Everything for the outdoor sportsperson—that's what Plano Synergy is all about. The company, headquartered in Plano, IL, is a wholesale distributor and manufacturer with its foundation built on a passion for the outdoors. Through organic growth and a number of acquisitions, the company has built one of the largest outdoor brands companies in North America. With a current total of 14 brand-name product lines, the company has thousands of SKUs in hunting and fishing that represent some of the most innovative products for this market.
Plano Molding, a division of Plano Synergy Holdings that was formed when Plano Molding Co. and Synergy Outdoors merged, has more than 40 injection molding machines ranging from 200 to 1800 tons. It molds proprietary and OEM-branded custom products using in-mold labeling (IML) and in-mold decorating (IMD) technology, explained Dan Statkus, a process engineer for Plano Molding.
"We've been on the IMD journey for over 10 years, starting with a paper fish label for one of our satchel tackle boxes. Because we have so many molds running such a high number of SKUs, one mold won't be in the same press for long, so we needed modular IMD systems that could be extremely flexible and accommodate the many mold and SKU changes," Statkus told PlasticsToday. "We have over 175 unique IMD products ranging from outdoor storage boxes to our women's Caboodles line, and many are highly customized to meet customer demand. All our IMD products need to be extremely durable if we seek to maintain permanent branding."
When the Frabill division of Plano Synergy, a brand that makes a complete line of fishing gear including minnow traps and buckets, nets, ice fishing rods and ice fishing shelters, needed a fresh redesign of its classic bait bucket, Plano knew it was going to be a huge project. Statkus said that one thing was evident from the outset: The new product needed a dedicated IML system customized for this particular product. Getting advice from its auxiliary supplier Wittmann on vendors for the system, Plano worked with DevLinks Automation & Design Ltd. for the automation and Verstraete IML for the labels, retrofitting the system on an existing injection molding press.
While there were some costs to changing vendors for the dedicated IML system and designing and implementing the system, Statkus said that all went smoothly. They did a "soft launch" in 2015 just in time to showcase the new bucket at the International Convention of Sportfishing Trades (ICAST) last summer. "Our timeline was to make sure we could reveal these new products at this show," said Statkus. "It took a lot of collaboration among the stakeholders to get these products into production, but all of the vendors gave us tips and tricks to implement. We created a best practices document so that we could transfer these to our other systems, and as we make additional investment in other systems."
Putting in a new system and dialing in the process takes time, so Plano dedicated the necessary resources, Statkus noted. "This was a project that we had to get right from the beginning, so we gave people the time and tools to get it right."
The redesigned Frabill 4800 Series Bait Bucket has been a standout success. "In the bait bucket industry, the shelves are full of pressure-sensitive labels and thermo transfers," Statkus said. "This fresh redesign of our classic bucket has improved functionality and [are] the best-looking graphics we have ever put on a bait bucket."
Additionally, Statkus explained that Plano was able to get one label system and label size to take care of five different bucket configurations. "Each label is tailored to the specific product," he added. "We can also change the graphics easily for promotions and when we need a fresh look."
The big reward came at the 2015 In-Mold Decorating Association's (IMDA) annual symposium, where it won the Gold Award in the Best Product Family in the IMDA's annual IML/IMD Parts Competition.
Statkus said that the company does not do mold building in house. Instead, outside mold vendors work with Plano's in-house engineering staff for mold design based on internal product designs. And, Plano is absolutely dedicated to manufacturing in the USA. "We want everyone to see the Made in America stamp that is on many of our products," said Statkus, noting that Walmart has been a "huge customer" and very supportive of the company's efforts. "We've seen noticeable sales increases from them since their push to put more Made in America products on their store shelves," he added.
This year has been a big one for Plano Synergy and Plano Molding. Last January, the company announced the acquisition of Zink Calls and Avian-X, two companies that Plano calls "leaders in the premium waterfowl call, turkey call, A-frame blind and hunting decoy categories. In July, the company acquired No Limit Archery, and in August Plano announced that it had acquired "substantially all the assets of Hartcraft Ltd., a designer and manufacturer of "the most stable fixed-blade hunting broadheads (arrow tips) on the market," said Plano in the announcement.
"Each brand stands on its own," commented Statkus, "and all are innovation leaders in each outdoor industry category. Brand identity is key for us, which is why the IMD process is so important to our business. We're a one-stop shop for the outdoors enthusiast, with the greatest products to help you enhance and protect your passion."