Making it Work

When they took over Ranger Industries Inc. in Tinton Falls from their father-in-law in 2006, Alain Avrillon and Justin Russo had a major decision to make.

The manufacturer was marginally profitable.  Its expenses – from labor to taxes – were soaring.  Its competition was heading to cheaper environments overseas.

The choice boiled down to this: “Either we go where competitors are… or just get good at manufacturing here in New Jersey,” Avrillon said.

The company stayed.  Ranger transformed itself.  It became more efficient.  It added workers.  And it is out to prove that manufacturers can flourish, even during a deep recession, in high-cost New Jersey.

The owners admit the process might not work for manufacturers whose products don’t depend on creativity and innovation.

But they also show that manufacturing in New Jersey isn’t necessarily a lost cause.

“There’s nothing we can do about the fact that taxes are high, real estate is high, labor is high,” said Christopher Reese, a field agent with the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP) Inc.  “But they can reduce the lead time by 50 percent.  They can increase their efficiency by 25 percent or 30 percent.  They can reduce their inventory by 50 percent.”

NJMEP is a Morris Plains-based not-for-profit organization that helped Ranger Industries re-engineer.

Ranger manufactures supplies for the arts-and-crafts industry – ink pads, glitter glue, embossing powders and the like.  It has 55 employees and $8 million in annual sales.

The company, founded in 1929, started by making ink pads for banks.  Vincent A. DiLascia bought the company in 1975 and with the help of his wife, Anne Generas, added new colors that could be used in arts and crafts.

When it came time to retire, he turned to his sons-in-law – Russo, 37, and Avrillon, 35, who left their own careers and moved to the Shore, seeing it as a chance to join a family-owned business.

Soon, they were in control of a manufacturing company that had one plant in Tinton Falls, one plant in Montrose, Pa., and pressure to survive in a global economy.

They considered moving production to Asia, but rejected the idea.  They wanted to avoid a language barrier and a time-zone difference, and they wanted to get their products to customers quickly to keep up with the hobby industry’s rapidly changing tastes, they said.

“The creativity was always there.” Russo said.  “The innovation was always there.  It was more about the efficiency in production.”

Ranger teamed up with NJMEP and used a $42,000 training grant from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to develop a plan to become more profitable.  (The grant covers most, but not all costs.)

Here’s how:

Control Inventory.
Ranger closed the Montrose plant, consolidated in Tinton Falls and created a workplace that flows from manufacturing to packaging to the warehouse and, eventually, out the door.

It paid closer attention to inventory by using magnets to track production and alert departments when it is time to make more.

For example: A worker in the pick-and-pack department takes the last carton of red crackle paint off the warehouse shelf.  She moves the red crackle paint magnet to a board, cuing managers to make more.  The magnet moves from department to department, like a baton in a relay race.

As a result, workers spend more time producing items that sell.  And the company, which once set its production schedule based on the previous year’s sales, can fill orders nearly in real time.

“We were trying to predict the future without knowing the future,” Russo said.  “Before, they came and did a physical count and guesstimated what they needed.  Sometimes they got it right.  Sometimes they got it wrong.”

Empower workers.
Ranger leans on rank-and-file workers to suggest ways to improve the company’s operations.  The owners said much of the training takes place without them in the room.

It has paid off.  The company has a product line called Stickles, a glitter glue that comes in 45 colors.  A worker’s suggestion helped reduce the time it takes the company to shift gears and make a different color from 45 minutes to 10 minutes, Russo said.

It has left workers feeling the company is viable and they are integral to its success.

“It shows you they are looking forward and looking to be better,” said Larry Samms, 44, the operations manager.

Avrillon said the re-engineering is particularly useful for companies whose products are innovative; Ranger has a research and development department that creates new products and then turns them over to the manufacturing division.

The company has nearly doubled its product line the past five years to more then 1,200 items.  It has reduced its shipping time from three weeks to less than five days.  And rather than putting out fires each day, the owners said they are better prepared to weather the recession.

The recession “is an issue,” Russo said.  “Which is why we need to get the most out of what we have.”

Michael L. Diamond: (732) 643-4038

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