Voorhees, N.J. — In a pandemic year, we all quickly learned the value of cleaning wipes.
While factories around the world shut down in March and April 2020, plastics processors that made wipes containers and lids were busier than ever. They were considered essential businesses, so they needed to find a way to safely stay open to meet unprecedented demand for their products.
Comar LLC was one of those companies. And not just wipes — Comar generates more than 75 percent of its sales from medical and health care customers, so 2020 was incredibly busy at its nine North American molding and assembly plants.
On top of that, Comar made a significant acquisition in 2020, plus it started construction on new molding plants in California and New Jersey. And if that wasn't enough, Comar also started moving into a new facility in West Bend, Wis., a move that was unplanned at the beginning of 2020 but was necessary to meet skyrocketing demand for rigid containers for disinfecting wipes.
"I think our organization accomplished more in 2020 than I've seen many organizations accomplish over decades, and to do all that, during a pandemic, I think just speaks to the quality of the team and the organization," CEO Michael Ruggieri said. "What the team was able to do was just absolutely remarkable."
And for its successful year, staying open, creating jobs and making essential products during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Voorhees-based company earned a spot as a finalist in the 2020 Plastics News Processor of the Year competition and the PN Excellence Award for industry and public service.
Comar is a first-time Processor of the Year finalist. And in another notable first, too, the company is our first-ever finalist that's owned by a private equity firm.
Comar was founded in 1949 by Ruggieri's grandfather, and the company was originally a glass manufacturer. It moved into plastics in the 1990s and sold the glass business in 2007.
The company started to expand rapidly when it brought in PE investors, initially Graham Partners in 2013, and Morgan Stanley Capital Partners in 2018.
But even with private equity owners and rapid growth, the team at Comar has managed to retain the culture of a family business, Ruggieri said.
"What set us up to be successful in 2020, I think, goes back to the values of our organization. And we've been really fortunate to be able to kind of maintain some of the family culture that's existed in this business through the years," he said.
"And as we've grown and professionalized the organization, we've been able to keep that core," Ruggieri said. "I'm a really firm believer that if we have everybody swimming in the same direction, we can accomplish anything.
"And I think you see it across the business, there isn't anybody in the organization that believes they should get special treatment or should be dealt with differently or should have a different expectation. I won't ask anybody in the business to do anything that I won't do myself. I think that kind of view has been really helpful in a really difficult time. We're all working through this together," Ruggieri said.