Growth in picture for glass fabricator

Spec-Temp was birthed by two brothers in a horse barn in a northwest Ohio cornfield.More than a quarter-century later, the company still stands among fields but in somewhat more professional digs.

The glass fabricator is sprawled across a 160,000-square-foot plant on a nearly 12-acre campus just outside Antwerp, Ohio.Spec-Temp, 5406 U.S. 24 East, employs nearly 315 and supplies glass to 90 percent of the limousine industry, spokeswoman Rose Bowers said.The company has invested about $1.2 million in a new product line – a move that is adding about 60 jobs.Antwerp, population 1,740, is more than 25 miles northeast of Fort Wayne.Spec-Temp is Antwerp’s largest employer, said Margaret Womack, the town’s mayor.Womack welcomes the company’s recent hiring plans, which, she added, “is something that there’s not too many other companies doing at this point.”“They’ve hired a lot of local people to work there,” she said. “It helps our town to grow.”The Spec-Temp plant fabricates and tempers glass for industrial, commercial and consumer applications.Tempered glass is made by heating window glass almost to its melting point, then rapidly cooling it. The result is a strong glass that shatters instead of breaking into sharp pieces.

The majority of Spec-Temp’s business comes from the transportation industry, which includes the marine, automotive and recreational vehicle businesses, and accounts for about 75 percent of the plant’s annual sales, Bowers said.

Spec-Temp is a major supplier of tempered glass to C.R. Laurence Mfg., a Los Angeles-based manufacturer of automotive windows.

Patrick Devine, vice president of manufacturing at C.R. Laurence, refers to the supplier as “an excellent company” with “very good people.”

Spec-Temp “makes every effort to either meet customers’ expectations or exceed (them),” Devine said. “We are very happy that we have suppliers like them available to us.”

The glass fabrication market accounts for about $3 billion to $4 billion in annual revenues in North America, Bowers said.

A competitive industry, the players are under price pressure, she said.

The challenge for Spec-Temp, Bowers said, is to produce quality product at the price customers are willing to pay.

On-time delivery of products is also a challenge because of strong demand.

“We are so busy, and we only have so much machine time,” Bowers said.

Spec-Temp has come a long way since its horse barn days. Brothers Don and George Rhonehouse started the company in 1977, tempering glass for a few residential customers and gradually adding products as demand grew.

“It was a tough road once in a while, but we had people that were willing to work hard,” George Rhonehouse, 68, said. “And I think it’s that way today yet.”

The horse barn, where the company started, was on Don Rhonehouse’s property and was readily available.

George and Don both started working in the glass business in their late teens. Their grandfather was a glass cutter, and their father, George Sr., worked for Harold McMaster, the father of modern glass tempering. An inventor and entrepreneur, McMaster held more than 100 patents dealing with rotary engines, glass bending and tempering and solar energy, according to a Defiance College website.

Because of space limitations, the company moved to its present site in the late 1970s, Rhonehouse said. Back then, it occupied a 6,000-square-foot cinderblock building that exists today as a small part of the manufacturing operation.

Overwhelmed by the growth, the Rhonehouses sold the company to Elkhart-based Creation Group in 1987.

“It just was getting too large for our abilities,” Rhonehouse said. “New equipment had to be put in the plant to process the demands that our customers had.”

George Rhonehouse also had major health problems at the time.

“It was a relief to be able to turn it over to someone else,” he said.

By the end of 1987, Spec-Temp had nearly $13 million in sales and employed 200 people. The company, at the time, was targeting the expanding RV industry in the Elkhart area for its primary business growth.

But in the late 1980s, other players moved into the glass tempering business and growth in the RV industry stabilized.

Spec-Temp continued to seek new market niches and began to focus on bent and tempered glass. Today, the company has a plethora of products including sun roofs, shower doors and solar panels.

In July 2003, the plant changed hands again after Elkhart-based Atwood Mobile Products acquired Creation Group. The acquisition allowed Atwood to attract new customers and increase market share, Bowers said.

The new glass insulation product line being installed at the plant is needed because of increased demand for the product, Bowers said.

About 30 of the new jobs have already been filled, and the rest are expected to be added in the next month, she said.

The new, mostly production jobs being added pay an average of more than $11 per hour, Bowers said.

Rhonehouse said he is pleased with the way the company has evolved. From the beginning, Rhonehouse said, the plan was to grow the company’s revenues by $1 million annually.

“And that’s pretty much what the company has done and is continuing to do,” he said. “It’s just had 25 years, and I believe they are in the $25 million to $30 million range right now in sales.”

600450 Growth in picture for glass fabricator

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