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Foss: strong year for needlepuncher.

Business has been very strong at Foss Manufacturing, Hampton, NH, the 21st largest roll goods manufacturer. The company has capitalized on growth in several automotive applications as well as moving toward its goal of moving closer to the customer. "We've had a good year across all segments," said president Steven Foss, "although to qualify, we were starting from a recessionary base. Overall," he said, "we are pleased with the direction of how things have gone."

Foss has four different product groups, divided according to customer rather than product segment or geographic bias. "The groups are easy to differentiate," said Mr. Foss. "Our Decorative group is comprised of all those |touchy/feely' sort of products, which are concerned with color and aesthetics." In this group, products include wall coverings, recreational vehicle fabrics, marine and speaker covers.

The second group, Automotive, has a select group of original equipment manufacturers as customers, said Mr. Foss. The third group, Retail, which includes craft and novelty items, sells directly to stores. Foss also has an 800 number and takes MasterCard and Visa, allowing customers to order directly from the company, although at retail prices. The fourth group, Technical Products, sells to other businesses and designs to specifications. Mr. Foss gave as an example incontinent pads for fabricators. The company's fiber sales also fit into this group.

"What we are trying to offer is one-stop shopping," said Mr. Foss. "Each of the four groups is divided logically; however, if one of our mass merchandisers wants to buy an automotive product from us, it will still deal with our Retail Group. Our philosophy is to get whatever the customers need, wherever they need it," he said.

Foss has made several changes in its distribution network, adding sites in Singapore and Guadalajara, Mexico and making plans to move its Carros, France facility to Mitry Mori, France, right outside Paris. This move, which will be made this winter, is important strategically, said Mr. Foss, "as it brings us closer to industrial areas in the North."

Foss also continues to investigate a distribution site in the southern part of the U.S.; plans are expected to be finalized next spring. "We have a pretty good idea of where it'll be," commented Mr. Foss. "This will enable us to compete hard against Southern manufacturers." At this time the company has no plans to add manufacturing capacity at any of its distribution sites.

The company is, however, adding capacity at its Hampton facility, continuing to consolidate operations there. The most recent addition expands the facility by 150,000 sq. feet. "Our thinking is that it is better to become the most effective organization you can in a central location and then establish your own distribution facilities where you need them rather than trying to have many smaller, less efficient facilities," said Mr. Foss.

News in the automotive segment at Foss centers around an agreement it is working on to supply Chrysler with a needlepunched headliner material, the first such product to be purchased by a U.S. auto manufacturer. The agreement is still in the planning stages, said Mr. Foss, "but headliners are coming to the U.S." Foss will produce the headliner material for a Chrysler truck model, although the product is still being modified, said Mr. Foss. "We are taking it all the way from chemical to headliner, ready to be molded," he said.

Some of the products will be for 1994 model cars and Mr. Foss said it offers a new look to the inside of the car. "We've done a lot in terms of aesthetics," he said, adding that Foss had already been supplying fiber for other nonwovens manufacturers making headliners outside the U.S. "It's a very difficult product to make," he said. "We've just gained a very small part of a market with very huge potential. But we still have a long way to go!"

Foss also continues work on new products, with 25 to 30 new materials constantly in production. One recently commercialized is MegaPile," a carpet product that targets the automotive aftermarket. The product, which is sold through Foss distribution channels, is available in a whole family of weights and fiber varieties for applications from dash covers to trim applications. "There is a growing market in auto refurbishment," said Mr. Foss. "Fewer people are buying new cars, so many are looking to update the look of older cars."

Another new product is "Varsity Felt," which targets a very specific niche. Varsity Felt, currently being launched, is a do-it-yourself product that is sold direct to retailers for local school pennants. Foss has also made substantial gains in the appearance of its felt line targeting the craft industry.

Foss is one of the first Ford Q1 suppliers and has been for seven or eight years. It also plans on proceeding with ISO certification, although it has not really seen a need for it yet.

Sales increased 3-4% over 1991 but the real concentration is return on investment. "We are looking at the long haul," said Mr. Foss, "which is much more important. We've been investing heavily in R&D and we've done a better job this year of screening and targeting what we'll research. We spend time up front to determine what market we'll make the product for," explained Mr. Foss. "We are really committed to the industries we've chosen and we want to sell with the best service and the best margin. At the end of the day, that's what matters," he said.

Foss Manufacturing Company 380 Lafayette Road, P.O. Box 5000, Hampton, NH 03842 603-929-2111; Fax; 603-929-0061

Worldwide Nonwovens Sales: $83 million

U.S. Nonwovens Sales: $72 million

Key Personnel: Stephen Foss, president; David Rowell, executive vice president; Kevin Sexton, senior vice president-finance

Plants: Haverhill, MA; Hampton, NH; Australia; warehousing in Bangkok and Korea; distribution in California and Indiana, U.K., France, Singapore

Processes: Needlepunehed, Polyester Fiber Spinning, Post-finishing

Brand Names: Enviro-Mat, Geomat, Fossfibre, Fossfelt, Fossplit, Stratos, Stytherm, Whispertex, Styplast, Masterwear, Fossform, Fossflex, Ssoflite, Styplast, Kunin Felt, Rainbow Felt, Confetti Felt

Major Markets: Automotive, Footwear, Wall Coverings, Marine, Health Care, Decorative and Consumer, Crafts, Polyester Fiber Sales, Retail
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Title Annotation:International Top 30; Foss Manufacturing Company Inc.
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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