Location: North Charleston, SC
Sales: $730 MILLION
Description: Key Personnel
James Schaeffer, chief executive officer; Willis (Billy) Moore, III, chief financial officer; Mike Hale, group vice president—U.S.—nonwovens operations; Rolf Altdorf, vice president and managing director—Europe, Middle East and Africa; Fernando Espinosa, vice president and general manager—Latin America; Rick Ferencz, group vice president—development; Bob Dale, vice president—U.S. sales; Dennis Norman, vice president—strategic planning and communication.
Landisville, NJ; Rogers, AR; Benson, NC; Gainesville, GA; North Little Rock, AR; Mooresville, NC; Waynesboro, VA; Neunkirchen, Germany; Cuijk, the Netherlands; San Luis Potosi, Mexico; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Bailleul, France; Nanhai, China; Cali, Colombia; Molnlycke, Sweden
Landisville, NC; Rogers, AR; Vineland, NJ; Benson, NC; Gainesville, GA; North Little Rock, AR; Mooresville, NC; Waynesboro, VA, Nanhai, China, Buenos Aires, Argentina; San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Molnlycke, Sweden, Istanbul, Turkey and Cuijk, The Netherlands are ISO 9002 certified
Spunbonded meltblown, SMS, composites, air through bonded, adhesive bonded, resin bonded, thermal bonded, spunlaced, airlaid, apertured film, film laminates, sonic laminated, thermal laminated, Apex, other proprietary fabric forming, surfacing and binding systems
Apex, Agribon, Amira, Aquapex, Bonlinn, Bonsec, Chix, Chux, Comfortlace, Comfortsilk, Duralace, Durapex, Dura-Tex, Freeswell, Isolite, Keybak, Kiara, Masslin, Matline, Medisoft, Multi-Strike, Poly-Breathe, Poly-Safe, Provira, Reticulon, Reforel, Softlin, Soft-Touch, SuperSoftTopSwell, Thermoform, Thermospost Ultra Dryloft, Titan, Ultra-Ply, Xiora
Agriculture, apparel, automotive, battery separator, cable wrap, filtration, home furnishings, hygiene, industrial, industrial and marine sorbents, medical, packaging, thermal barriers, wipes for cleanroom, food service and specialty end uses, consumer wipes, household wipes.
With corporate sales up more than $22 million to $778 million and nonwovens sales clocking in at $730 million, Polymer Group Inc. is proving that it is on the right course for the future. The company’s impressive sales gains come only months after the company’s restructuring and have been attributed mainly to hard work and a strong focus at the North Charleston-based company.
These sales gains have continued into 2004. For the first quarter ended March 31, PGI reported sales of $206 million, representing the highest level since the second quarter of 2001. Gross profit increased 15% to $38.5 million. In announcing these results, CEO James Schaeffer attributed the strong sales to momentum achieved during the second half of 2003, sustained operating improvements and manufacturing efficiencies.
Much of this success can be attributed to a six-point strategy designed to keep PGI on track for the future. They include focusing on core businesses, streamlining manufacturing, relying on customer-driven innovation, forming long-term partnerships, expanding into key markets and attending to the balance sheets.
“Our recent success is truly a testament to the caliber of the people at PGI,” Mr. Schaeffer explained. “We have been executing every single point of our strategic plan and it’s working.”
In April, PGI’s strength was proven when it received commitments to refinance its senior secured bank facility with a new $475 million syndicated facility led by Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. This represented the final stage of a stabilization process begun in early 2003 that now allows PGI to be 100% focused on growing its business. In July, it received debt for equity financing, allowing it to convert $42 million in junior notes into preferred shares.
“It’s proof that we are doing well,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “If there was any doubt that we weren’t strong, we wouldn’t have gotten that financing.”
Now that its finances are resolved, PGI is honing its attention to core markets of medical, hygiene, wipes and a few industrial applications. In hygiene, opportunities are seen in diapers, feminine hygiene items and baby wipes. In April, the company introduced Comfortlace fabrics, which are characterized by customized appearance, greater absorbency and superior comfort for absorbent products. Made with PGI’s proprietary LACE (Laminar Air Controlled Embossing) technology, these fabrics contain a soft, three-dimensional imaged or bulky surface layer to a reticulated film, which directs liquids away from the skin and into the absorbent core. Beyond Comfortlace, other highlights of PGI’s hygiene business include the introduction of a spunbond polyethylene topsheet, the development of fabrics with superior softness and commercialization of proprietary fabrics with superior barrier performance at low component basis weights.
