How to survive when customers leave town


When Whirlpool announced last fall that it would be closing its Fort Smith, AR plant, which once employed 4600 making side-by-side refrigerators, and move that work to Mexico, it was a devastating blow to the community and to the molders who had supplied parts to the appliance OEM for many years. However, to Ron Embree, CEO of one such supplier, River Bend Industries, “it wasn’t a total surprise.”

At one time, River Bend’s Fort Smith facility was 80-90% Whirlpool, Embree told PlasticsToday in a telephone interview. “That might not sound so good, but for a long time, it worked,” Embree said. But he also saw the handwriting on the wall with the consolidation and movement in the appliance industry as Whirlpool bought up its competitors and built more plants in Mexico. Embree began to diversify his customer base and product lines, which doesn’t happen overnight in the custom molding business.

One of the new products that River Bend hopes will keep the company on a growth track is the Kosmo cooler. Embree learned about the cooler, designed with built-in legs so that it doesn’t need a table to sit on in order to function, from its creators, local entrepreneurs Tim Mika and Stephen Bowman. Today, Embree has installed the blowmolding equipment required to mold the cooler, while the company injection molds the other components. “Hopefully this will allow me to learn blowmolding and add another capability to our business model to sell for additional growth,” Embree said.
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