The Match Game – F&D Plastics Offers Color Consistency
When the team at F&D Plastics says they take customer service to the next level, they’re not kidding. For more than 50 years, this innovative and resilient company has consistently produced high-performance custom colors, pre-cultured resins, specialty compounds and additive masterbatches at two advanced manufacturing plants, all while providing superior turnaround times and outstanding flexibility for a variety of customers across North America, Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Founded in 1967 in Leominster, Massachusetts by Jean and Roger Rosbury, the company manufactures in both Leominster and Dorval (Montreal), Quebec, and proudly caters to a niche market in small or large quantities and custom colors. What started with only two employees in 1972 gradually and steadily grew, and in 2001 the company moved to the building it occupies today, with 26 employees and $7 million in sales.
In 2009 F&D Plastics purchased the company CEK in Montreal, opening up an operation there featuring specifically configured compounding equipment for high-performance custom colors for fiber applications. This was followed by another purchase in 2013, and after completing a merger of the two, today F&D manufactures about 65 percent of its product in Canada and about 35 percent in the United States. Total sales at both locations are $20 million.
Doing successful business in a merger and acquisition environment requires steadiness, reliable work, and standing out from the competition, all of which F&D Plastics excels at.
“We’ve been able to separate ourselves by focusing on color match turnaround time, which is a huge thing,” says Bob Rocheleau, CFO. “Usually if you can turn around a color match — which means match the color that the customer wants and have it approved – within 10 days then you’re doing really well. If it’s out much more than 10 days and your competitors are getting their color matches in, then you’ve essentially lost the opportunity for that match.”
F&D has even managed to reduce time to within five days, which has helped elevate its industry standing over the years, especially more recently, says Rocheleau.
“Maintaining that high quality of customer care is vital for the company,” he says. “All businesses are into customer service, of course, so it’s of the utmost importance, but we’ve taken it to another level. We really instill the value of customer service across the entire organization.”
Rocheleau gives credit where it’s due: to the workers who mix the color batches and put them through the extruder machine to create the color concentrate pellets; the lab employees; the sales team; the customer service department; and the Vice President of Production, all of whom help set this team apart.
“We’ve gotten our production down to where we’re meeting our promised delivery dates and often exceeding them by a few days, which is really quite incredible,” he says. “Hats off to our production team and our staff working the machines.”
Rocheleau also credits consistency in communication, which helps employees stay on the same page and work together effectively. “The team knows we’re seeing the benefits of that paying off in better customer service in our time delivery,” he says.
Another F&D accomplishment includes developing a new pricing strategy that greatly encouraged customers to choose the company over competitors.
“It’s been very beneficial,” Rocheleau says. “You think if you give your customer a better price you’re reducing your profits, but we found that by giving our customers a more competitive price we’re actually strengthening our relationship with them and getting more color matches. It’s worked out quite well.”
Does the company receive positive customer feedback for those kinds of changes? Definitely.
“We’ve been fortunate because they do give us the feedback, especially the larger [customers],” says Rocheleau. “Their doors are being knocked on all the time by other color concentrate houses seeking their business.”
Because of this dedication to servicing customers as efficiently as possible, Rocheleau anticipates F&D establishing itself as a color supplier to small manufacturers, especially via its online platform that’s coming out in November. “We feel that more and more of these small manufacturers are being left behind by competitors because their orders are too small, and color concentrate houses don’t want to invest the time or money to match the colors,” he says.
Often when companies are looking for specific colors for smaller batches of items, whether it’s a toy or medical equipment, they’re unable to get, for instance, a certain color blue, and instead receive a basic blue that’s off-the-shelf.
“That’s because manufacturers have the basic colors and they’re using them all the time,” says Rocheleau. “Our goal is to market ourselves nationally to be able to provide custom color concentrate for the small customer out there, so they can still get the colors they want. We see that as a big market… A big part of the market out there is not driven by large volumes; it’s driven by the unique colors that these different customers want.”
Aside from superior color matching and turnaround time, F&D’s high level of customer service and quality continues to set it apart from other houses, says Rocheleau. As other color houses make more acquisitions and continue to grow larger, there’s an opportunity for F&D to be able to communicate at the customer level, offering better, personalized service than doesn’t involve only large volumes.
To this end, the new online platform’s development plans include reaching out across the country to small manufacturers who may be looking for something specific, unique and anything but basic.
“There are two things,” Rocheleau explains. “A customer in California or Texas needs 50 pounds of a certain blue and he can’t get it anywhere because there are minimum orders of 200 pounds or more but he doesn’t need that much. With F&D, if it’s a stock color he can go online, order it and we’ll ship it out the next day. While we also have some standard colors, our other component is to let these small manufacturers know that we will match their color, we will do the 25-pound order and we’re here to do that for you. You are our customer.”
It’s this kind of specialized service and dedication to nimble thinking that will continue to set F&D apart in the years to come. Rocheleau also makes a point of touching on the team’s resilience to the COVID pandemic, which he feels they managed to handle better than most.
“We were fortunate to not have any stoppages or shutdowns and part of that was we immediately implemented a strict sterile environment mandate,” he explains. ”All touch surfaces were cleaned after each shift; from manufacturing to the office setting, all touchpoints were sanitized at the end of each work day.”
Masks were mandatory as well. “Part of it was luck, but one of the things that helped us get through the pandemic was, in late 2019 we had just completed a staff reduction strategy that we had carried out here in Leominster and in Canada,” he says. “We had too many people in production and in the lab, and we really got our hands around the cost and the excess. We were able to strip that down so it made it easier when COVID hit because we were already at a really efficient level in terms of labor.”
F&D’s drastic change in staffing included revamping the entire management structure to better serve small and medium-size customers. The company replaced its Vice President of production, along with its Lab Manager, the CFO, and the entire the sales team, says Rocheleau. “All those things put us in a position to ride out the COVID-19 storm.”
Along with continuing to deal with the pandemic, F&D has had to weather and adjust to the ongoing raw material price increases and rising shipping rates. “Much of this is COVID-related in some form or another,” Rocheleau says. “A lot of our pigments are coming from China and India, so there are supply-side problems from production to shipping. There are problems at the U.S. docks, and there are not enough workers.”
The company also had to deal with the issues of flooding in Texas that resulted in the decrease of resin production, which continues to be a challenge today.
“We’re told that it won’t be till May or June of next year before these prices kind of settle down,” Rocheleau says. “That’s definitely the obstacle right now – absorbing the price increases, but also our ability to be able to pass on these price increases to our customers.”
Rocheleau is confident that the company’s proven resilience will come through again, however, as it moves forward with its plans to alleviate customers’ frustrations with finding color concentrates at the small order level.
Along with F&D’s ongoing superior color consistency matches, Rocheleau says the timeliness of turnaround times has helped established the company as a go-to business, especially for those smaller orders. “That’s what we’re trying to do with this online platform as well,” he says. “We want to ship the next day for standard colors and provide custom colors for small manufacturers.”