PARIS, Tenn.-Plumley Companies Inc. reached a big goal in its just-ended fiscal year, one the firm's been shooting for the past couple years-the $100 million sales mark. And while the maker of rubber hose, molded goods and extruded products has seen growth in every market and every product line, its strides in export sales stand as an example of how the firm's vision and focus have led the company forward.
For Plumley, the export numbers speak for themselves.
In 1984, the Tennessee firm exported to just Mexico, Canada and Australia. Now it sends parts to those countries plus Germany, Japan, Brazil, Venezuela and the United Kingdom.
Plumley's $1 million of exports in 1984 accounted for just 2.3 percent of sales. The more than $16 million in exports to 26 car makers worldwide this past year was 14.2 percent of the firm's overall sales.
As with everything at Plumley, the success gets back to the company's vision, which in Plumley's case isn't just an abstract term but a working aid that involves detailed planning and continuous improvement, said Chairman and CEO Michael A. Plumley.
In the case of exporting, Plumley said this included such things as developing a marketing strategy, putting more parts on each car and gaining footholds in Europe and Japan. ``We focused on all of these areas,'' he said.
European sales have grown at a higher percentage-albeit from a small base-than any other market the company serves and now totals $5.8 million, Plumley said. And exports to Japan, where the company just hired a liaison four years ago, now total $1.85 million.
One simple thing Plumley has done in building its exports is ``leapfrog'' off some of the main products it makes in the U.S. ``We take what we have with slight modifications and it fits needs in other parts of the world,'' the chairman and president said.
Plumley Companies also uses the relationships it has built domestically as a springboard, according to Larry Callon, vice president of sales and marketing. One such example is the TQC designation the supplier received from Ford Motor Co. in the U.S.
``Because of that quality relationship, it gives us instant credibility for the entire Ford operation,'' Callon said.
Another key, he said, is to treat overseas customers the same, no matter what the situation at home. ``When things are good, you tend to focus domestically. When things get tough, you look at, `Where can I sell my product?' ''
Callon recalls some people coming up to the Plumley booth at the Society of Automotive Engineers exhibition and asking them about their good relations with the Japanese.
``We tell them, `That's an eight-year project,' '' he said. ``You must treat these customers as first-class citizens in good times and bad. These folks are sophisticated and have a sense of who's really committed to them over the years.''
Callon also said auto suppliers should focus on companies that are a good fit, and back away from those that don't offer much compatibility.
``We see where the best marriage can be. We don't shotgun the entire European continent.''
In addition, don't make promises you can't keep, he said. In Europe, especially, laws are different and auto makers can converse more freely than in the U.S. So if a firm doesn't live up to its word, Callon said the company's name could be smeared for years.
Success in exports notwithstanding, it's been an exciting couple of years in all aspects of Plumley Companies, said Michael Plumley.
Hitting the $100 million mark-actual sales for the fiscal year ended Oct. 31 totaled about $105.5 million-was a point of personal pride for the company. Plumley himself forecast the feat two years ago, when sales were just more than $80 million.
``There's a little magic with $100 million,'' said Plumley. ``It's a hundred with six more zeroes.''
And though automotive accounts for 85 percent of sales, the growth in revenue the past two years far outstrips the 10-12 percent increase in automobile production.
The words ``vision'' and ``improve'' are laced throughout company literature. And Plumley has an active kaizen-or continuous improvement-program in each of its facilities. ``We have what we call a quality kaizen program,'' Plumley said. ``We work to improve the quality, not just the cost.''
And a gain sharing program, where workers share in improvements, has generated direct labor savings in excess of $500,000 since the program was started 18 months ago.
And while the firm's top line continues to rise, Plumley Companies also has been focusing on improving its bottom line, something Plumley earlier acknowledged needed some work.
In the past two years, profits have more than doubled, said Plumley, who declined to reveal exact earnings. The firm still has a ways to go, but by being a family-owned firm, it doesn't have to worry about pleasing public shareholders, he said.
The company also has held its own with a lot of the fluctuations caused by General Motors Corp. pricing initiatives led by former executive J. Ignacio Lopez, according to Callon.
With GM as its No. 1 customer, it was a tremendous burden on the firm, Callon said. ``We increased market share with GM, although we lost a significant amount of business,'' he said.
Realizing that Plumley as a company can't individually change things like that, the firm is dealing with the situation the best it can, Callon said. ``This is the U.S. and GM is GM and they can operate as they see fit.''
The Plumley vice president said while the situation was difficult, the company encourages customer teams to visit facilities and determine if Plumley's pricing is fair.
For the short term, Plumley is likely to see growth in percentages close to those reached the past couple of years.
Michael Plumley projects sales of $127 million for the next 12 months and $143 million the following year. Sealing products will account for much of next year's growth, and a plant that just opened in Fulton, Ky., will handle the need for added capacity. Further expansion may be needed in 1996, depending on the extent of productivity improvements.
As primarily an original equipment supplier-besides automotive, other markets include small engine and marine uses-Plumley can accurately predict these growth figures.
``This is from orders already on the books, where we're designed in,'' Plumley said. ``The orders we have today are from efforts of three years ago. These are our orders to lose.''