A Developing Story

In mid-March, when this interview took place, Polykote's new 60-in.-wide, 70-ft-long coating line was still in the process of being installed. What's more, company founder John Guzzo readily admits — no, make that boasts — that his company has no product line — and no sales force.

That might sound like the perfect recipe for disaster, cooked up by an insanely optimistic entrepreneur. Yet, Guzzo insists his custom coating and laminating company will continue to flourish because it has never had a product line or a sales force. After all, that's been the secret to the company's success for nearly 20 years.

“We're really a development company,” Guzzo explains, standing in the middle of a new 26,000-sq-ft production facility in Easton, PA. “We develop products for our customers' applications. In fact, I've started referring to us as a technology company, because we're not just a coating company anymore.”

“We are very customer driven,” adds business development manager Mike Bierowicz. “Every construction that we put together began with a request of some kind. It may have been an existing customer with an incremental growth opportunity, or somebody new saying, ‘I need “X.”’ Every single thing we make started with ‘x.’ In some cases our customers know exactly what they want but need us to put it together. Other times they have a concept only and require us to design the construction.”

Guzzo began his career as a chemical engineer at National Starch, followed by stints as a technical salesperson and ultimately sales manager for a release liner company. He used that expertise to establish Polykote in 1988 as a four-person, 4,000-sq-ft operation in Ivyland, PA.

Two years later, the company rented an 18,000-sq-ft facility in Warminster, which served as its headquarters until it moved to its own building at the start of this year. After years of contemplating the establishment of his own plant, Guzzo began turning his plans into action several years ago by scouting locations, designing the facility, then putting together a management team that includes Bierowicz, production manager Paul Fox, general manager Dave Albee, and technical manager Jim Bromwell. Many of the company's 20 employees also have moved to the new facility, about an hour away.

The Next Level

Guzzo says he had been considering adding a wider web coater for some time, but “knowing that we were in a rented facility, I was somewhat hesitant to put in this large capital investment. We had already outgrown the Warminster facility; we knew we had to move. So in a sense now, with this new facility, we're not gun-shy. If we find out that we need to put in yet a different type of coating or converting line, we'll do that, without hesitating.”

The new facility and the wider equipment is the continuation of a longstanding trend of expanding Polykote's capabilities. Since its founding two decades ago, the company has added to its capabilities gradually, including printing, slitting, die-cutting, sheeting, and laminating.

But, emphasizes Bierowicz, the company only offers those services to its customers that require them, not as outside services to the overall marketplace. “I define us as a custom coater and laminator,” says Bierowicz. “We can print, but we're not a printer. We can die-cut, but we're not a die-cutter. We can die-cut and strip and convert, but we're not a converter. We're not looking to get into the label converting business. And part of the reason that it's an important distinction is we don't want our customers to think we're competing with them, if that's what they do. We're here to help them, not compete with them.”

Performance Over Compatibility

Polykote says its broad capabilities and expertise in controlling coat weights and tensions enable it to process a variety of materials, including foils, acetate, metallized film, woven cloth, nonwoven cloth, tissue, paper, paperboard, and a variety of films including polyesters, polystyrenes, and polypropylenes. It operates 30-in. and 60-in. custom-built, water-based tension- and temperature-controlled coaters, the largest equipped with Enercon treaters. Polykote's two custom-built hot melt coaters can deliver product to 26 in. and zone pattern-coat materials to 13 in.

Available coatings include pressure-sensitive adhesives, cohesives, heat seals, and printable topcoats. Coating methods are either wire rod or slot die. Substrate thicknesses range from 0.5-mil film to 20-pt tagstock, but the company is open to trying almost anything. The facility also operates five razor and rotary knife slitters and rewinders from John Dusenbery, Stanford, Siat, and Conweb (no longer manufactured) that allow it to convert rolls from 1-62.5 in.

Bierowicz says the company operates equipment from a variety of suppliers because it is more concerned with performance than compatibility. “As an application comes up, we want to buy the best piece of equipment for that application,” he explains. “So we use them all.”

Bierowicz says that toll coating, which is done on each of its four coaters, is a “significant part” of its business, and the new facility obviously provides even more space for Polykote to store and convert its customers' raw materials. “Certainly, from a volume standpoint, it allows us to do more,” says Guzzo, “but really it's the platform from which we can expand and grow.”

Guzzo obviously sees plenty of room for growth in the specialty converting market. He says that the major coating and laminating companies, which have become household names among converters and consumers alike, are very good and very profitable at doing what they do: converting long runs of standard materials at facilities around the world, literally around the clock. “As this entire market has grown and developed, it's actually made it better for us,” says Guzzo. “Those same companies are happy to tell people to come to us, because they don't want to do what we do, and we don't want to do what they do. They don't want to take the time to develop this special adhesive or that special coating, and we do.”

But Guzzo notes the market for coated products extends far beyond the nearly $500 billion packaging market. Fabric for suits and furniture, substrates for digital printing, medical products and devices, even wallpaper are among the hundreds of applications beyond packaging that require coating, and Polykote's specialty coating and laminating capabilities can meet the needs of many of those markets.

“The people that make these [products] are not coaters; they need us,” notes Guzzo. “They need special things done at some point. The reason we're still here after 19 years of doing specialty coating and have been able to prosper is that a lot of the big players in our market are focused on producing label stocks. We think way outside that box.”

A Team Approach

Polykote's founder, John Guzzo, says it was surprisingly easy to turn over the day-to-day control of his business after 19 years of figuratively — if not literally — touching every order that went off the loading dock. He knew it was essential to take Polykote to the next level successfully.

“Anybody who has done this before had to ask themselves, ‘Are you going to be able to let go of things,’” he says. “Everybody here was worried about whether I would be able to do it. But I was very comfortable doing it, because I felt that everyone who was brought on is a professional; they're smart guys.

“I saw great potential and an opportunity to continue to expand our services to the world, and to do that properly, we needed to put a system in place. It couldn't be a one-man show anymore.”


Polykote Corp.
135 Kuebler Rd., Easton, PA 18040; 610/258-1604; www.polykotecorp.com


Enercon Industries Corp. — PFFC-ASAP 301. www.enerconind.com

Dusenbery Worldwide — PFFC-ASAP 302. www.dusenbery.com

Stanford Products — PFFC-ASAP 303. www.stanfordproductsllc.com

SIAT/Flexo-Printing Equipment Corp. — PFFC-ASAP 304. www.flexo-siat.com

Subscribe to PFFC's EClips Newsletter