By Eric Peterson | Feb 14, 2022
Chemicals and toll blending services
Dunigan's father, Frank, founded the business after working for R.O. Hull & Company from the 1950s to the late 1970s.
An acquisition ultimately led Frank to leave and start A Brite Company. "They told my father he needed to fire his staff," says Dunigan. "He said no, he's not going to do that, and they fired him. He said, 'Well, I'm going to start my own company.'"
Frank launched the company as a one-man supplier of chemicals and equipment for surface finishing. The modern business model is a hybrid: reseller, manufacturer, and contract blender. The company's products largely go to end users in surface finishing, industrial cleaning, and wastewater treatment.
Customers in the surface finishing industry -- metal plating, powder coating, galvanizing, and other finishing techniques -- account for about 80 percent of sales. End users are in aerospace, automotive, electronics, and a number of other verticals.
"Metal has to be coated or manipulated in certain ways, or else it'll oxidize or corrode and go back into its original state," says Dunigan. "It's either for functional purposes or a decorative purpose."
The surface finishing workforce includes fewer than 300,000 people working for companies of all sizes in the U.S. "It's a very broad industry, but there's not many players in it," says Dunigan. "There's not that many people that are in it, but it's a huge industry that affects most of the humans on this planet on a daily basis."
The company blends powders and liquids, and offers toll blending to make chemicals to the specifications of customers in a variety of industries. "Sometimes, they'll actually supply the raw materials and we're just doing the labor," says Dunigan. "Then in other instances, we'll do a turnkey where we'll source the raw materials, the packaging, and all that."
A Brite Company's catalog also includes chemicals and systems for treating wastewater from surface finishing as well as more general manufacturing processes.
It all adds up to a steady market for A Brite Company, but the business has pivoted in recent years. "Up until 2012, we blended pretty much 95 percent of everything we sold," says Dunigan.
The company sold off some of its proprietary formulations and started reselling chemicals from other suppliers, says Dunigan. The company now blends about 60 percent of the chemicals it sells at its 45,000-square-foot facility in Garland.
Dunigan took over as CEO from his father in 2018 and says he's turned an annual loss into a profit by 2020. "We just started taking a look at it, and peeling back the onion, looking at what our total costs were," he explains. "It made sense for us to rep other people's products. We decided what we'd do is just rep best-in-class products and have multiple relationships instead of going all-in with just one supplier or maybe a couple suppliers."
The strategy has paid off: "In a lot of cases, we were able to increase our profit margins by doing that."
Challenges: "The supply chain issue is kicking our ass consistently," says Dunigan. "It's across the board. The plastics and the polypropylene and polyethylene and all these different materials that are used in the packaging, the prices have doubled and in some instances are harder to get. So you're having to order twice as much material because you never know when they're going to have it."
Changing federal and state regulations are also a constant issue. "They keep moving the goalposts on us," says Dunigan.
Opportunities: Supplying leading companies that are innovating with surface finishing. "We've always got our eyes, nose, and ears on the pulse of the industry and where how things are going and how things are evolving," says Dunigan, who serves on the board of directors for the National Association for Surface Finishing. "We have to try to stay ahead of the curve and stay relevant. We want to saddle our horses, if you will, to the companies that are at the forefront of those types of technologies."
Needs: "I think we have to continue to have good people in key positions -- and continue to stay young," says Dunigan. "We've gotten much younger and more diverse. We've hired some real good, quality people and just made the company that much stronger."