By Eric Peterson | Feb 22, 2015
Employees: about 50
Second-generation Utah plastics entrepreneurs Brad Wilson is driving growth with innovation and fences that hold up to a 90-mph fastball.
"I'm a second generation plastics entrepreneur," says Wilson, whose father, Greg, started MityLite in 1987. The Orem-based plastic furniture manufacturer currently employs 250. "I grew up as a teenager doing grunt work in the factory."
The younger Wilson went off into banking, thinking he'd never return to manufacturing, but his dad called in 2007 asking him to come help with privatizing and selling the business and brought him back into plastics.
When Sorenson Capital bought MityLite in 2007, a division that attempted to make rotationally molded plastic tables but ultimately failed to bring a product to market caught the eye of both father and son. The Wilsons bought the "albatross" division, its proprietary product, and its facility then brainstormed from tables into fencing. Greg serves as chairman.
"In the fence industry, we are unique," Brad says. "We're the only people who make fence out of polyethylene plastic and we're the only people who make a rotationally formed fence."
The resulting product is notably durable but twice as expensive as other fencing, says Brad. It's a cost the market is willing to bear, because it looks so good, he adds. The flagship EcoStone mimics granite but is made of proprietary low density linear polyethylene and is reinforced with galvanized steel.
Aesthetics are another selling point. "With rotational forming, you can simulate a knothole in the wood," says Brad. "In extrusion, you can't simulate a knothole."
The product has a lifetime warranty and resists sound, graffiti, and weather. The company made a video of Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie bouncing 90 mile per hour fastballs off a SimTek wall before ripping a vinyl fence to shred on successive pitches. Guthrie later won a World Series in 2014.
The SimTek launch almost immediately encountered headwinds from the recession, but SimTek managed to turn a profit in 2010. The company now has annual revenues north of $10 million after growing by about 30 percent two years in a row.
SimTek's biggest customer is Home Depot. It has 65,000 square feet of space in Utah and another 5,000-square-foot distribution facility in Pennsylvania.
Brad says the patented processes give the company some leeway to experiment and get creative. "We're mediocre manufacturers but we're really good entrepreneurs and innovators," he says, citing a young and "dynamic" executive team. "It's easier to make a product that nobody else knows how to do."
Challenges: "Growth is the biggest one," says Wilson. Both human resources and growth capital get strained in the process. The latter has been bolstered by credit with Wells Fargo and Zions Bank. "We are finally bank-worthy," he says. SimTek is using the capital to bring in new machinery, including the company's biggest rotational molder ever.
Opportunities: "International is a big play for us," he says. "We're in 14 countries now and we see those as great avenues for growth."
Upcoming products for the retail home improvement market are another opportunity. While the exact nature of the products has yet to be announced, Brad gives credit to SimTek's retail partners. Home Depot and Menards "are driving our innovation in new products," he says.
Needs: Growth capital and talent. "Banking partners have been key," says Wilson. Hiring has been more difficult. "It's hard to find the right people who fit the profile."