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What are you doing for your community? That is the question a government official in Arkansas asked Keith Scheffler, President of Creative Things Inc. (Gentry, AR), during a meeting. "What are you doing for your fellow Arkansans? He challenged us at that time with those questions," Scheffler told PlasticsToday. "So I took it to heart and began exploring the reality of bringing our manufacturing to the United States, specifically to Arkansas."

Clare Goldsberry

July 23, 2015

5 Min Read
Reshoring is not easy, says injection molder, but it pays off

What are you doing for your community? That is the question a government official in Arkansas asked Keith Scheffler, President of Creative Things Inc. (Gentry, AR), during a meeting. "What are you doing for your fellow Arkansans? He challenged us at that time with those questions," Scheffler told PlasticsToday. "So I took it to heart and began exploring the reality of bringing our manufacturing to the United States, specifically to Arkansas."

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Image courtesy Dream Designs/freedigitalphotos.net.

That was the beginning of a five-year long process to move Creative Things' manufacturing from China to the United States. Scheffler, who has been in the retail business most of his life, divested a company he owned at the time and began planning this daunting project. It wasn't a completely altruistic move. There were a lot of sound business reasons to move manufacturing from China: Wal-Mart's commitment to buy American-made goods; delivery problems and freight costs; political instability; customs uncertainty; and the desire to implement lean manufacturing and just-in-time (JIT) processes.

When Scheffler started the process, the push for American-made goods hadn't really caught on yet. The big box retailers were still looking out for their shareholders, and any switch in manufacturing meant they had to maintain the same margins and quality, which, Scheffler noted, "wasn't difficult" with respect to the quality.

Scheffler had been doing business in China for a long time, and was well aware of the downsides to manufacturing there. "They'd tell us it's virgin material, but it's not—it's regrind," he said. "We're able to control our paint, using the highest quality paint. Overall, we just get a lot better access to high-quality products we need from our suppliers here in the United States."

Believe it or not, Scheffler stated that the biggest challenge to the move was educating retail buyers and helping them understand what it means for their suppliers to do business in the United States. Buyers were concerned that the prices of the products would be much more expensive if Scheffler reshored manufacturing, but he soon allayed their worries. "We had to assure the buyers that we could meet their cost goals, and we did. We're cheaper than Asia; we beat them hands down," he said. "And not just based on saved costs but on logistics, quality and inventory costs, as well."

Scheffler also had to show the retailers how the move would help them across the board," said Scheffler. "It was more of an education process than anything else. Education in materials was one aspect. A lot of companies won't export their materials to Asia, so we had access to many more resins—especially engineering resins and compounds—here than in Asia. And if you're shipping materials to Asia, it increases the costs. Now, we don't have to worry about the materials."

Creative Things also had to assure buyers that it could meet their deadlines, and the company's JIT system made that easy. For example, Scheffler said the company can do a 97-cent plastic sand bucket and beat Asia on cost, quality and logistics—big benefits to retailers. As a result, "gone are the days when they have to order 2 million sand buckets in November and get them into inventory in a warehouse to keep and sell them through the summer," he said. "In the age of U.S. manufacturing, I beat Asia in cost and in JIT manufacturing. I stay a month ahead of the retailers and inventory a month's supply. At the end of the season we stop producing and we have goods to last through September for the coastal stores or extended summers."
"If the summer season runs long and they need additional inventory, we can throw the tools back in the machine and run a few more," he added.

"An importer is at the mercy of the entire supply chain," explained Scheffler. "We can control everything. We even did a comparative study on changing colors for customers' products. One customer needed a different color because the color he'd chosen was so common that the product didn't stand out on store shelves. We changed the color in a matter of days, and the new product in the new color was on store shelves within eight days," said Scheffler. "That's another advantage of manufacturing domestically—we can effect change quickly."

Creative Things added capacity to accommodate the work being moved from China, which included locating a building and getting molding machines installed. Today, the company has 26 injection molding presses that range from 35 to 780 tons and employs 87 people. Unique capabilities in molding include co-injection molding as well as in-mold labeling (IML). "You have to find your niche in today's market and we have to work smart," stated Scheffler. "Co-injection and IML are two of our niches, and while the robotics and specialty equipment increases the cost, we've found our niche and are very cost conscious."

Through the advent of reshoring, Scheffler said that retailers are starting to see the advantages and looking at their suppliers as partners. "This is how we add value," commented Scheffler. "They don't want to change vendors for a nickel, but if you can ship on time, inventory for them, and if you're well-versed in the retail system, you'll do good business. We've sold to retail for a number of years and know their systems really well, and can have the right product at the right time and in the right place."

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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