It's been 50 years since Jim Balogh used an old Volkswagen to drag a compression press into a manufacturing space in Cleveland, and Mar-Bal Inc., the thermosets firm that he co-founded, is still going strong.
"We've got a lot to be thankful for," Jim's son Scott Balogh, the firm's president and CEO, said in a Sept. 18 interview with Plastics News. "We've got great customers and great people. When you've got that, it doesn't feel like work."
Mar-Bal, a thermosets molder and compounder, now is based in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. The firm operates manufacturing plants in Ohio, Virginia and Missouri, as well as a plant and sales office in China. Mar-Bal serves the appliance, electrical, industrial, foodservice, transportation and construction industries, employing 450 and posting annual sales of about $70 million.
The firm has another family connection in Jim Balogh's son Steven, who serves as Mar-Bal's executive vice president. In a recent statement to Plastics News, Jim Balogh said that 50 years ago, "I came to Ohio after serving five years in the U.S. Army, worked hard and dreamed big."
"I am so grateful for living in a country that has given me the opportunity to realize the Great American Dream," he added. "I am fortunate to have two sons who also work hard and achieve much."
Jim Balogh was a tooling engineer for Glastic Corp. when he founded Mar-Bal in Cleveland along with Frank Martinek, a paint chemist with Sherwin-Williams. The initial investment in Mar-Bal was $10,000. The firm's name is a combination of the founders' last names.
Scott Balogh said that his father "thought he could do business on the small orders that [Glastic] threw away." The two founders "were good materials and process innovators — two things that are hard to balance," he added.
Mar-Bal's first location was in the Flats, an industrial neighborhood in Cleveland. That's where the Volkswagen came in.
"A guy I knew called me and said, 'I've got a press for you — it's ugly as hell, but it works,'" Jim Balogh said at an industry conference in 2016. When the press was delivered, it was left outside the building. Balogh had to hook it up to the car, sending sparks flying and digging grooves into the concrete.
Jim Balogh had come a long way just to get to the point of starting a company. He was jailed as a teenager in his native Hungary after taking part in that country's revolution in 1956.
Balogh later escaped and enlisted in the U.S. Army — before ever setting foot on U.S. soil. He went to college on the GI Bill and became a tool designer. In 2016, Balogh said "I owe all I have to this country" and that many immigrants become businessmen because "they can take risks because they have nothing to lose."
Today, Mar-Bal continues to work with advanced materials, developing new products via its portfolio of brands and proprietary products. From its earliest days, the firm had a philosophy of outstanding customer service no matter the size of the company, company officials said in a news release.
Jim Balogh's tooling and manufacturing expertise helped the firm build a strong regional reputation as a thermoset composite molder, which led to an expansion to a larger location in the Flats. Early Cleveland-based customers for Mar-Bal included Erico Products, Service Machine and Lincoln Electric, as well as McGraw-Edison of Zanesville.
At that point, Mar-Bal focused on the electrical equipment industry, using composites in many different applications. During this period, Jim Balogh designed and built the firm's UL-Listed Standoff Insulators product line, which Mar-Bal still sells today.
Jim Balogh bought Martinek's share of Mar-Bal in the late 1970s. In 1981, the firm sold its pultrusion business in order to expand in injection molding and to develop a line of thermoset polyester bulk molding compounds, now called composites. Officials said that materials engineer and formulator Art Busler was instrumental in Mar-Bal entering the materials compounding and fiberglass laminates business in that era.