“One of the ways that we are remaining competitive is by trying to focus on the high value side of the market, in all of our core areas,” said Dennis Norman, vice president of strategic planning and communication.
In the wipes market, PGI has earmarked 40,000 tons of its Apex and other types of spunlaced capacity to the market. “We want to catch a wave in this wipes trend,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “We are already a global leader in spunlace with our Apex technology so we modified the assets to make not only heavyweight materials but also lightweight.”
Reconfiguring existing Apex technology will give PGI an advantage over other spunlaced capacity set to come onstream in the U.S. in coming months. These competitors are already a step behind as they wait for their lines to come onstream.
Meanwhile, the medical business recently launched Medisoft, a polyethylene-based spunmelt product that lacks the rubbery feel of polyester and is 50% softer than standard spunmelt fabrics for medical applications. These fabrics combine softness and barrier properties to give healthcare workers greater comfort while maintaining a high level of protection, responding to the two key concerns of healthcare workers.
Currently PGI’s operations are nearly split between consumer and specialty/industrial products, which make up 55% and 45% of sales, respectively. While specialty applications rarely move the high volumes of nonwovens that consumer products do, there are great opportunities in these markets for value added products.
One significant development in PGI’s industrial business is the introduction of flame retardant fabrics, which combine proprietary spunlacing technology and advanced finishing science to guide the bedding industry in meeting flammability standards. This new family of fabrics deliver critical benefits including: properly constructed mattresses using the company’s FR fabrics; PGI’s advanced spunlace techniques that create fabrics that do not grin through facing fabrics, allowing them to appear white; and PGI’s soft and comfortable fabrics with an optimized ratio of weight-to-performance attributes.
Operation streamlining has most recently resulted in PGI’s exit from its Turkish joint venture operation with Vateks, in which PGI had participated since 1999. Additionally, in 2003 PGI closed a wetlaid plant in North Little Rock and consolidated its Guntown, MS facility.
These closures, combined with other cost-cutting efforts, saved PGI $20 million in 2003 alone, according to executives. “To participate in commodity markets, you need the best prices,” Mr. Schaeffer explained. “You have to be very aggressive in removing all costs and you have to be willing to make some tough choices.” Among these choices have been a series of restructuring plans that have brought PGI’s headcount from a high of 4500 in the late 1990s to less than 3400 today.
Now that streamlining is complete and financing is in place, PGI’s next goal is to grow, and executives aren’t being greedy. Staying in sync with industry projections would be fine. This will be achieved largely through long-term partnerships with both customers and suppliers around the world. Sales teams are now focused solely on customer relationships, leaving marketing and product development efforts to others. “We want our sales people to really take the time to know their customers,” Mr. Schaeffer said..
One such customer is Johnson & Johnson with which PGI just struck a three-year supply agreement that should generate at least $30 million a year in nonwovens sales. The deal is a major coup for PGI’s consumer products business.
Growth will occur organically as PGI relies on its operations around the world to execute another part of its strategic plan—expansion into key markets. One increasingly important area for PGI is Latin America, where 85% of its business is related to hygiene. A second spunmelt line is ramping up in its San Luis Potosi, Mexico facility. Featuring three-beam spunmelt technology, the line produces lightweight materials to satisfy the needs of the hygiene markets in North, South and Central America. In addition to San Luis Potosi, PGI owns facilities in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where a new coating line was recently installed, and Cali, Colombia. Much of the output from these facilities serves PGI’s Latin American business, which achieved sales of $109 million in 2003. This business is expected to grow 20% in the short term, thanks largely to the new spunbond line.
While Latin American growth is more immediate, Asia is also considered a hot spot by officials. Last year, in an effort to better serve medical and hygiene market needs, PGI moved a production line from Virginia to Nanhai, China and is currently finalizing plans to build a four-beam spunbond line in the country. Much of this capacity will produce high-end materials for China-based medical converters who are shipping products to Europe and the Americas. Hygiene will also continue to be an important part of the business.
PGI’s international expansion goals are serious, according to Mr. Norman. “More and more of our customers are looking for international suppliers and we plan to give that to them,” he said.
In the short term, PGI will focus on organic growth, but how will a company that made acquisition its calling card for much of the 1990s achieve this? By focusing on the core tenets of its strategic plan, which, so far, have done wonders for the company. “There really hasn’t been one item that stands out as being less or more effective than the others,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “Every one of them has really worked out well and they are all moving along at the same pace.”