Hartford City, Ind. — Petoskey Plastics Inc. is a blown film company that is big — generating $140 million in sales from 26 blown film lines and converting equipment — but acts small.
Petoskey is a major maker of recycled-content film, reusing more than 30 million pounds of bags and stretch film a year that otherwise would go to landfills. Some 20 million pounds of that is done as closed-loop recycling, where customers send the company scrap plastic and get new bags back.
Petoskey's GreenPE material goes into coextruded three-layer blown film and bags with up to 70 percent recycled content, sandwiched between two layers of virgin plastic. Petoskey also makes five-layer film.
The results are on display at Petoskey Plastics' 330,000-square-foot recycling plant in Hartford City, which also extrudes blown film and makes trash bags. The company has purchased an $8 million wash line set to be installed this year.
Petoskey employs 420 people and runs a total of 500,000 square feet of manufacturing space at the Indiana recycling plant, a factory in Morristown, Tenn., and its headquarters city of Petoskey, Mich., a small town in northern Michigan known more as a vacation spot than a manufacturing mecca. The automotive segment also has a sales location in Birmingham, Mich.
Big numbers. But the small-company feel comes from what officials call an "in-touch" commitment to stay in close contact with customers. Employees say credit goes to the Keiswetter family that owns the company. Duke Keiswetter and his son, Paul, founded Petoskey Plastics in 1969. Today, Paul Keiswetter is president and CEO, and his son, Jason, is executive vice president.
Mike Barto, Petoskey's sales director for automotive, said the motto of "in-touch" is for real.
"We try to be as accessible as possible, and that goes all the way up to Paul. I mean, I'm not going to our customers, ringing their bell and saying, 'Hey, call Paul whenever you want.' But, the times where it has been appropriate, it works fine," Barto said.
Jason Keiswetter said direct communication is the best way to keep in touch.
"That's something we take pride in. You're on the phone. You're on a video conference. You're just emailing. You're not getting that feeling. You're not building that relationship," he said. "And if we have the ability to get in front of the customer, we want to take that opportunity to get in there and build solutions face-to-face vs. opposed to just trying to email back and forth."
Petoskey has 5,000 customers in 47 countries. Those seem like unbelievable numbers, but Jason Keiswetter says it's true.
"They might buy $20 from us, but they might buy millions. And everybody's getting touched. We have sales people. We have internal marketing activities. We have CRM tools. So, everybody's being touched and communicated with on a regular basis," he said.
The customer list includes about 30 Fortune 500 companies.
And it's a diverse mix of markets and products: protective seat covers for new and used cars and trucks, film used to protect cars during auto body repair, trash bags and can liners, sheeting for home improvement work, medical containment bags for preventing infectious disease, and Greencore recycled-content trash bags.
Petoskey makes GreenPE resin in Hartford City, a sprawling operation where bales of plastic pass through an X-ray machine to detect metal and other contaminants, then get broken down and fed to a manual sorting operation where employees — Petoskey calls them "associates" — move quickly to pull out bad material and any metal. Then it goes through shredding, washing, extrusion and pelletizing, and ultimately back into blown film.
In a tour of the Hartford City factory, plant manager Steve Schmidt pointed out the space being prepared for the giant new wash line, stretching across one side of the building. It is Petoskey's single-biggest investment ever and proof that company management and employees want to keep moving forward.
Now, Petoskey Plastics gets some more proof: The company has become the newest Processor of the Year. Plastics News presented Petoskey officials with the award and honored all the finalists at a dinner March 7 during the newspaper's Executive Forum conference in Naples, Fla.
Pamela Colby, Petoskey's marketing leader, nominated her company.
Petoskey was a finalist for last year's award, which was won by Dymotek Corp., a custom injection molder based in Ellington, Conn.
A buyer at one major customer said Petoskey is "very, very easy to work with" as managers react quickly to any problems and even jump on a plane. "They will be very forthcoming and resolve the issue 99 percent of the time before you are even aware anything is going on," he said.
What began in the late 1970s as a humble in-house effort to regrind plant scrap has skyrocketed into a powerhouse "green" company. Petoskey actively markets its specialty in recycled-content film, which it makes available in a wide range of products.
Barto, the automotive sales head, said most of his customers like that feature.
"It's a big competitive advantage for us," he said. "We know it's a cost advantage for us. Where our competition [in seat covers] doesn't have that capability. So, we know that we are able to withstand raw material increases, for example, better than them because we have our own recycled content."
More than half the seat covers contain recycled content, Barto said.