new building is a centralized distribution hub for 35 public warehouses used by the firm. Officials said the new site bolsters Chase's ability to achieve 99.2 percent on-time shipping, with most orders being delivered to customers the next day.
The new warehouse has more loading docks, expanded bulk material management capacity, an integrated modern racking system and broader packaging and storage capabilities. It also incorporates wireless warehousing and uses a high-speed fiber-optic infrastructure for fast data transfer with almost unlimited bandwidth, officials said.
Chase employs 14 in South Bend and expects to add several more jobs next year, and a total of 13 more by 2025. The firm also employs 39 field-based sellers — counting technical service engineers and application development engineers — for a total work force of 113.
Chase Plastic now has 39 total sales reps — the most in its 24-year history. Twenty of those reps joined the firm after going through the company's own sales training program.
“We've recruited some of our sellers as early as high school,” Kevin Chase said.
For Chase, his plastics days began in high school in his hometown of Coopersville, Mich., where he learned about plastics as part of an industrial arts major. One of his projects there was making his own rotomolding machine, he recalled.
Chase then studied plastic engineering and earned a degree from Ferris State University before entering the industry with Michigan materials firm Rhetech. By 1983, he was with resin distributor Plastic Service Centers, which first was formed by Borg-Warner Chemicals before becoming part of GE Plastics.
Chase worked for the business in Detroit, Orlando and Chicago before returning to the Detroit area in 1989. He married Carole in 1985 and then the couple took the leap and started their own business in 1992. In the firm's early days, Carole Chase sometimes delivered resin from her own car.
Kevin and Carole Chase own the majority of the firm, with the remainder split among five minority owners, all of whom work for the company. Some of those owners eventually will transition into larger roles as part of a succession plan.
Elements that helped Chase top the PN work list included medical and prescription coverage for employees and dependents, flexible spending accounts and a health savings account to which the company contributes $250 annually, as well as a 401(k) program, critical illness insurance, bonuses when objectives are met and partially paid gym memberships.
On the lighter side, Chase hosts chili cook-offs, barbecues and potlucks, quarterly luncheons, cornhole tournaments and ladder golf games, best-decorated cubicle contests for Halloween and Christmas, competitions for the ugliest sweater, best costume and craziest slippers, and a pumpkin-carving contest.
Employees also are paid to help out charities such as Habitat for Humanity. They hold food drives and adopt families for the holidays with gift donations and volunteer work. The company sponsors local school and community sports teams, and all employees participate in an Adopt-A-Soldier program, sending care packages to troops a few times a year. Its annual onsite health fair also offers flu shots, biometric screenings and a masseuse.
On the business side, Chase Plastic expects to post sales of $231 million this year, up more than 2 percent vs. 2015. Kevin Chase said the firm is seeing solid growth in the automotive and office furniture end markets.
In addition to the expansions in Clarkston and South Bend, Chase Plastic by the end of June will start using its first Mexican warehousing location in Querétaro. The firm has been selling into Mexico for 15 years and plans to hire a business development manager there to handle sales growth, particularly from the auto sector.
With the Chase Plastic 25th anniversary on the horizon for 2017, Kevin Chase recalled making the company's first sale. “I knew a local company here in Michigan, so I called the owner and said ‘How'd you like to be my first customer?' Chase said. “He said OK and said he needed some ABS — so then we had to go find some ABS. Carole asked me what number to put on the order. I was optimistic and said 000001.”
“I think it's worked out really well,” he added. “I'm really proud of what we've accomplished as a company.”