Kenosha manufacturer lands British contract

The recession is not stopping Xten Industries, a Kenosha-based plastic injection molding and contract manufacturer, from landing new business.

In early December, Xten began manufacturing Bikebins, a British-designed, hard-shelled waterproof bin for bicycles. Bikebins are similar to hard saddlebags used on many European touring motorcycles.

Xten began negotiations with Sam Lowings, the owner of the Bikebin name, in February of 2008.

“Plastic prices there were going up and the dollar was going down,” said Matt Davidson, president of Xten. “There was no way he could make Bikebins in the U.K. and sell them in the U.S. and make any money. He had a good business in Europe but saw the market potential in the U.S.  He was looking for a supplier that could make the bin and the lid, as well as attaching all of the parts.”

Although Xten previously had not produced anything resembling the Bikebin product, Xten has much experience with injection molding and assembly, Davidson said. Xten produces a wide range of products for its customers, including napkin holders and paper towel dispensers with plastic and metal components, plastic toilet paper dispensers, plastic metal containers for medical waste including “sharps” and more.

“We make a very broad array of things,” Davidson said. “Our greatest value is for customers that have eliminated manufacturing and have outsourced it. We mostly assemble other people’s goods. Most are plastic. Some are metal. And many involve the marriage of plastic to metal.”

In late November, Lowings shipped the original molds used to create the Bikebins to Kenosha so that Xten could begin producing the plastic components. The molds are still in use in Kenosha, and Davidson said he did not know if Lowings had ordered new molds for use in the U.K.

“Bikebins has its own assembly operations in England, and we could send the plastic bins to him in bulk,” Davidson said. “He could assemble them in Europe.”

 Xten Industries was founded as Hauser Plastec in the 1940s. The Chicago-based company was started as a tool maker, and later made components for some of Motorola’s first cell phones, Davidson said.

Davidson and his business partner, William Renick, purchased Hauser Plastec in 2000 and renamed the company Xten Industries. In 2001, they purchased Priority Tool and Manufacturing, a Kenosha-based tool and assembly company. The following year, they moved the company to Kenosha, building a 78,000-square-foot facility in the city’s business park.

Xten has 85 employees and runs three shifts for five to six days per week. Although it laid off about 15 workers in late summer, the company will finish the year with a more than 10 percent revenue increase and better profitability, Davidson said.

However, current economic conditions have Davidson less optimistic about 2009.

“We have discounted any customers that sell into retail markets, which could be 20 to 30 percent of our sales,” he said. “We anticipate being down a third, without doing anything.”

But Davidson and Xten are doing something – the company is aggressively pursuing additional business with current customers and targeting new customers as well.

“We are very lucky – we have some strong existing customers and are aggressive in the market now trying to win new business,” he said. “We have recently won some new business and hope to win some more. The wonderful thing is that we’re busy. It’s hard work to do this, and it’s almost out of desperation. But we can see where this is headed. I don’t see how this turns around too quickly, and I want to be a survivor.”  n

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