Jifram Extrusions, Inc. Receives 2009 Best of Sheboygan Falls Award

Automation & Innovation — Falls’ Jifram leads the way

by Jeff Pederson of The Review staff

SHEBOYGAN FALLS — With 17 product patents created by Jim Fischer and six more pending, Jifram Extrusions Inc. of Sheboygan Falls has taken the concept of thinking outside the box to a whole new level.

The innovative plastics extrusion company has been on the leading edge of product creation, development and production, since 1981.

On the occasion of the family-owned company’s 28th year in business, cofounder and chief executive officer Jim Fischer recently took an opportunity to retrace and reflect on Jifram’s formative years and history, from 1981 to today and beyond.

The roots of Jifram date back to the 1960s and 1970s, when Fischer gained valuable experience in the plastics industry working at several Sheboygan-area companies.

“By the time I started Jifram, I had gained 20 years of experience, working at area plastics companies,” Fischer said. “Having that background and knowledge of the industry gave me the know-how that I needed to start Jifram in 1981.”

Working out of a modest 3,000-square-foot factory building on Forest Avenue in the Sheboygan Falls Industrial Park, Jifram set sail on its path to success in June 1981.

Through the help of two investment partners, Jim and his wife Betty put the pieces in place to form Jifram.

“We started the company in an abandoned sausage factory, which just down the street from where we are now,” Fischer said. “I remember the building did not smell good, and there were flies all over the place.”

“We started with four full-time and three part-time employees,” he said. “At the time, we did all of our work on one machine.”

In the early days, Jifram used its sole extrusion machine to product two-inch products, including rollerskate straps.

“As we gradually picked up customers, we were able to expand to three shifts, with two people on each shift,” Fischer said. “We also expanded to two 2-inch and one 3-inch extruder to meet the demand that was starting to come in for our products.

“One of our biggest products at the time was shade slats for window shades,” he said. “We sold those to a company in Illinois for a long period of time.”

In the mid-1980s, Jifram moved briefly to downtown Plymouth, before returning to Sheboygan Falls in a new 12,500-square-foot facility at 320 Forest Ave., in 1986.

During that time, Fischer and his wife Betty became sole owners of the company, due to the success of a new product he developed in 1985, which is now called Velcro.

“While we were still at our first building in Falls, a salesman came and asked me if I could make a certain type of automotive product with a plastic fastener,” Fischer said. “I said ‘sure.’ It then took two years to develop what I call ‘Jif Grip.’”

“I got a patent on it and started to develop a production line,” he said. “That is when Velcro and 3M came in to bid for it.”

According to Fischer, Velcro made an offer, based on Jifram’s streamlined and efficient production concept.

“Velcro was working on a similar product, but with the system they were using, it was costing $1.5 million to produce,” he said. “The system we had cost just $25,000 and increased production by 10-fold. When they saw that, we made a deal.”

In 1988, Fischer’s son Steve joined the business. He currently serves as the president of Jifram Custom Extrusions, overseeing the operations of the custom extrusions division and managing the finance and human-resource operations of the company.

Two years later, son Greg joined the company. He now serves as the president of Jifram Home Improvement Products, as well as directing manufacturing operations and customer service.

After expanding the facility to 50,000 square feet in 1996, the company went through a significant change in 2002, with the formation of two separate divisions.

“Due to the expansion of some of our product lines into the home-improvement field, we divided into two divisions,” Steve said. “The core of the company is the custom extrusions for point of purchase displays, which remains a key component of what we do.

“Many of our newer products have focused on home improvement items for storage and convenience.”

Jifram’s work is seen throughout the world, through the items it produces for point-of-purchase displays found in various stores and retail outlets.

“Although most of them do not use our branding because they are sold through distributors, we have many products that are used in store displays for items like cameras, computer games and shoes,” Greg said. “We also have items that are commonly used for signage in convenience stores.”

Steve said a commitment to quality and quick service has contributed to Jifram’s continued success in the plastics industry.

“We strive to produce high-quality items, with a quick turnaround for our customers,” he said.

In recent years, Jifram’s consumer home-improvement division has developed a line of Easy Wall storage products, which feature slatwall organization units for garages, basements, home interiors and attics

“We moved into the home-improvement field to meet consumer demand,” Jim said. “The consumer products have really taken off, and we are continually striving to develop new ideas and improve our line of offerings.

“Our goal is to develop home-improvement products that save time, money and space, while attracting attention,” he said.

Along with Easy Wall products, Jifram also produces innovative lines of baskets,hooks, shelves, attic floor kits, shoe insoles and pant snap-on bars for plastic hangers.

Jifram presently features 15 extrusion lines and three production shifts, with approximately 35 full and part-time employees.

“We have a highly skilled workforce,” Jim said. “Some of our employees have been very loyal. A few have been with us since we started in 1981.”

In an effort to meet a wide range of customer demand, Jifram has the capability of producing all of its own tooling, making for an efficient, quick and costeffective production system.

“We have the ability to use over 2,000 tools to satisfy our customers’ needs,” Steve said. “Each tool is capable of making multiple products.

“Because we have so many production options, there is quite a bit of variation for our employees,” he said. “We may make some products for only a week, while other processes are repeated constantly.”

To satisfy repeat customers, dies are stored and available for subsequent runs, ensuring that reruns are provided at the exact same specifications, while reducing requisite lead time.

“We need to meet what customers demand from us,” Jim said. “There is a lot more competition out there than there has ever been.

“That’s why staying ahead with innovation and automation is so important,” he said. “We aren’t afraid to work with our employees on new ideas. “If an employee has something to contribute to help us improve our products, we listen.”

Jifram has also found success through the use of regrinded plastic shapes to produce custom plastic pallet made from recycled PVC plastic.

“We have been doing well with selling industrial pallets from plastic regrind that comes off our machines,” Steve said. “We generate plastic regrind from shapes, which are not up to our specs.

“We use the plastic regrind to make pallets,” he said. “We then sell them through distributors. That is something that has gone way beyond where we thought it would.”

Jifram’s consumer products can currently be found online at sears.com, as well as through a private label at Target and Meijer stores throughout the country.

The most recent edition to the Jifram fold is a completely automated inline cutter, which has helped to provide additional production efficiency.

“Everything we do requires a lot of thought and preparation,” Greg said. “We are focused on using the right applications to make our processing as efficient as possible.

“We are dedicated to thinking outside the box,” he said. “The automated inline cutter was an investment into the company that essentially paid for itself in a period of two months.“

In a sagging economy in which many companies have downsized or moved production to foreign countries, Jifram is dedicated to staying right where it is.

“The Sheboygan County area is one of the top areas for plastic extrusion you will find anywhere,” Steve said. “It is really a hot spot.

“There are skilled and well-trained workers here, who possess a very good work ethic. Not to mention the fact that the Fischer family was born here.”

“I’m not a big fan of foreign products,” Jim said. “I think American made products are the best products out there. We are committed to staying right where we are.”

Looking to the future, the Fischers are not ruling out further expansion.

“We think when the economy improves, there will be a big surge in homeimprovement products,” Steve said. “We certainly have room for expansion. We are geared and committed to the future.”

For more information on Jifram’s line of consumer products, visit www.jifram.com.

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