Integrity Mold, Inc.: A Novel Idea
One man’s gutsy decision to start his own company—during a recession—based on his family’s reputation pays off.
The year 2000 was a tumultuous one for the moldmaking industry. During a time when many, many shops were closing their doors, Joe Hollenbeck was setting up shop in his basement. Seven years later, his efforts were realized as Integrity Mold, Inc. (Gardner, MA) has survived and thrived as a 14-man shop with sales to the tune of $1.7 million.
Specializing in high tolerance, intricate molds for electrical connector, medical and cable tie industries, the company also offers product development, SLA models, design, prototype, production molds, and automation services. Hollenbeck explains that Integrity Mold is careful not to overextend itself. “We are not searching for every customer, we want a select group of customers that we do everything for and work together with,” he comments. “Other companies are looking for customers to fill their schedules, not to build relationships with. We have some companies now that use us as a single source supplier as our reputation continues to grow—they do not quote out to other companies. These are the customers we are interested in.”
Taking a Risk
Why start a brand new company when so many shops were shutting down? For Hollenbeck, it was a matter of survival after he was laid off. “I didn’t want to leave the industry,” Hollenbeck recalls, “and I was tired of working for other people. I knew I could make it on my own. I am second generation—I grew up at my father’s company, Allied Tool and Die, and my family had a good reputation even though his business had been gone for eight years.”
Hollenbeck borrowed $5,000 from two close friends, bought an outdated Bridgeport and a worn-out grinder and put them in his basement. He specialized in basic mold base work and mold cleaning. He worked alone for a year and a half, and then slowly started adding employees as he got busier—hand-picking them from shops where he used to work. His first challenge was being the “new kid on the block” despite his family’s stellar reputation. “At first, it was hard to get customers to take the first step and give us business because of my age and because we were new,” he notes. “I was 31 when I started the company.” Fortunately, the Hollenbeck name—and Integrity Mold’s exemplary molds—allowed the company to prosper.
In 2001, he moved from his basement into an old mill building in Fitchburg that already housed a shop. Integrity Mold’s second challenge was finding lending facilities. “No one wanted to loan a brand-new company money in an industry that had obviously been fading out for 10 to 15 years with everything going overseas,” Hollenbeck states. “We were able to work through this by working with small local branches that had some flexibility. I suggest finding a bank you can sit down and talk to one-on-one so you can build a relationship and level of trust with them. Once we established solid business relationships, everything worked out.” Over the next three years, he was able to purchase the shop with a loan—putting up his house as collateral.
Everything has worked out so well for Integrity Mold that in February 2006, the company moved into a state-of the-art building almost four times the size of the current facility. “This was a huge step for us and a heck of a gamble,” Hollenbeck recalls. He used the nest egg he had saved at the mill building and spent every cent he had to make the move. Hollenbeck also credits one of his loyal customers for Integrity’s upgrade. “Ken Tomasetti, owner of ACT Fastening Solutions, Inc., assured me financial backing as well as a tremendous work load for 2006—and although I never borrowed any money from Ken his projects kept us afloat until we settled into the new building,” he recalls. “Ken is constantly helping me with my business strategies and giving me advice. I owe a lot to him and have a great respect for him and his business.”
Although he took a chance with the move Hollenbeck says that “the building has paid for itself, and business continues to thrive.” This despite the fact that not long after they moved in, a new customer unexpectedly closed its business—before paying Integrity Mold the more than $100 thousand it owed them. Unfortunately, the money could not be recovered. “This was a significant hit for someone in our industry to take, especially after up-sizing the business,” Hollenbeck notes. “There were many sleepless nights; sometimes I thought that I was going to explode. We never borrowed any money to cover the loss, but were constantly on a week-to-week basis with accounts receivable and accounts payable. Fortunately, my customers came together and were paying their bills in as little as 10 days to help us stay afloat while we recovered. We now make sure to run credit reports and research new customers before agreeing to do business with them.
While the company views “staying lean, mean and competitive” through CNC machinery, unmanned time and an aggressive group of employees with overseas somewhat of a challenge, Hollenbeck views tool shops in the States the company’s biggest competition. “We’ve all focused on building the intricate tools (tight tolerance, multi-cavity molds from OEM molders) that don’t go overseas and there are a lot of great tool shops in this country to contend with,” he says. “Through efficient utilization of programmable CNC machinery, we are able to run one manned day shift and an unmanned second and third shift—keeping our costs down and our volume of work up.”
The company relies on its equipment and software suppliers to keep the employees current with training by educating them at company headquarters. “We like people to come here and train us; it’s more cost effective to have employees remain in-house than lose a guy for a week,” General Manager Gary Guertin notes. “We take advantage of the many seminars and training classes our suppliers offer.”
“Everything I have and where I am today I owe to my team,” Hollenbeck asserts. “I have a great, loyal group of employees with a very aggressive, go get it; have to have it done attitude. We work together with the best equipment, run unattended hours, and I owe it all to my group. These guys pull together like nothing I have ever seen—they really think outside the box. All of my employees understand that no one works for me only for our customers, we all work together and we all succeed.”
Guertin echoes these sentiments. “We work very hard as a team,” Guertin states, “and we have a positive attitude. We don’t want to see the industry fail. From that standpoint, we have a lot of talent in this building. Our Design Engineer Keith Gustafson has more than 25 years in the trade, Joe and I both have more than 20 years—and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Those of us that are middle-aged don’t want to have to change careers, so we are driven by a need to succeed. A lot of tool shops in this area have employees that are of retirement age, who can walk out of this industry right now. Some of us have another 25 years to go and we want to make this thing work!”
Efforts also are underway to cultivate relationships with local trade schools—something new to Integrity Mold that Hollenbeck plans to run with. “We are constantly bringing in new people although we don’t have much of a turnaround,” he notes.
It’s no surprise that Hollenbeck harbors big dreams for his company’s future given the circumstances of its beginnings. “My biggest goal is to become one of the nation’s leading mold manufacturing facilities,” he says. “For this we need to keep investing in state-of-the-art equipment, continue training and cross-training of employees and find customers that are as interested in seeing us succeed and grow as we are in them. Last year we had 100 percent growth—going from $800,000 in sales to $1.7 million. I’d like to see 50 percent more growth this year, and up to 40 employees within five years.”
Another goal is to work more closely with its customers to provide mold manufacturing solutions. “We’ve taken a handful of projects that were labor intensive and worked with our customers to automate them,” Hollenbeck explains. “We sat down with them, listened to their concerns—and their threats to take these labor-intensive projects overseas. Through networking with other vendors we were able to create a cost-effective fix for them, which means taking certain projects that are labor intensive and introducing robotics to cut down on the cost of labor. This usually involves a redesign of the molds and investing in automation equipment. The cost can be overwhelming up front, but is quickly returned through unmanned time. We do not help with the cost of automating—it pays for itself in the end.”
The company also is looking to obtain ISO certification within the next couple of years. “We see the importance of this and think that it will be another selling point for our company,” Hollenbeck notes.
Integrity Mold is a company that clearly lives up to its name, reputation and example set by its owner. “We have truly created a family atmosphere,” Hollenbeck states. “We take care of our own. We work as a team and everyone is part of that team. Everyone is of equal importance and everyone works together to make the customer’s life easier.”