Volume 12, Issue 8 - October 2011


For the Process, the Products and all the Relationships, Respect Keeps PPL on Track
by Ellen Rogers

It’s not Robert Kingston’s place to say what a good extrusion is, but he does so anyway. Every extrusion that that comes into Kingston’s company, Premier Profile Lamination (PPL) in Youngstown, Ohio, is inspected.

“I come from the vinyl side of the extrusion industry, so I teach my people—this is a good extrusion and this is a bad extrusion. It’s not my responsibility as I don’t own that product but I do it. The cost of the product is usually somewhere around six times the value of what I am going to do to it, and I respect that,” says Kingston. “But the huge difference between me and others … is the moment that material comes in and it’s bad, I will tell you it’s bad. And if that means, at the end of the day, I save you $100,000 because we don’t laminate it … you can reject it back to the extruder and they can grind it up and make it back into a profile, but the moment it’s laminated, its scrap. Everyone loses.”

PPL is not a traditional company. The company does little to promote or market itself—it doesn’t even have a website. And even as a small business, the company has still managed to thrive even in a sluggish economy. You might say PPL isn’t playing by the rules, yet the company is still winning. Now, after almost ten years in business many of PPL’s first customers are still customers today.

“And that’s 80 percent of our clientele,” says Kingston.

From inspection to testing, PPL operates from its own school of thought, and that’s what differentiates the company. It seems to be working. According to Kingston, the company has seen growth every year since its inception in 2002—even during the down economy. And for the future? Kingston says he knows exactly what he needs to do to move his business forward.

Getting Started
Before starting PPL, Kingston worked for a PVC die manufacturer. It was there that he saw a problem with the inability of plastics manufacturers to affix vinyl laminate to extruded PVC parts. Having spent time helping one of the company’s die customers troubleshoot a profile wrapping process, he determined that a thorough understanding of the process and a focus on quality control were essential. He spent months researching different profile wrapping processes and equipment in order to develop a reliable, high-quality profile wrapping system.

“We went to Europe and bought a machine and spent more than six months on research and development,” says Kingston.

David Harris, exterior product manager with American Renolit Corp., says his company has been a laminate supplier to PPL for more than five years.

“When Robert started he got his equipment and did trials for months before he ever attempted [to take on] his first customer,” says Harris. “Profile laminating is not voodoo, but it’s not easy. If you don’t understand what you’re doing you can have failures.”

Harris adds, “Those trials Robert went through, they gave him a good respect for the process.”

Attention to Detail
As Kingston explains it, profile lamination is an art and a science. The set-up process changes with every run and every day is different. Variables such as the temperature and humidity can affect whether the laminate will adhere to the profile. This is one reason why Kingston believes product knowledge is critical. This attention to detail has paid off. In 2010 PPL saw its best year with 39 percent growth. While the recent downturn has slowed business, dropping PPL from 34 to 24 to 18 employees, the company is still productive. Kingston says on average PPL runs between 130,000 and 200,000 feet per week. “This is working 40 to 50 hours a week on one shift,” he says.

The market for laminates is rapidly growing, Kingston adds, and trends have helped keep business moving. These include the increasing interest in color.

“In the past year and a half, large window companies have introduced new colors and now everyone wants them,” says Kingston. “When you have a customer add on a new product line it gives you a massive spike. At the end of the year, just that one color could show a 40-percent increase in sales.”

PPL currently runs 15 interiors colors and four exteriors colors, but Kingston adds that there are hundreds of color possibilities.

Forward Thinking
Kingston says PPL is simply focused on the future. In February 2010 the company moved into its current facility, which it purchased in 2007. Operating in 35,000 square feet, there is also an additional 41-45,000 square feet into which the company can expand.

Anticipated future growth will provide the opportunity to double the company’s current four lines, but Kingston says what he really needs right now is the space.

“It’s not so much about being able to produce the goods, but about being able to store the material and being able to handle that amount of product. The machines will follow suit.”

Intense Inspections
With a respect for the laminating process, Kingston continues to put every piece of material that comes into the plant through a rigorous testing and inspection regime. Every profile is inspected when it comes in, before going to the line, and as it comes off the line. There’s also a gamut of testing done. Samples are pulled every color change and every 1,000 feet.

“We pull pieces for the AAMA testing we do and those are also inspected for surface inspections, etc.,” says Kingston. “It’s the ability to maintain the highest quality we can at any point in time.”

Not all laminators do such testing, but Kingston says it’s PPL’s devout belief in the importance of a quality product that’s contributed to the company’s growth.

In fact, Kingston says there have been times when he’s actually shut the facility down because of product issues. In 2003 PPL shut down for more than 30 days; less than a year and half ago it was down for almost two weeks because of a bad laminate—which the supplier promptly removed and replaced. “It was a specific color line, so we were not 100-percent shut down. In 2003 that was 100-percent as at that time we only had one laminate supplier; since then we’ve learned our lesson and diversified so we can avoid that.”

Profile laminating is still a young market in the United States, and not every vinyl window manufacturer offers a laminated product. Some manufacturers choose to purchase laminated profiles from their extruders, while others work with a contract laminator, such as PPL. Still, others choose to laminate in-house.

“The moment a company wants to run six colors of laminate the cost increases astronomically,” he says.

Gearing for Growth
Knowing the economy will recover, Kingston is planning now for the growth he expects to see down the road. Part of these plans includes offering customers and potential customers something they cannot get elsewhere. He says they are looking for ways to offer more to those who want small runs.

“What can I offer the industry that yesterday I couldn’t? People want color so how do I get it to them and still be profitable here?”

He has a solution.

“I’ll stock it,” says Kingston, explaining PPL would provide the warehouse space for customers’ raw PVC material. They would then laminate less at the request of the customer, saving them money. The material, he says, could be stocked in many different colors at PPL. This plan is also partly why Kingston is planning to expand the facility’s space.

And in this day of digital media madness, Kingston admits, “No, I don’t have a web page and no I don’t do shows. This is a small industry and the relationships you make and how you take care of people will take you a long way.

“Relationships are powerful. Make relationships, respect relationships, and don’t go back on them and you’ll be fine in this industry. Where I am today all goes back to the relationships I’ve made. I’ll shake your hand, walk away and know that I’m going to take care of you. I don’t need to sign a contract.”

His customers seem to be pleased.

Atrium Windows in Welcome, N.C., which has offered a laminated product since the mid 1990s, started working with PPL in 2006 upon the recommendation of a colleague. And Deana Tate, purchasing agent, has no complaints about the relationship.

“PPL has developed the expertise required to give us high quality material with little to no scrap, on time, every time,” says Tate. “Their high level of customer service gives us the latitude to deal with the sporadic nature of the special-order laminated window and door business.”

While Atrium has never done its own laminating, Tate says it has considered it.

“Our desired payback does not exist for the amount of capital that would have to be invested,” she says. “Since orders are so very sporadic, there are times when we need a faster than normal turn around on parts and PPL does a great job of reducing the lead time when necessary.”

Gorell Windows and Doors in Indiana, Pa., has been offering wood-grain laminated products since 1994 and started working with PPL in 2007.

“We have at different times in our history considered doing our own lamination, but have for various reasons always gone back to leaving it to the specialists,” says Rick Robson, vice president, materials management.

What’s Next?
Ten years ago if you’d asked Kingston where he’d be today, his answer would not have been where he is now.

“I wouldn’t have told you this is where I’d be sitting. I count my blessings everyday. I value the people who work by me everyday; and to be where I want to be tomorrow, the goals we set today are important.”

Kingston adds, “I set very high goals for myself and my people; I hope we can reach them.”


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