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November 28, 1999

4 Min Read
Captive to custom?  Play to your strengths

MacNeill Engineering has been in business for 70 years and injection molding since 1958. Operations there have historically been captive, until earlier this year when the company set up a contract manufacturing division. “We basically had some customers ask us to mold products related to our captive line,” says Harris MacNeill, company president.

That captive line consists of one primary product—cleats for athletic footwear. MacNeill, based in Marlborough, MA, supplies cleats for Nike, Reebok, Adidas, and many other multinational athletic shoemakers. The company specializes in two-material, two-component, and insert molding. The firm’s 38-machine plant operates 24/7 and provides complete art-to-part service, including design, prototyping, moldmaking, molding, assembly, decoration, packaging, shipping, and worldwide distribution. Cavitation is high and volumes are in the millions.

Into the Fray
So why enter the competitive, uncertain, and risky world of custom molding? “It does a lot of things for us,” says MacNeill. “By going into contract manufacturing, it gives us a chance to level the load on our plant. It also gives us a chance to use the expertise we’ve developed as a captive operation to help other customers on a contract basis.”

With years of captive experience under its belt, MacNeill says his company knows well the market it serves and how and when the peaks and valleys of demand cycle. Based on this, his staff can anticipate demand for its line of captive products and schedule contract manufacturing with minimal conflicts.

More importantly, MacNeill Engineering has played to and stayed with the strengths that made it successful. “Our captive manufacturing has given us experience as a full-service supplier where we design the product, make the tooling, manufacture the product, package it, warehouse it, and distribute it,” explains MacNeill.

Since the spring, MacNeill has won contracts to mold recreational products similar to those produced captively. These include putter holders, putter cups, and swing weights for golf applications. But the company is careful to stay within its niche. “We don’t bid on every job we can find,” says MacNeill. “We’re selective and careful to make sure the job is a good fit for us and what we do.” He also points out that many potential customers ask MacNeill for a quote just to see how the molder is pricing itself in the open market.

Customers are also attracted by MacNeill Engineering’s experience in the world market. The company, thanks to its cleat manufacturing, has operations in Europe and Asia, each of which is used for repacking and distributing product. That infrastructure, and the international know-how that comes with it, is appealing, says MacNeill.

A Cautionary Note
A captive molder looking to set up a custom operation does have pitfalls to avoid, says MacNeill. “Just because you’ve been a successful captive molder doesn’t mean you’re going to turn on the lights one day and automatically have oodles of business,” advises MacNeill. “It takes a lot of patience.”

He suggests a captive molder look closely at his or her operations and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses. Also, know your market and avoid the temptation to stray. “You have to look at your target market and know your niche,” says MacNeill. “You can’t be all things to all people.”

Finally, assure your contract customers that their business won’t play second fiddle to your captive programs. “Make sure you make a commitment to separate the two businesses,” MacNeill says. “I think that’s the biggest concern people have: ‘Well, you have your own product line. What takes precedence?’ What we’ve done is segregate or allot a certain amount of production to contract manufacturing. We actually have a certain number of people who work only on the contract side.”

In the end, MacNeill says he likes the stability that the captive operation provides, and the diversity the contract operation brings. He feels right now like MacNeill is enjoying the best that both have to offer. “There are many advantages,” he says. “We don’t have to meet payroll with the job that’s coming in the next day, yet we can use our experience to make a variety of products for other customers. What works well for us should work well for others.”

Contact information
MacNeill Engineering
Marlborough, MA
Harris MacNeill
Phone: (508) 481-8830
Fax: (508) 460-9778
Web: www.champspikes.com

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