Interview with Scott Craig GM of Wilflex AND Rutland
PolyOne Corporation, the company that owns Wilflex Inks, recently bought Rutland Plastic Technologies. This gives PolyOne ownership of the companies supplying ink to a majority of garment printers in the USA. Last week I had a chat with the General Manager of Wilflex and now also of Rutland. Our chat reinforced some of the obvious benefits to what the merger could possibly mean, and reassured us on some of the fears we were hearing from our fellow screenprinters. This is not an uh…, well…, like…, sort of……transcription of the conversation thought much if verbatim but it is assembled from my notes.
Q: What’s your background and how did you get to where you are now?
A: I don’t come from an ink slinging background, my background is more in materials related to the electronics and semi-conductor world. I spent ten years working in Singapore before returning home to the USA and taking charge of Wilflex in Georgia ten years ago. Originally I’m from California and went to Oregon State and majored in Chemical Engineering and then later graduated from the University of Washington Business School.
Q: I bet you didn’t know that many folks in this industry, including artists, printers and suppliers that I know came from circuit board printing backgrounds?
A: I was not aware of that, but now I’m even more excited to have this job.
Q: What is the purpose of this purchase, why did PolyOne buy Rutland at this time?
A: PolyOne is a global chemical company and the company felt that this purchase will give them stronger assets to compete internationally. Even with this purchase Wilflex and Rutland together are a relatively small company, but the bigger structure and assets of PolyOne can make this new ink company more effective. In terms of permitting, environmental concerns, and logistics, PolyOne has the ability to develop products and bring them to market that Rutland could never have managed.
Q: I’ve been lucky to attend international trade shows and I’ve been a Rutland fan for a long time, and from my perspective it seems like at times their motto should be, “thank you for not mentioning the outside world.”
A: I think they have come a long way and do have some strong work they’ve been doing internationally. However, you do have a point in that PolyOne really will focus on this area and has some expertise which can perhaps make some new things happen on the world stage.
Q: So the merger isn’t to create a monopoly and jack up prices like folks are chattering about on social media?
A: This purchase is not really focused on North America or even focused on plastisol. The rest of the world is not so plastisol-centric and we’ll be developing new products to serve the entire screenprinting world. We are certainly not going to engage in any abusive pricing. PolyOne has a long track record as a responsible company and you are not going to see that at all.
I’m excited though to work with screenprinters with the tools we will have at our disposal. The industry is an artistic oriented enterprise, but art is not going to come up with all of the answers. There is a major role for engineering and science and that’s where we come in.
Q: Besides worries about pricing we are hearing many fears about folks losing relationships with dealers that are very important. Will everyone just sell one ink? What is the new role of distributors?
A: There is not going to be a big consolidation and we certainly are not going to do anything to ruin a good thing. Both Wilflex and Rutland are strong companies and we would be foolish to disrupt the current strong relationships that customers depend on, whether directly to the ink companies or with our distributors. One of our first efforts has been to re-assure the distributors that we don’t plan to make any changes. This is an industry in many ways built on personal relationships and we appreciate that and will continue to back that up with the way we do business.
We are not closing plants and we are keeping the current distribution network.
Q: Rutland had a couple of financial holding companies run the show for a quite a few years now, they would get some profits and try to build value and then sell. I would imagine getting off this private equity wheel will be a change. How will things be different with PolyOne’s purchase?
A: I think we will be able to take a longer view, something beyond what the previous ownerships could do. We can develop more long term strategies, focus more on R&D, and be a company that really can long-term be counted on to make products that can improve printing quality and efficiency.
Q: What benefits specifically do you see coming from this merger?
A: Besides the international aspects that I mentioned, there are quite a few advantages that I see on the horizon. Just one example would be in developing products that stop dye migration. PolyOne supplies many of the dyes and pigments used in making polyester colorants. Understanding the chemistry and engineering in that industry is going to help us develop the next generations of products that will not only be effective, but ultimately less confusing for printers to use. With the diverse array of fabrics coming into the market, printers will be expected to decorate these effectively and we hope to be an important part of effective solutions.
Also between the two companies there really are some incredibly talented folks and the next generations of products should be that much better. In even the short time I’ve had to see what we have at Rutland I can already determine that there is serious brain power there whether it be engineering, chemistry, or backgrounds in screenprinting.
Q: So you’ll have our backs from the scientific end and we can just be artists?
A: Exactly. Our job is to help printers make their visions a reality by bring science and art together.