N65 W24770 Main St., Sussex
Industry: Injection and blow molding
Walk through the aisles of Sussex IM’s manufacturing facility and it’s easy to lose track of the variety of products being made.
One machine might be making water bottles or mouth guards for Nike, while another could be making fan covers or parts for Broan-Nutone. Cosmetic compact cases could come off a line near Briggs & Stratton engine covers. Sussex IM’s own Mr. Lid containers come from the same facility as Purell hand sanitizer dispensers.[caption id="attachment_326793" align="alignnone" width="770"] Caps for Nike water bottles are produced at Sussex IM.[/caption]
The custom injection molding company was founded in 1977 as Sussex Plastics Inc. and for years was known for its work in cosmetics packaging. That reputation helped make the company attractive to the British firm Rexam, which bought it in the late 1990s.
It wasn’t until the Great Recession hit and Rexam considered closing the Sussex plant that a management group led by Keith Everson, Sussex IM president and chief executive officer, bought the company back and expanded into new markets.
“Our hands were a bit tied when we were part of a $6 billion company,” Everson said. “It took forever to get capital approved; nobody wanted to make decisions. When we bought the business, we didn’t have those constraints; we could make fast decisions. We knew the areas that we wanted to grow so we were able to react and our customers really loved that.”
Cosmetics once made up 50 percent of the company’s business, but today it accounts for around 8 percent, Everson said. Sussex IM instead spreads its business across a variety of markets, including industrial and durable goods; health care, hygiene and institutional; consumer goods; and home and garden. The company even has its own line of food storage containers called Mr. Lid, with the top of the container attached to avoid difficulties finding it.
“We know what’s in our wheelhouse,” Everson said. “We will venture outside of that, but not too far.”
The company recently completed a new 158,000-square-foot advanced manufacturing facility. Everson said the building is being set up with more of a clean room focus, allowing Sussex IM to push into more pharmaceutical packaging and medical device molding.
He said across industries, there are companies looking for good suppliers in the United States that can deliver orders on time and in full nearly 100 percent of the time. Sussex IM is looking to do that while also adding value for the customer. In some cases, that means making a part and shipping it to the customer; in others, it means making the product, decorating it, putting it in the final packaging and even shipping it directly to the retailer. Whatever it is, the goal is to solve problems for customers.
“If we do a post-mortem on a project and we have not solved a problem, it has not been successful,” Everson said.
It takes a lot of coordination and teamwork to keep operations productive and profitable with 500 employees while running 24/7. Everson said it requires a good business system with good metrics and good people.
“There’s a tremendous amount of teamwork going on out there to make everything happen,” he said.
One way to help foster collaboration is an area Everson refers to as “the pit.” It is a generally open office space occupied by staff from customer service, inside sales, warehouse management, scheduling and purchasing that makes it easy for people to communicate in-person.
“Nobody can hide behind an email or a text message,” Everson said.
The teams also hold a meeting around 2 p.m. each day to discuss orders that came in within the last 24 hours to continue their planning.
“To me, it’s all about employees and customers,” Everson said. “When we were bought by Rexam, they bought a company, but then they tried to turn us into a plant. There’s a difference between a plant and a company. A company you invite over for dinner; you don’t invite a plant over for dinner at your house. When we bought the plant, we turned it back into a company.”
It is a company that has been growing. Everson declined to provide financials, but said Sussex IM has doubled in size since the management team bought it.
But with growth comes challenges. The speed of technological innovation means employees have to adapt to change. Growing the staff also requires reinforcing the team culture that allows Sussex IM to take on a wide range of work for customers.
“It’s just constantly communicating, making sure everybody understands the direction the company is going,” Everson said.