Rabbe Co. expects record sales this year

Raabe Co.

N92 W14701 Anthony Dr., Menomonee Falls

Industry: Custom touch-up paint for industrial OEM customers

Employees: 71


For decades, do-it-yourselfers have known about aftermarket paint kits, which are frequently sold at auto parts stores or by the parts departments of auto dealers. They usually look like a paint pen and match the paint codes printed on the driver’s side door of most cars.

Menomonee Falls-based Raabe Co. is a custom formulator of touch-up paint, which it sells in paint pens, spray-on cans, miniature jars similar to White-Out containers, and quart cans.

But unlike the touch-up paint sold in hardware stores or auto repair centers, the paint made by Raabe Co. is intended for the industrial OEM market.

“We’re highly focused on this niche market,” said Steve Hughes, vice president and business unit manager. “We typically sell to three channels: the factory floor where there can be nicks and scratches, installer networks, and to distributors who will sell it to consumers.”

Although touch-up paint typically conjures up images of the automotive industry, Raabe Co. makes its paint for OEMs in the appliance, agriculture and the commercial and residential construction markets. Its customers include some of the best-known manufacturers of lawn and garden equipment, residential appliances, garage doors and siding and related products.

About 98 percent of Raabe Co.’s business is with industrial OEMs, while about two percent is with automotive customers.

Regardless of which customer Raabe Co. is making an order of touch-up paint for, each individual order is custom blended to match a new sample, Hughes said.

“The OEM assembly process can create variations,” he said. “The customer has to send us their standard, and we match it. We use our spectrometer and software to create a custom color match each time. We’re making more than 100 color custom matches here per day.”

In an average year, Raabe Co. makes about 18,000 color matches.

The company also makes custom paint nozzles for its spray paint cans or paint pens, Hughes said.

“We make 140 different types of actuators on our spray nozzles,” he said. “Everything about us is customized.”

Raabe Co. is one of seven portfolio companies of Quest Specialty Chemicals, which is based in Walled Lake, Mich.

The company has 71 employees in its 140,000-square-foot facility in Menomonee Falls, which uses highly automated processes to blend, package and label its paints. The company’s custom color blends are made with one of its two automated bulkheads, which draw paint from 36 different paint dispensers.

“It’s very precise,” Hughes said. “There’s nothing else like it.”

The majority of Raabe Co.’s business is in serving industrial OEM customers, many of whom were stung by the Great Recession. The company’s peak year of sales was in 2008. In 2010 sales were slightly below that record level, Hughes said.

“We’re expecting about 15 percent growth this year, which would put us at record levels,” he said. “Manufacturing is still slowly coming back. We’ve had some new private label business, which has been explosive on the professional side.”

Last week, Raabe Co. introduced a new line of high solid enamels packaged in spray cans. Sold under the Fox Color brand name, these paints are intended for pavement and field marking by commercial contractors and utility workers.

“There will be some standard issue colors, but there is a crying need for custom colorization in that market,” Hughes said. “That’s why we see it as a good fit.”

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