When Caterpillar Inc. opened a new world headquarters in Peoria, Ill., in 1967, it didn't take long for some local suppliers to reap the benefits of filling orders for the yellow diggers and dozers.
Founded in 1968, Shamrock Plastics Inc. made vacuum-formed dashboards and interior cab components for tractors in its early days. Fifty years later, the family-owned business with a staff of 30 still counts Caterpillar, a company with $45.5 billion in 2017 sales, among its customers.
"As a supplier to Caterpillar plants in the U.S. and around the world, we've made hundreds of different parts to satisfy their growing needs over the years," Shamrock President Tom Westphal said in a phone interview.
Last year, Westphal succeeded his mother, Mary Cay Westphal, who had been president for 30 years. She remains on the board.
The Westphal family acquired Shamrock in 1980 from the Slevin family. Under their ownership, the business diversified beyond Caterpillar's main markets of construction and mining. The Westphals got into the environmental market with products like a high molecular weight polyethylene lid for restaurant grease receptacles as well as the seasonal market with high-impact polystyrene products called Lamplighters. Shaped like a grinning jack-o'-lantern or snowman with a top hat, Lamplighters come in halves that fit over lamppost lights and snap together.
About 10 years ago, Shamrock added pressure forming capabilities to produce parts with an appearance similar to injection molding but at half the tooling costs. The process, which allows a variety of textured and smooth areas on the same part, now accounts for 40 percent of sales while the balance is thermoforming.
Tom Westphal is looking to diversify the business again with sights set on the medical and food markets, where Shamrock has a small footprint, as well as the marine, all-terrain vehicle, and agricultural and forestry machinery markets.
"We began hiring manufacturers reps a few years ago to enhance our inside sales," Westphal said. "We are adopting the sales strategy of partnering with more manufacturers reps to increase our geographical footprint, expand within our several current industries and seek new ones like medical and marine."
Shamrock's longtime roots with Caterpillar, which recently moved its HQ to Deerfield, Ill., after 90 years in Peoria, should help. The company has been designated a platinum-level supplier for its process control, continuous improvement and quality products.
"We're very pleased to have been certified at an elite level for many years by one of the biggest companies in the world," Westphal said. "Shamrock is different from some firms in that we're primarily a custom shop. Except for the ornaments, we don't stock standard products that we try to sell to everybody. We're working with customers and prospects, trying to understand their needs and hoping to satisfy them with our custom plastic solutions."
To mark five decades in business, the Shamrock team went to a Peoria Chiefs baseball game.
"We're excited about celebrating 50 years," Westphal said. "It's not that common in business as it used to be. We're pleased to reach this milestone, and it's nice to acknowledge that we have longtime players at Shamrock. Some employees hired and developed by Mary Cay have been here 20, 30 and 40 years. The tenure of employees is outstanding and that's one of the main reasons, I think, for its success."
With an estimated $4 million of sales, Shamrock ranks 157th among North American thermoformers, according to Plastics News' latest ranking.