LAS VEGAS—Fenner Dunlop Americas is exactly where Cassandra Pan hoped it would be when she became president of the major belt maker midway through 2009.
The manufacturing and marketing arm of Fenner Dunlop Worldwide, a Fenner P.L.C. business, has expanded and grown steadily under her watch with plans to grow more in the future. The entire operation is large and adding capabilities, but Pan said that's not Fenner Dunlop Americas' primary goal.
“We are continuously looking for strategic alliances and acquisitions to further strengthen our value offering to performance-driven customers,” she said. “We are fully focused on value creation, not size.”
That has been her central theme since she took over as president. She wants quality products and customer satisfaction.
To achieve that, the Americas operation has made significant investments over the last few years, especially at its belting factory in Port Clinton, Ohio, and fabrics plant in Lavonia, Ga. Another expansion project, this one upgrading a triple deck press at the firm's Bracebridge, Canada, facility, was completed ahead of schedule in July, according to Al Bonneau, senior vice president, distribution channel.
Those multimillion dollar projects significantly upgraded Fenner Dunlop's capabilities, capacity and quality in the U.S., he said.
During the last year, the company has made major investments in personnel across all levels of management, Pan and Bonneau said during an interview at NIBA—The Belting Association, held Sept. 28-Oct. 1 in Las Vegas.
“This is a continuation of our growth strategy in the Americas, complimentary to the $20 million asset investments we made from 2007 to 2009,” Pan said. “Having the best production and service facilities available is only half way to success. Without the right leadership and professionalism, our vision to be the safest and most successful conveyor belting solution provider in the world will not materialize.”
Among those recently added are three executives filling new leadership positions: Mark Hardwick, chief operating officer; Bill Mooney, chief commercial/financial officer; and Peter Klaus, president of the South American operation.
Teamed with Pan, they have more than 100 years of experience in the industry and successful track records that span decades.
Improvements made by Fenner Dunlop Americas since it began expanding and upgrading its internal operation during the last few years have made the company “the undisputed leader in providing conveyor belting products and services in the underground coal mining market in North America, both in quality and quantity,” Pan claimed.
Other strengths include a loyal customer-focused distributor network in the non-underground coal mining markets and specialty products specifically made for selective applications, and research and development of fire-resistant technology, which has been ongoing for over six decades, according to Pan.
“The crown jewel of the Fenner Dunlop product portfolio has always been our Fire Boss offerings, which outperform (the competition) in both safety and cost per ton.”
Big gains and growth
Fenner Dunlop Americas' biggest accomplishment so far in 2011 has been overcoming a weak economic environment and escalating raw material costs.
The company has achieved sales growth of more of than 50 percent, and profits continue to steadily improve as its massive capital investments have started to generate productivity and quality gains, Pan said.
Besides material cost increases, the availability of some compounds has been a challenge.
That caused belt prices to rise in 2011. “Fortunately,” Pan said, “our sourcing team has done an exceptional job in securing supplies from around the world to ensure availability of belting for meeting our customers' delivery expectations.”
Bonneau said as the cost of raw materials rose, some competitors began using inferior compounds.
“We've done some testing on those compounds, and they came up short,” the executive said. “Fenner Dunlop doesn't use them. We're not looking to hit a price; we're looking to hit high-quality products.”
As the company's competitors focus on lowering quality and price, Fenner Dunlop is heading in the opposite direction, Pan said.
“Safety and reliability will guarantee our customer the lowest cost and highest yield, particularly in mission critical operations,” she said.
That will lead to better products for customers and growth across the board for Fenner Dunlop, she said. “In the U.S., we are developing commercial solutions to align our value with our customers for pay-for-performance potentials.”
The Fenner Dunlop Americas president said that another growth area will be export market expansions in Canada, Central and South America.
“We have gained tremendous momentum in the last two years to build a solid foundation for the future,” the executive said.
“In particular, we have fully integrated our product, service and engineering businesses into a seamless One Team solution for our customers who gain one-stop shopping” from the beginning to the end of the process with Fenner Dunlop.
Despite raw material increases, market demand has been pretty strong.
Currently, the domestic belt industry is running at full capacity, according to Pan. But the investments made by the company in additional presses, upgraded machinery and more calender equipment over the last three years has allowed the firm to increase supply to its customers, she said.
To achieve long-term growth and profitability, Fenner Dunlop Americas is striving to further improve its quality and service levels. “Focusing on the lowest cost with the safest solution is our core value of future growth in North America,” she said.
“Unfortunately, we have seen the major players in the North American belting industry heading in the opposite direction by downgrading their product end services to enjoy short-term gains,” she said.
Pan anticipates that demand for conveyor belting will continue to be strong for the foreseeable future. She said she figures that the manufacturer that provides reliable belting and services at the lowest operating cost and the highest uptime will end up being the preferred supplier.
The substantial investments it made in its North American operations allow the firm to differentiate from its competitors, who she said at times use antiquated equipment.
Those companies that haven't been upgrading will simply end up with aged equipment, according to Pan.
In those situations, the advantage goes to Fenner Dunlop because of quality, speed and dependability, the company president said.