“There’s a great future in plastics.” That famous line from the movie The Graduate is certainly true for Tyson Daniels, owner of Polymer Contours, Inc., a full-service plastic injection molding company located at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in Allentown.
The company’s ability to be flexible, creative and responsive has it simultaneously producing pulleys for use inside metal museum stanchions, black film canisters for its client PC Products to fill with its epoxy paste, red mailbox flags and window frames to be attached to mailboxes made in Amish country, and spools that hold solder and spindles for the sewing industry.
But just over four years ago, Daniels’ had no idea that he would be the owner of a plastics manufacturing company. Up until then, his career history was focused on restaurant operations, acting as director of operations for a Five Guys franchise with seven locations.
An entrepreneur and inventor from early on, he and a partner developed a special pen light for pilots to use when taking notes in the dark while flying. Though they produced it for years, it took too long to find its niche and never took off. But in it, Daniels got the entrepreneurial bug and was able to utilize his time and experience in the product development arena where he was introduced to the people who would inspire him to purchase his own company.
While working through the challenges of getting his product to market, he began attending monthly Entrepreneurs’ Circle meetings headed by business consultant Stephanie Olexa. This important step in his journey provided him with an introduction to Bridgeworks Program Manager Anthony Durante, who invited him to attend a few classes at Bridgeworks as well as to get involved with an entrepreneur program at a local high school.
A few months later the two men struck up a conversation in which Daniels expressed an interest in buying a small business. The timing was right because Durante knew of just such an opportunity in his business incubation program which just happened to be a manufacturing company utilizing the same process of injection molding that Daniels’ used for his promotional product. Introductions were made and the rest is now history.
Daniels acquired Polymer Contours from its original founder in January 2015 and spent the next 18 months investing every dollar earned back into the company – he fixed and bought machinery, enhanced the marketing, including the development of a company logo and website, and legally incorporated it while building up a client base.
“I made my share of cold calls in the first year,” Daniels said. “I would look up directories for state chambers of commerce around the country and go state-by-state seeking out neighboring companies that may currently use plastic products in their product line, or may be considering it in the future in the hopes of opening a line of communication for future business. I would call them or send them introductory emails, and for every 150 I contacted I would land one new contract. It was slow going.”
But eventually those connections paid off and he started to make a name for his business. Today, many of those clients are finding him and bringing him new projects. The company might have started out with one main client producing 600,000 parts annually, but today it has 10 clients with over 2 million parts and it keeps growing and diversifying. Daniels recently landed a high-value contract that will drive the company to record sales through 2018. He also has a team of three sales representatives helping to bring in business and make connections.
“Initially I thought being a small shop would make it harder for us to get in the door with larger companies and manufacturers,” Daniels explained. “But it turned out to be an asset because they liked that they get to work directly with me as the owner. They appreciate the hands-on, responsive customer service I can offer them, and they want to support a small business and small business owner because they were once one too.”
“It’s been rewarding to watch Tyson’s business grow over the past two years,” said Durante. “Taking over an existing business and providing it with new direction so it can move to the next level isn’t easy, but he is figuring out how to do that by doing competitive research, getting advice from business consultants and other entrepreneurs, and expanding the company’s offerings.”
In 2016 Polymer Contours received a $47,900 loan from the Allentown Enterprise Zone Loan Revolving Loan Fund with which it purchased two plastic resin dryers that remove all moisture from the resin before it is molded into a product. This improves the integrity of the final product and reduces flaws. The purchase allowed the company to broaden its production capabilities by increasing the range of materials it can use in its molding machines to include polycarbonate, nylon, ABS and PVC.
Daniels has set a goal for his company to reach $1 million in sales by the end of its fourth year, but he knows it will take more clients with larger contracts and projects to make that happen. It will also require more investment on his part such as acquiring automated production technology to allow his machines to run 24/7 without needing staff supervision in order to run at full capacity.
As the company grows Daniels looks forward to hiring more staff, but he doesn’t take the traditional route when seeking new people to add to the team. He believes that he can teach anyone anything by he cannot teach attitude. So he is always on the lookout for great people, as he believes the key to success is surrounding yourself with great people.
“I’d also like to do some staff development and additional training as soon as my budget allows for it,” Daniels said. “But it’s challenging to do with our small size and part-time staff. Hopefully, I can secure a workforce development grant in the near future to assist with it.”
And his time spent in the restaurant business has turned out to be helpful. His former employer, Five Guys, is now a client for whom he produces a special plastic spoon that allows for the perfect spreading of mayonnaise onto hamburger buns. “I guess it all came full circle!” Daniels joked.