Despite fierce competition from China and a challenging economy, Robert Sires has been quietly growing American Elite Molding into a $25-million American manufacturer. Based in Crestview since 2004, American Elite Molding has become the country’s leading manufacturer of nylon cable ties in just over a decade, enjoying double digit growth every year for the past 12 years and expanding from 4,000 to 75,000 square feet. Sires leveraged his management experience, entrepreneurial vision, and competitive drive to establish a complete manufacturing operation that runs 24/7/365, employs 160 people, and produces more than 1.5 billion cable ties annually in the United States.
“It has been a lot of work, and we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but truly, we’re just getting started,” says Sires, American Elite Molding Founder and CEO. “We plan to double in size within five years, reaching $50 million in sales.”
The Vision: Be the Best
Sires had previously served as Vice President of Operations/Finance at Leeds and Northrup, an international manufacturing operation, and as President of Leach Holding, overseeing operations in the U.S., Europe, and Mexico. In the late 1990s, he had just sold a company and was looking for his next move.
“I wanted to stay in U.S. manufacturing, in a field that wasn’t dominated by one player,” says Sires. “My research led me to cable ties.” He established Bay State Cable Ties in Massachusetts in 1998 as a reseller of overseas products, but he soon realized there was a need in the market for an American manufacturer. He decided to build a cable tie manufacturing operation from scratch.
The first hurdle was finding the right location. High taxes in the Northeast precluded him from staying there. After evaluating options, Sires chose to relocate to Crestview, Florida in 2004. “Florida is a pro-business state, and the perfect environment to foster our success,” says Sires. “State and local agencies helped us find an existing building that was conveniently located near I-10 and an airport for easy product distribution.”
The next hurdle—and it was a big one—was getting funding to buy the building and necessary machinery. “I personally put $3 million into the company to get started,” Sires says. “The first five years were difficult; we had to hire a new staff and train them, and convince people to buy from a new company. Competitors did all they could to try to shut us down. China is the source of much of our competition, and it’s not a level playing field since companies there get so much government support. We were determined to show that our Made in the USA products could triumph over the Chinese.”
Despite these challenges, Bay State Cable Ties grew quickly. The company’s mission to produce a superior quality product and deliver extraordinary customer service was a primary factor. “We knew from the very start that if we were going to be a major player, we would have to do everything better than any other manufacturer, whether domestic or foreign,” said Sires.
The first major milestone was achieving Mil-Spec certification in 2008, which allowed the company to bid on all government business. In 2010, another major milestone was hit when Sires won a contract to produce private label cable ties for 3M.
Expansion Leads to a New Name
By 2014, the company was outgrowing its facility. Another decision had to be made—expand in the current location, or move elsewhere? With the help of Governor Rick Scott, Enterprise Florida, the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, Career Source Okaloosa Walton, and local officials, the company was able to add 25,000 square feet in less than six months. A ribbon-cutting for the expansion was held in September 2015, and it was attended by Governor Scott, then-Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, and then-Florida Representative Doug Broxson. The expansion created room for 40 new jobs, brought the total square footage of the plant to 75,000, and represented a more than $16 million capital investment in the local community.
More growth was to come in 2016. The company added two warehouse facilities to improve its ability to ship products quickly to customers around the country, ending the year with fully stocked warehouses in Florida, Connecticut, Indiana and California.
All of this growth led to another change. In May 2016, Bay State Cable Ties officially became American Elite Molding.
“As we looked to the future, we wanted a name that accurately portrayed our current status and our goals going forward,” says Sires. “The word ‘American’ was chosen to communicate our commitment to keeping all manufacturing processes in America, as well as our complete national coverage with four regional distribution centers. ‘Elite’ refers to our position as America’s leading manufacturer of cable ties, as well as our dedication to superior product quality and extraordinary customer service. ‘Molding’ describes the full range of our product scope, from nylon cable ties to HVAC duct straps to custom plastic injection molding through our TechnologyPlastics division.”
Innovation and Continuous Improvement Fuel Success
Sires’ commitment to continuous improvement and innovation helps AEM outperform the competition.
