For this Winchester company, it’s what’s on the outside that countsDecember 29, 2012 6:00 AM
by Joan Tupponce
Anyone who has purchased a John Frieda hair-care product has seen the handiwork of M&H Plastics in Winchester. The manufacturing company specializes in the production of plastic packaging for the personal-care industry. “Most of our packaging is for shampoos and conditioners,” says company CEO Kurt Nyberg.
Headquartered in Beccles, England, M&H Plastics was founded in 1972 to supply bottles, jars and tubes to the personal-care market. It is now the largest manufacturer of these items in the United Kingdom. The company’s founders sold the business to a private equity group in 2004 and built the Winchester plant that year.
“Our customers’ brands expanded beyond the U.K. into the U.S.,” says Nyberg who joined the company in 2006. “A lot of our customers were having to ship plastic bottles to the U.S., which is very costly — 25 percent of the product cost is freight.” The company realized that if it didn’t open a U.S. facility, it could lose business to U.S. manufacturers because “it didn’t make sense to import the bottles,” Nyberg adds.
The factory makes and decorates clear, plastic bottles as well as shampoo bottles. “We only work with the personal-care market,” Nyberg says, noting that John Frieda is one of the company’s major customers.
Its flexible manufacturing platform allows small runs for large national brands — quantities anywhere from 100 to 10,000. “That is very attractive to multinational corporations that need help with smaller brand items,” Nyberg says.
Since 2004, the Winchester plant has grown from six machines and 20 employees to 29 machines and 70 permanent employees with up to 40 temporary workers. “We have had about 30 percent growth in sales per year,” Nyberg says.
Many of its multinational customers sell products to large retail chains such as Target and Walmart. “We also sell to small companies like Organix Shampoo that have grown. The economy hasn’t affected us too much because people still buy these types of products even in a bad economy,” Nyberg says.
After deciding to open a U.S. manufacturing site, M&H executives researched areas along the Eastern Seaboard. “Virginia was halfway between the Northeast and the Southeast,” making it a good location for a company that ships its products by truck, Nyberg says. “If you look at the highway maps, we are right on I-81 and I-70, which is a major east/west corridor for freight.”
The company also liked the fact that Washington Dulles International Airport and Front Royal with its inland port were nearby because it imports bottle caps from its Beccles facility. Plus, company executives travel between England and Virginia on a regular basis.
Nyberg finds Virginia to be a business-friendly state. “We found competitive labor rates in this little corner of the state,” he says. “In Winchester there are seven or eight plastic manufacturers, so there is a large population of folks educated in plastics.”
The company invested $2 million in 2009 to expand its facility. Last year, the company announced a second expansion: $6.2 million to enlarge the Winchester plant by 50,000 square feet to accommodate equipment upgrades and an expansion in blow molding and high-speed decorating capabilities. “As part of our three- and five-year plan, we will most likely build another plant out west, probably in Phoenix,” Nyberg says.
The company’s customers include Johnson & Johnson and Unilever. The Winchester facility mainly ships throughout the U.S. It also exports Mary Kay cosmetic bottles to customers in China and Canada.
M&H is the largest employer in Beccles with 730 employees. Sixty percent of the sales from the England plant stay within the U.K. The remaining 40 percent represents sales to mainland Europe and the Middle East.
Working with companies in England is fairly easy, Nyberg says. “There is a common language and there are similar financial regulations and accounting standards. There also are a lot of cultural similarities.”
Selling to countries in mainland Europe is a different story, he adds. “There are a lot of plastic manufacturers in France and Germany. French manufacturers, for example, like to buy from other French manufacturers. The same is true for Germany. Most of the European countries favor their own domestic suppliers.”
Many of the company’s American competitors have established plastic packaging plants in Eastern Europe in countries such as the Czech Republic and Poland where labor is inexpensive. “We found it more conducive to come to America than to go to Eastern Europe,” Nyberg says.
Economy in Beccles, England
Located in the county of Suffolk, the small village of Beccles is approximately 30 miles from Norwich. That city’s economic base includes insurance and financial services companies as well as some manufacturing plants. One of the oldest companies in the area is Colman’s, which manufactures Colman’s Mustard. The Norwich Research Park includes four independent research institutes such as the Institute of Food Research and more than 30 businesses involved in science and technology.
Travel to Beccles, England
“Beccles is a small village on the North Sea,” says Nyberg. “It’s a quaint little storybook English village.” Because of its seaside location, Beccles draws a lot of fishermen. In addition to bed-and-breakfast establishments, the town also rents cottages and houseboats. Nearby Norwich is known for its music scene. Attractions include the Norwich Arts Centre with a theater and concert hall, the Norwich Castle Museum featuring art, ceramics, silver and natural history and the 12th-century Norwich Cathedral.
Economy in Frederick County
The Winchester/Frederick County area has a diverse economy that includes construction, health care, retail, government and advanced manufacturing, most of which is involved in plastics, printing, food and metals. Employers with more than 250 employees include cabinet manufacturer American Woodmark; dairy manufacturer HP Hood, Kraft Foods; plastic and film manufacturer O’Sullivan Films; commercial cleaning and janitorial supplies producer Rubbermaid Commercial Products; and general contractor Howard Shockey & Sons Inc. California-based McKesson Corp. is scheduled to open a $36.9 million distribution center by the end of 2013, which will create more than 200 jobs. Fort Collier, Stonewall and Winchester Industrial Parks are three of the largest industrial parks in the area.
Travel to Winchester/Frederick County
This scenic area sits at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley. Attractions include the circa-1797 antebellum plantation manor house, Belle Grove, which is located in the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park. The park’s 3,500 acres sit in the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National History District. The area also is home to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley featuring the Glen Burnie Historic House and six acres of gardens, George Washington’s Office Museum and the Patsy Cline Historic House, where country music legend Patsy Cline lived for five years during her late teens and early 20s. The Wayside Theatre, the second oldest professional theater in Virginia, and the State Arboretum of Virginia also draw tourists.
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