- September 01, 2001, Robert W. Marsh, Contributing Editor
The entrepreneurial spirit thrives at Vacumet Corp., feeding on acquisitions, expansions, perseverance, and good timing.
What makes a dream come true in the business world? Attention to detail, hands-on management, staying focused on customer needs, and having the entrepreneurial spirit. But dreams of escalating sales, increasing production, rising profits, and personal success often suffer from the wake-up call of reality. Pop goes the bubble. Dot.com companies file for bankruptcy, high-tech stocks take nosedives on the NASDAQ, and even “old-economy” businesses stumble.
Some companies, however, have their dreams and live them too. Vacumet Corp., a 32-year-old vacuum metallizing company headquartered in Wayne, NJ, has dreamed of being “the source for metallized products — all metallized products — for all its customers,” says president Robert T. Korowicki, “and to accomplish this goal by producing the highest quality, most cost-effective products.” The company's reality is growth through internal expansion and acquisition.Bringing Paper into the Mix
Vacumet acquired a metallizing operation in Wood Dale, IL, in 1992 and seven years later acquired another in Atlanta, GA. The latest acquisition, which took Vacumet into paper metallizing, was the purchase in July 2000 of Rexam Metallizing USA with plants in Morristown, TN, and Greenfield, IN. Why Rexam?
“We've been trying to round out the Vacumet portfolio and become the source for metallized products, whatever they may be — plastics or papers.”
The final missing element was stripe metallizing. “We have filled that gap, too, with the opening of our new metallizing facility in Windsor, CT. It's Vacumet Corp. — New England,” he says. All of which makes Vacumet the largest non-captive metallizer in North America with a total of 350 employees in six strategic company locations.
The hunt for Rexam's (formerly Bowater's) plants began eight years ago. Twice a year, Korowicki approached Bowater and then Rexam regarding the purchase of their US metallizing assets and consistently was told they were not for sale, inasmuch as they were strategic and represented the company's core business.
“When I read last year that Rexam was acquiring the assets of American National Can, a phone call was immediately placed, hoping that Rexam Metallizing US was no longer a core business.” Vacumet owned the paper metallizing plants 43 days later.
Thomas J. Bickford is the VP and general manger of the Metallized Paper Div. of Vacumet Corp. and reports directly to Bob Korowicki. Located at the Morristown, TN, facility, he is responsible for sales, profitability, and the day-to-day operations of that division. The other paper metallizing plant is located in Greenfield, IN.
Bickford says the Morristown facility runs two coaters, one from Faustel and one from Magna-Graphics (bought by Egan-Davis Standard); four metallizers, three from Camvac Ltd. and one from GVE; and four slitters, two from Atlas, one from Cameron and one from Kampf; plus an Atlas embosser and a Maxson sheeter.
The Greenfield plant features a GVE metallizer and a Polytype coater, as well as a Cameron and a Dusenbery slitter. The metallizers can deposit vaporized aluminum in widths to 110 in., while coaters can handle paper widths to 86.5 in. The plant provides slitting widths to 110 in., sheeting widths to 56 in., and embossing widths to 65 in.Continuing to Focus on Growth
Instead of laying off employees due to the Vacumet acquisition, “employment will rise over the next couple of years,” Bickford says. “We anticipate adding additional crewing, probably in the form of another shift at both sites, providing a 24-hour, seven-day operation. We have a very clear focus to grow the business, and we are going to do it. This is probably the most important change in attitude that we have seen since we became part of Vacumet.”
Bickford continues, “Both our employees and our customers have felt the acquisition of Rexam Metallizing by Vacumet is very positive, and our focus on growth and commitment to the business is also very positive.”
He adds, “We see a lot of growth, long-term, in cold beverage [bottle] labels, general can labeling, as well as gift-wrap and pressure-sensitive business.” He also sees substantial growth in consumer packaging and foil replacement.
That growth, he says, is based on “our focus on quality. We are driven to get it right the first time. And when we've achieved the quality our customers need, we focus on ways to make our production process more efficient.”
Growth is also based on sales effort, which is the responsibility of Mark McGarel, VP of sales for the Metallized Paper Div. His sales force emphasizes service and product quality. Price is not a bargaining point, he says, because “marketplace competition sets the price. With us, quality and service begin the first time the sales team meets the customer. Quality and service are part of everything we do from the time we get the order through manufacture and delivery — on time. This is what our customers have grown accustomed to, and we will keep it that way.”
For those who require it, McGarel provides his customers with just-in-time delivery. “It's necessary,” he says, “especially for converters that make labels for the brewing industry. The volume of material that goes in and out of their plants is so high that we supply a truckload of metallized paper every day when they start releasing material. When they run labels made with our metallized paper for a week, we deliver a truckload of metallized paper every day for five days.”
