KENT, Ohio—Kent Elastomer Products Inc. is aiming high, and now it's got the ammunition to chase down its growth goals.
The firm, which is owned by Milwaukee-based Meridian Industries Inc., is investing about $1.7 million in facility and equipment expansions during the next two years, on top of the $1.2 million it spent in 2017 for similar projects at its Kent headquarters and Winesburg, Ohio, operation.
President Bob Oborn said the investments are part of Kent's 10-year plan with the goal of doubling its sales to more than $60 million in that span.
"I'm really fortunate because we've grown a really great work force," Oborn said. "We have virtually no turnover and my management staff is engaged. We've spent a lot of time on building this team, building trust, and I don't think we could be going where we're at right now without that team leadership and getting our employees involved with continuous improvement. It's a package deal, I don't think we would have been able to grow without improving our process. We listen a lot to our employees and give them the tools they need to succeed."
The most immediate of its many projects is a $1 million addition to its Kent facility, which will bring about 1,400 square feet for an additional six offices and a conference room. Oborn said the move will allow the firm to transition its current conference room and adjacent office into a training area.
It also will allow Kent to continue adding jobs to its growing sales team.
"For years we've done very well at customer service," Oborn said. "But we needed to change our sales structure. We really changed our method and culture of sales to having hunters out there finding new business and then having customer service take care and support these strategic alliance managers. We expanded that department by two, and we ran out of office space."
That's just the beginning. Kent also is planning to add 3,400 square feet for more warehouse space in a project that Oborn said should begin in the spring and end in July. The addition will allow Kent to repurpose manufacturing space within its existing operations to add up to four more latex dip molding machines and subsequent support jobs as business dictates.
Oborn said Kent's latex operation has seen significant growth by about $4 million in the last four years, to the point where the firm has added 10 dip molding machines—part of the $1.2 million spent in 2017—to bring its total to 36.
When the addition is complete, the Kent site will span about 53,000 square feet. It currently employs 55 and runs 24/7, solely focused on the firm's latex business.
"Our business has really exploded," Oborn said. "We just need to have additional space. A lot of it is specialty products that other people can't make. We have a wide array of unique uses for our products. We've always been known in the industry as the best in quality and the best in service. I think our reputation for almost 60 years really helps us when we go into business."
Its Winesburg operation serves as a processing and inspection facility, in addition to providing other value-added services. Kent added about 6,000 square feet of warehouse space and additional automated assembly equipment in 2017 as part of the $1.2 million it invested in its operations. The site spans 42,000 square feet with 90 employees, running two shifts for five days.
"It's nice for us to vertically integrate our business where we can add one or two or three features for our customers," Oborn said. "It also helps us secure the business a lot better."
The firm certainly is not neglecting its third site in Mogadore, Ohio, which handles all of Kent's thermoplastic elastomer extrusion operations with six lines and 28 employees. Oborn said Kent plans to enclose one of its existing lines within a newly established Class 1,000 clean room and air condition the 25,000-sq.-ft. site to enhance air flow. The clean room line will have additional space at the end to allow for the packaging and assembly of parts to occur within the same environment.
It also is in the process of certifying the building to ISO 13485 specifications, a medical industry standard that Oborn said will open up new opportunities within Kent's existing customer base. He expects the Mogadore projects to be complete sometime in the spring of 2019.
The site also serves the food and beverage industry, which along with medical is experiencing strong growth for Kent.
"Medical is a huge industry, and it's a booming industry," Oborn said. "They demand the highest quality at the best price. With what we've done with continuous improvement since 2006, we've been able to improve our process, keep our margins and share some of the savings with our customers. We're excited because the market keeps growing in the areas we're really concentrating on."