Second-stage survival story: Marshall Plastic Film

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Just like Timex, Marshall Plastic Film can take a licking and keep on ticking.

A manufacturer of blown film, bags and liners used for packaging industrial products, Marshall Plastic Film traces its roots back to 1972. In 2000 the company was sold to Plassein International Corp., which filed for bankruptcy just three years later. Marshall’s founder and management team rallied and repurchased the plant — saving more than 60 jobs that were critical for Martin, Mich., a town of 400 residents where Marshall was the largest employer.

Re-opening its doors, however, was just the first step toward a comeback. Marshall not only had to re-establish its credit history, but also rebuild its reputation with suppliers and customers. “Since we only bought the company’s assets, many suppliers were left with bad debt and weren’t excited about supplying us,” explains John Roggow, Marshall’s president. “In addition, we had shut down for a two-week period, and some customers felt they were left hanging and went elsewhere.”

Yet Marshall persevered. By 2006 the company turned the corner, hitting $17.5 million in annual revenue, a record at that time. Then the recession hit, and business fell off, with revenue slipping as low as $10.4 million in 2009.

Among belt-tightening measures, the company downsized its staff. Then Roggow asked his remaining 37 employees to take pay cuts. “This wasn’t merely a matter of not giving raises — these were real cuts,” Roggow says, citing salary reductions of 3 percent for hourly workers, 5 percent for salaried employees, 7 percent for senior managers and 10 percent for anyone with ownership. “Yet we didn’t hear any grumbling, and we didn’t lose any people. Everyone came to work, did their job, and did it well.”

Roggow credits Michigan Business: Surviving to Thriving (MBS2T), a program funded by the state’s Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, for helping the company get back on its feet. MBS2T gave the company access to University of Michigan researchers who conducted a companywide analysis of strengths and weaknesses. It also helped fund a direct-marketing campaign for Marshall to woo pharmaceutical customers.

The focus on pharmaceutical paid off. Since 2009 Marshall’s pharmaceutical business has doubled from $1.3 million to $2.6 million (important revenue with profit margins being 2.5 times higher than other markets the company serves). Today Marshall supplies nine of the 10 top U.S. pharma companies and is the only provider of blown film with an FDA drug master file specifically for intermediate packaging, which is used to store drugs in bulk form between manufacturing processes. The company also leverages quality testing equipment that few competitors have — such as an optical scan unit that can detect a flaw in film the size of a pencil tip.

In other strategic moves, Marshall has set itself apart from competitors by offering smaller, specialty orders. This includes autoclave and auto-masking materials for sterilizing hazardous waste and volatile corrosive inhibitor products, which protect components from rust during the shipping process.

Winning a credit line from Comerica Bank has also sped Marshall’s recovery. The financing — larger and better terms than its previous bank — enabled Marshall to buy materials in greater quantity, generating annual savings of more than $250,000. Marshall has plowed these savings back into the business by investing in equipment that increases productivity and quality.

Today Marshall employs about 50 full-timers and 10 temp workers. Last year’s revenue hit $18.7 million, and Roggow expects the company to break the $20-million mark in 2014. “Instead of being focused on survival, we’re now able to do long-range planning, such as gearing up for clean room manufacturing,” Roggow says. “It’s a huge relief.”

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Second-Stage Rockstars

Because second-stage entrepreneurs are so focused on their businesses, their contributions often go unnoticed by the media, policymakers, economic developers and community stakeholders. With that in mind, celebrating growth entrepreneurs and communicating their value is part of the foundation’s entrepreneurship mission, which it carries out in a variety of ways.

Among these is Second-Stage Rockstars, a series of online articles that examines the ongoing impact of second-stage companies. These stories chronicle not only second-stagers’ economic growth, but also how they may be transforming their industry, creating empowering workplaces or excelling as corporate citizens. Below are some recent Rockstars; others can be found in our archives.