McGarel adds, “We'll work with our customers so we can understand their production system and they can understand ours. We develop a supply chain that meets our customers' total requirements. Metallized paper isn't a product that someone can call up and say, ‘We'd like to have some of that tomorrow.’ Our product goes through five or six steps before we ship it. That's why we need to understand how they work, and they need to know how we work.”Consumer Packaging a Target
One of the markets McGarel has targeted for growth is consumer packaging, best illustrated by the multiwall bag for Ralston Purina One dog food and cat food. Vacumet provides the facestock for that bag. The silver appearance of metallized paper is not seen by the consumer, but the metal coating provides brilliance to the printed surface.
“We estimate less than 10 percent of the packages for consumer goods employ some type of metallized packaging. That leaves a lot of room for us to grow.”
Shelf appeal is important to product differentiation, and metallized paper can play an important role in achieving it, says Tom Bickford. “In just about every study, the higher quality look on the shelf generally is going to appeal to a consumer, giving the impression the high quality package has a high quality product inside.”
Metallized products provide more than an attractive appearance, according to McGarel. “We can provide grease resistance for pet food [packaging] as well as heat resistance during sealing. Our product keeps grease from penetrating the package and perhaps contaminating the contents. It also keeps grease in the product from migrating to the surface of the package, which ruins its appearance and may attract vermin. Also, during the sealing process, our metallized paper can withstand sealing temperatures in excess of 400 degrees Fahrenheit. When the sealing jaws on the packaging machine fold down the mouth of the package, the heat for sealing it penetrates through the package walls to the sealing coat on the inside. If you don't have a heat-resistant coating, you wipe away the metal.”
Another part of Vacumet quality involves shipping. When Vacumet ships metallized paper to its customers, each roll is sealed in a moisture-resistant plastic. McGarel recalls a large shipment of wrapped rolls sent to a customer in Europe. “The rolls arrived with sea salt on them. We don't know how they got wet, but none of the water got through that plastic wrapper. When our customer opened the rolls, they were perfect.”Expanding to Meet Needs
Acquisition isn't the entire Vacumet story. “We are presently building a 60,000-square-feet facility in Addison, Illinois, at a budgeted cost of $10,000,000,” says Korowicki.
“It will have two new state-of-the-art Galileo plastic metallizing machines that will be fully operational later this year. Addison will replace our current Wood Dale location. Each of the new metallizers is 95 inches wide and will handle rolls 40 inches in diameter. These units have specially designed web cooling technology and unique surface treatment capabilities, complementing our metallizing capability, and we will be adding three new Dusenbery slitters. We selected the Addison area because of its ease of access to major transportation and its proximity to O'Hare airport. It is close to Wood Dale, which means we can keep all of our present employees.”
With the new Addison facility and existing locations, Korowicki adds, “we are in an excellent position to meet all the needs of our customers with our unique ability to be able to ship product from alternate plants if any unforeseen situations occur.”The Vacumet Method
Bill Foley, manager of Plastics Div. customer service/purchasing, notes “the Vacumet method involves attention to details and hands-on management. Entrepreneurs who started metallizing businesses years ago ran them personally and succeeded. As they did, though, more and more of them became corporate entities, and attention to detail went by the wayside. You have to pay attention to every detail of your business, and that is exactly what we do. Vacumet is a work in progress, and the entrepreneurial spirit thrives here.”
With all the new facilities and equipment on board, Vacumet will be operating 11 plastic film metallizers and five paper metallizers, located at six manufacturing sites in Wayne, NJ; Atlanta, GA; Wood Date, IL (soon to be Addison, IL); Morristown, TN; Greenfield, IN; and its newest site in Windsor, CT. The Plastic Div.'s operations will remain in the Wayne office. Korowicki adds, “Packaging accounts for about 80 percent of our business and it will probably stay that way.”
In addition to metallizing plastic and paper substrates, Vacumet also provides aluminum oxide metallized polyester film to its customers as an alternative to polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) coatings. “This clear barrier has the benefits of PVDC without the negatives of vinyl chloride. For the time being,” Korowicki says, “we'll import aluminum oxide from Rexam in Thetford, England, but we look forward to self-manufacturing in the next year or so, most likely in New Jersey. We need to do this so we can be more responsive to our customer base.”
What's next for Vacumet? “We're looking at the rest of the world,” says Bob Korowicki.
Atlas Converting Equipment/Atlas Converting Inc., Charlotte, NC; 704/588-5530
Camvac Europe Ltd., Thetford Norfolk, U.K.; +44(0) 1842-755-021
Elite Cameron Inc., Piscataway, NJ; 732/627-0400
Faustel Inc., Germantown, WI; 262/253-3333
Egan-Davis Standard, Somerville, NJ; 908/722-6000; 800/237-3124
Galileo Vacuum Systems Inc., East Granby, CT; 860/653-5911
John Dusenbery Co. Inc., Randolph, NJ; 973/336-7500
Kampf GmbH & Co., Muhlen, Germany; +49 2262 81 200
Maxson Automatic Machinery, Westerly, RI; 401/596-0162
Polytype America Corp., Converting Equipment Div., Easton, PA; 610/252-7200
Valmet General (formerly General Vacuum Equipment/GVE), Charlotte, NC; ph: 704/587-2207