Hudson, Ohio — LT Molding Solutions, the custom molding division of Little Tikes Co., is moving ahead in its second year — setting up a social media presence, joining a trade association and working on projects such as rotationally molded, small-engine fuel tanks and parts for the emerging “vertical farming” sector.
“Our big push right now is to establish customer base,” said Tom Fish, senior director of contract molding at LT Molding Solutions.
Working with the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET) in Cleveland — which applied for an Ohio grant to help Little Tikes launch the custom molding business — officials of LT Molding Solutions have put together a list of prospective customers. Fish said the business also is contacting some former customers of a contract molding business Tikes set up about a decade ago, called HF Manufacturing.
HF Manufacturing was scaled back when toy-focused MGA Entertainment Inc. bought Little Tikes in 2006 from Newell Rubbermaid Inc.
Bill Cofield, Little Tikes' vice president of operations, and Fish, a veteran Little Tikes product designer, discussed progress on the custom molding side in an interview at company headquarters in Hudson. Fish was Tikes' senior director of product development before moving to the post at LT Molding Solutions.
In-house expertise in product design is a big selling point for LT Molding Solutions, they said. Distribution is another, since LT has access to Little Tikes' 650,000-square-foot distribution facility that can ship around the world, with 40 loading bays, a rail terminal, and 24-hour transportation scheduling. The company has its own truck fleet.
That differentiates LT Molding Solutions from other custom rotomolders, Fish said. LT calls the full-service approach D2D, or “design to distribution.”
The company also is offering services to other rotomolders, such as toll compounding and Teflon coating of molds.
In addition to rotomolding, Little Tikes runs extrusion blow molding and injection molding in Hudson. Cofield said total employment runs between 400 and 600 people.
LT Molding Solutions is run as a separate business from Little Tikes, and it has some dedicated equipment and employees.
Little Tikes' main toy business is cyclical. For example, Cofield said all the outdoor toys are in production now, as the company works on the spring selling season. Supplying Cozy Coupes, playhouses, wagons and other toys for Christmas is another busy time.
Fish said LT Molding Solutions will help even out the peaks and valleys.
“Custom is helping to fill up the factory,” he said.
One challenge a big proprietary molder has when getting into custom work is, what happens when the main internal business gets busy? Can it crowd out custom jobs?
Cofield said that Little Tikes has excess capacity on the rotomolding side, so there are no plans for now to buy more equipment for LT Molding Solutions. (The company does not disclose details on its capacity, but in its annual ranking of North American rotomolders, Plastics News estimates that the firm has 16 rotomolding machines.)
The contract molding business also benefits from some toy industry trends. Fish said Tikes has been emphasizing online sales of its larger toys, which are more difficult for retailers to showcase in retail stores. And the toymaker also has made some changes to its product mix over the years.
“In doing that, we're actually transitioning a lot of the toy business into more blow and injection, and then trying to back-fill some of that empty space that we have in the factory to keep the [rotomolding] machines up and running, people employed with the contract molding,” Fish said.
LT Molding Solutions joined the Association of Rotational Molders earlier this year. The company also set up Facebook and LinkedIn sites, and is working to improve its social media effectiveness and increase the number of hits, Fish said. Officials also are looking at listings on ThomasNet and other industrial platforms.