Latex International L.L.C. had a banner 2005, in terms of both physical and sales growth, and the first half of 2006 has been equally impressive.
So the company, for years the only natural rubber and synthetic latex bedding and pillow manufacturer in the U.S., isn't looking over its shoulder at competitors who have launched production facilities in the country recently.
In fact, it may be a good thing because Latex International does not produce its own brand of bedding products but serves as an original equipment manufacturer for bedding companies.
``There's room in this industry for everyone,'' said Frank J. Beafore, senior vice president of manufacturing and chief technical officer for the Shelton, Conn.-based company. ``The latex bedding industry has grown from about 5 to 8-9 percent of the U.S. total bedding market. It's already well accepted in Europe where it has about 15-30 percent of the market.''
Two firms-Sealy Corp. and Latexco N.V.-are opening latex foam bedding manufacturing facilities in the U.S. Latexco, headquartered in Tielt, Belgium, has constructed a more-than 100,000-sq.-ft. factory in Lavonia, Ga., at a cost of about $10 million. Sealy is building a 210,000-sq.-ft. plant in Mountaintop, Pa., for an undisclosed amount that it plans to open in first quarter 2007.
Both companies say they are are expanding because the latex bedding market is strong and growing in the U.S.
``We have been the U.S. supplier for Sapsa products produced by Sealy and we're working to continue that relationship,'' Beafore said.
Latex bedding sales are up for a number of reasons, he said. ``Baby boomers are retiring, have disposable income and want a good night's sleep. Generation X wants it. And the price of steel used for beds is going up because it's going to China for buildings and automobiles. The same holds true for aluminum.''
That's why Latex International aggressively completed several expansions last year. The moves included opening a 45,000-sq.-ft. plant in Atlanta that will help the Shelton, Conn.-based company handle increasing orders, and adding a 45,000-sq.-ft. facility in Shelton.
The latter move allowed it to transfer fabricating at its 208,000-sq.-ft. production site in the city to the new facility, giving it room for additional manufacturing at that plant.
The firm also installed a fifth production cell that contains eight molding presses and gives the firm the capability of making an entire queen-sized mattress at one time.
In addition, it added a continuous molded production line, nicknamed Big Foot-because it's 200 feet long, 15 feet wide and 10 feet high-and will produce foamed rubber latex from a half-inch to two inches thick that will be sold in rolls and principally used for mattress toppers.
``All of this gives us additional capacity,'' Beafore said. ``We rely on intelligent capacity expansion. We take in all kinds of information-looking at everything from the raw material side to the customer side-and we build capacity to match it.''
The completed expansions were time consuming and expensive but necessary, he said. ``I personally believe the future holds great growth for us. There's no doubt that latex foam bedding has a major place in the bedding industry.''
Those additions also help Latex International's manufacturing operation deal with the steady increases in natural rubber, raw material and energy prices.
``We balance our production with natural rubber and synthetic latex,'' Beafore said. ``As natural goes up, we look at more synthetics.'' Fortunately, he said, the company has the machinery and lean manufacturing set-up to do that.
The firm built the Shelton plant with lean manufacturing in mind, he said. Latex International moved to the city in 2002, a year after a fire virtually destroyed the majority of its 284,000-sq.-ft. plant in Ansonia, Conn.
Since then, the company has sustained regular growth, doubling its production of latex bedding products. With the latest expansions completed, it's looking to increase that output further, Beafore said.