Area Plastics Firm Reaches Out

June 5, 2002
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ALLENDALE — Terry Nicholas says it's been a tough year for the Nicholas Plastics Group, just as it has been for most other supplier-manufacturers linked to the auto industry.

But it hasn't been so tough that the company can't expand, which is exactly what it recently announced doing when it added a design center to its sales office in Troy.

The purpose of the center, named NDP Inc., is to help the sales center feed more automotive work to the group, which is headquartered in Allendale.

The center also will support work in furniture and appliances, which are the firm's other major marketing areas.

Nicholas, the president and CEO of the group, says the center will focus specifically on engineering for automotive parts and the tooling for those parts for production in either or both of its Grand Rapids plants.

The Nicholas Group consists of NK Manufacturing Technologies, an injection molding operation; Vi-Chem, a producer of raw thermal plastics materials; and the original firm, Nicholas Plastics, which is a plastics extrusion operation.

James S. Nicholas, the current president's father, who also is chairman of the group's board, founded Nicholas Plastics in 1978.

The company acquired Vi-Chem in 1981 and NK in 1995.

Currently managing the group's component companies are two brothers, Haig and Armen Kassouni.

According to its president, the Nicholas group ordinarily does $80 million to $90 million in business a year and has a workforce ranging from 480 to 500 employees.

With the slump in auto sales during the past year, the firm's automotive sales took a 20 percent drop.

The company is a supplier to the furniture and appliance industries as well as to automotive.

"We do about 40 percent of our business in this region," Nicholas said.

"But because we are an appliance supplier, we also provide parts to 18 or 19 assembly plants in the rest of the United States and Canada."

He said the firm also is a supplier to General Motors' operation in China.

Nicholas terms the company a one-stop shopping operation in that it can take a product from inception through production. The design to production phase, he said, can take anywhere from four days to five months depending upon how complex it is.

The major automotive manufacturers have spent much of the past decade pushing such functions down to suppliers. The idea has been to pare away the manufacturers' own corporate bureaucracies.

For suppliers, the process has been a simultaneous boon and burden.  It means more business, but the highly competitive scramble for that business has mean paring costs all up and down the supply chain. 

Nicholas explained that the group engineers and fashions many of its own dies and molds, but that it also relies on outside some tool-makers.

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