Reversal Of Fortunes

August 8, 2005
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HOLLAND — While many companies are sending manufacturing to China, Walters Seed Co. is bringing it back here. The Holland-based seed company has found a new manufacturer for its products less than two miles away: LS Mold Inc., a family-owned complete tool and mold provider.

When Walters Seed Co. expanded its product line two years ago to include logo planter kits containing a mini plastic pot, peat pads and either Johnny-jump-up, winter thyme, alyssum or Colorado blue spruce seeds, it needed somewhere to manufacture the plastic pots. Co-owner Kathy DeVries said she had no experience with tool and die when the company searched for a local shop, and she found the prices were not feasible for a start-up product.

“There was no way we could start a brand new product from scratch at these prices,” she said.

So when she heard about a manufacturer in China through one of her clients, she was intrigued. The overseas pricing was right, but she worried about missing the security and benefits of having a local supplier. The firm finally opted for the Chinese manufacturer. Initially, having pre-determined shipment numbers and one color option was fine, but as the mini-planters caught on, DeVries said there were ways she wanted to improve the product.

That proved to be difficult with an overseas supplier.

“It was a great addition because it represented things that we could be doing and have never done before,” DeVries said of the mini-planters, which have become popular as marketing tools for real estate companies and financial institutions and as gifts of appreciation for nonprofit organizations. The mini-planters are even being used as wedding favors.

The restrictions on size and color imposed by the Chinese manufacturer prompted DeVries and her sister and co-owner, Sandra Slager, to take another look at the local market. They wanted the ability to order a variety of sizes and colors to suit clients.

The new pots made at LS Mold will have the capability of matching any color in the Pantone matching system, giving customers more opportunities to personalize the product.

“The product is being shown; they like it, they want more of it,” she said of her customers.

LS Mold will begin manufacturing the pots this month, after the mold arrives from China. DeVries said they will continue to fill orders using the pots from China until they run out of inventory.

The new partnership with LS Mold will give DeVries the benefits of having a 100-percent American-made product that is made from recycled material and coming from a women-owned business. All those components make the product that much more attractive to consumers, she said.

“Now we can really expose this as almost a new product,” DeVries said. “It has so many new selling points.”

DeVries said she appreciated LS Mold’s willingness to take on the mini-planters.

“They’re willing to more or less partner with our business,” she said.

John Bauer, LS Mold’s sales and marketing manager, said the arrangement gives his firm a new customer and opens the door for other possible customers to re-evaluate their situation with international manufacturers.

LS Mold was approved as a Tool and Die Recovery Zone in 2004, which has allowed it to not pay the Single Business Tax, 6-mill state education tax, local personal property tax, local real property tax and local income tax. Bauer said being a part of the recovery zone has allowed LS Mold to be more competitive and to hire more employees.

DeVries said she has confidence in the product and in her company’s ability to keep up with the demand in their partnership with LS Mold.

“A company needs to keep growing to show that you are a vital company that’s always involved with a certain degree of risk,” she said.

The logo planter kits have been a success, with sales up 80 percent so far in the product’s second year, DeVries said.

“Now that it’s starting to take off, we need to keep up with the demand,” she said. “If we don’t fill it, someone else will.”

Bauer said with the partnership between LS Mold and Walters Seed Co., he hopes other businesses will start looking in their own backyard for suppliers and manufacturers.

“I think it’s one of the success stories that we all need to be looking for more of,” he said.

DeVries agreed, saying she thinks other companies may also benefit.

“It’s the kind of thing where if it’s good for our business, it has to be good for some of the other businesses out there,” she said. “We were going well before, but this situation is better.”

DeVries said that although bringing the manufacturing back from China was not her original intent, she is glad to help encourage manufacturing in Holland.

“It’s been a hard couple of years with all this work leaving the area,” she said.

To help keep local manufacturers working, DeVries said more companies should review their products and suppliers to see if it might be more convenient to have an area company to work with.

“We encourage people to take a look and explore resources in their own community,” she said.

Bauer said price is not the only consideration; companies should also look at lead-time, reliability and convenience.

“It’s not about the best price of the mold or the price of the part,” Bauer said. “It’s the best value.”

Some of the best values may be right here at home, Bauer said.   

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