“We constantly seek new product ideas and ways to improve existing products,” he says. “Our innovations include our patented EZ-OffTM ties, which can be removed without tools. We also recently developed Elite Marine Grade Ties and Elite Impact Modified Cable Ties, designed for use in high heat engine compartments at all the top U.S. automotive manufacturers.”
“We use the most advanced technology possible, such as high-speed Yushin robots,” Sires continues. “We invested over $4 million in equipment from 2012-2015 and added four molding machines in 2016. We designed higher cavitation, large ton molding machines to allow for faster cycle times. At the same time, we keep a focus on customer satisfaction with competitive pricing, superior service, a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, and Just-in- Time delivery from our regional warehouses.”
Last year, Sires brought in consultant Hallet Enterprise to analyze operations and make recommendations to further increase productivity, reduce errors, empower employees to solve problems quickly, and improve the shipping process. “We wanted to ensure that we were performing at peak levels,” Sires says. Methodologies used included the Kaizen method and Lean Six Sigma training. Productivity in the assembly process was increased by 50 percent.
Employees are Our Greatest Asset
Sires’ leadership philosophy focuses on providing an excellent working environment. He says he “doesn’t believe in minimum wage,” meaning you must pay a competitive salary to be a competitive company, and the hourly starting rate was raised in 2016.
“We know that our employees are our greatest asset,” explains Sires. “Superior service begins on the floor with operators who care about making top quality products.”
AEM offers 100 percent funded health insurance, paid vacation, seven paid holidays a year, and a 401k plan in which the company matches the first 4 percent of contributions. Each employee has the opportunity to earn a Six Sigma Yellow Belt and participate in monthly meetings to share ideas. AEM works with Career Source Okaloosa Walton to hire new employees and has achieved a strong, diverse workforce by hiring locally and promoting from within.
Community involvement is also important to Sires. The management team is active in local organizations including Chamber of Commerce, EDC Business Leadership Council, TECMEN, and the NWFL Manufacturers Council. The company participates in charity functions like Rotary Club Scholarship, supports STEM classes at local schools, and works with state universities on curriculums that benefit the community and manufacturing.
Awards Honor Growth
In 2016, American Elite Molding and Robert Sires began to attract attention for their achievements, receiving several awards. AEM was named a “Florida Companies to Watch” by economic development group GrowFL; the company was one of 50 winners selected from more than 500 nominees as a business that is expected to see significant growth over the next several years. AEM was also a finalist in the 2016 Florida Manufacturer of the Year awards.
Sires was honored personally by Governor Rick Scott in January 2016, when he was presented the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award, and he was named a Trustee of the University of West Florida.
Expanding Commitment to American Manufacturing
As AEM continues to flourish, Sires is expanding his commitment to American manufacturing by spreading this focus to every point in the company’s supply chain, utilizing American-made raw materials (nylon manufactured by DuPont in the U.S.) and supplies such as bags, boxes and labels.
“Getting our raw material and supplies from American companies keeps money and jobs here in our country, which is one of our primary goals. We see enormous competitive advantages in keeping all of our production here in the U.S., including quality control, reduced distribution costs, and faster shipping times,” says Sires.
In addition to actively managing American Elite Molding, Sires owns or is invested in a number of other companies. As an entrepreneur, he is always looking for new and exciting business opportunities. Currently, Sires runs Buy Cable Ties, a company that sells zip ties and accessories online, and oversees Roman Capital, an investment firm he founded in 2005. Through this company, he is an investor in Cable Tie Express, an $8 million master distributor of cable ties and associated products. He shares resources among these companies and American Elite Molding to help each company thrive.
Through Roman Capital, Sires is also an early investor in several ventures, including Wheels Up, Chopt, Locker Room Talk, and Verde Life, which produces Movita organic multivitamins for women.
“My plate is pretty full,” acknowledges Sires. “But that’s how I like it. I’ve been fortunate to find very talented and motivated people to help me, and we work closely together to achieve our goals. Right now my focus is on doubling the size of American Elite Molding within the next five years, reaching $50 million in sales. That will enable us to create more jobs, purchase more American-made materials and supplies, and invest more money into the local economy. I know that with the team we have in place we will succeed, and I’m looking forward to it.”