Stevensville, Mich. — T.J. Moneta always figured he'd join the family plastics molding business.
"I grew up knowing that I was going to work here, and I wanted to work here. And it wasn't because my dad or my grandpa told me that I have to work here," T.J. Moneta said.
He just always figured he'd follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Manfred Moneta, who with two brothers co-founded a tool and die shop in Stevensville in 1969.
Not to mention his father, Tom Moneta, who graduated from Ferris State University and joined the tool shop in 1984.
In 1987, Manfred brought a used 50-ton Van Dorn injection press from a friend's company in Ohio and moved it into a pole barn behind the tool shop. That was the start of a new company, Bridgville Plastics Inc., which Tom Moneta has now led for more than 35 years.
T.J. didn't officially join the family business until 2021. Like his dad, T.J. got a plastics engineering degree from Ferris State. First he spent seven years at a handful of larger automotive molders and OEMs.
Along the way he learned new skills, got RJG Master Molder II certification, plus lots of experience in automated molding processes.
“And then, eventually, in 2021, I called my dad and asked him if it was time for me to come and work for him. And he said, ‘Come on down; let’s go. Let’s build something fun and amazing together,’” T.J. said.
"And he's doing a great job," Manfred added.
The three generations of Monetas — 83-year-old Manfred, 58-year-old Tom and 31-year-old T.J. — spoke with Plastics News in an interview at the 16,500-square-foot Bridgville Plastics factory in Southwest Michigan.
Today the company has 14 presses, ranging from 50-1,100 tons of clamping force. Its 15 employees work two shifts.
Bridgville is always in the process of replacing old equipment with new. The latest was a 400-ton Milacron press that was installed in November, including all-new auxiliary equipment and modern controls that can be monitored from anywhere.
The original 50-ton Van Dorn isn't on the shop floor anymore. A few years ago Manfred and T.J.'s brother Alex — who's also in plastics but not at the family business — moved that first press out of the factory and put it in front of the building. Now it's a conversation starter for visitors.
Tom can relate to T.J.'s situation since he also made the decision to join the family business, just a few decades earlier.
"My dad never forced me or coerced me to be a toolmaker. I think he had the same approach that I did with T.J.: If you want to work for me, let's make a plan," Tom said.
For T.J., the plan is to help the company grow and diversify its customer base. That's where he expects his automation expertise to pay off.
Bridgville Plastics posted 2022 sales of about $2.88 million. Its goal this year is $3.2 million, and the five-year plan is to reach $5.5 million, T.J. said.
"I'm very excited. I know there's a lot of work out there," T.J. said. "I think for Bridgville to succeed going forward, the key is more automation. We have to make more parts and less scrap at a faster pace so we can quote bigger jobs."
He's working on some automation projects now and feels that the contacts he's made from Ferris State and the pre-Bridgville portion of his career will also help bring more business.
T.J.'s aware that it's rare for a family-owned company to survive to third-generation ownership. But he thinks he knows the secret to beating the odds.
"As long as you are on point with the same objectives and goals, then it's easy for a company to transition from the second to the third generation," he said. "You have to have that mindset that my dad is the boss, how can I make his life easier and also make more money, as opposed to saying we should do it my way.
"So as long as you have a good working relationship, you can conquer any problem," T.J. said.
"It's good to have new blood coming into the company," Manfred added. "Because if you don't make changes, it becomes stale. And the way the world works today, that's not going to work."