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National Felt Company.

30 National Felt Company

P.O. Box 150 Easthampton, MA 01027 (413)527-3445; Fax (413)527-0456

Worldwide Nonwovens Sales: $40 million U.S. Nonwovens Sales: $38 million Key Personnel: Don Rubin, president; George Enos, vice president-finance; Marc Etchells, general manager, Nonwovens Div.; Dan Thompson, general manager, Cut Parts Div. (Commonwealth Felt); Ken Piazzo, general manager, Wool Felt Div.; Pat Sliva, marketing manager Plants: Easthampton, MA (three nonwovens plants--Pleasant Street, Tidewater, Putnam); converting operation in Northampton, MA; wool felt plant in Easthampton, MA Processes: Needlepunched, sell some imported spunbonded Brand Names: Fibredyne, SureSorb Major Markets: Medical, Incontinence, Vinyl Substrates, Synthetic Leather, Miscellaneous Industrial, Colored Felt, Acrylic Felt, Filtration, Apparel, Printing Substrates, Superabsorbents Notes: If ever there was a company "poised for growth," it would have to be National Felt, a low profile, highly imaginative, well financed newcomer to the Top Companies in the Worldwide Nonwovens Industry.

Although "poised for growth" does sound a bit cliched, National Felt, tucked away in western Massachusetts, is certainly poised to make a significant move among the leaders in the domestic needlepunching industry. A new, highly modernized, huge 5.5 meter wide Fehrer needling line installed last year is providing the impetus for this surge. The company already reported an increase in business as a result of the new line, situated in its Putnam plant in Easthampton, MA.

"Of course we would like to be a lot bigger and our plans are to be that way," said president Don Rubin, one of the participants in a leveraged buyout three years ago that brought control into the hands of the employees. "Our five year plan is to increase sales by 50% on the strength of the new plant. We plan to have that line full seven days a week."

All this optimism is tempered a bit by a difficult year so far in 1991. Sales to many of its major categories have been hurt either by decreased demand because of the economy or, even more prevalent these days, by cost pressures from a host of newer needlepunching competitors. "The overall business has been incredibly steady in terms of numbers, but there has been a lot of price erosion based on competitors who were in soft areas such as automotives and had to fill their equipment," said Mr. Rubin at a recent interview in the company's Massachusetts headquarters.

"I'm not going to blow smoke," he added. "Sales are off slightly this year, not a great deal, but slightly." He pointed out, however, that the new line has enabled National Felt to increase its turnover substantially on the strength primarily of completely new business. The company has been able to avoid the layoffs that have plagued other industrial companies and still maintains a workforce of between 500-550 employees.

The National Felt Background

National Felt as a company is divided into three divisions, with the Nonwoven Div. now accounting for about 60% of corporate sales. It was founded in 1905 as a producer of wool felt but, according to Marc Etchells, general manager of the Nonwoven Div., "we are now a nonwovens company."

Its three plants in Easthampton have needlepunching, chemical bonding and thermal bonding capabilities to produce fabrics in basic weights from 1.5 to more than 196 ozs. sq. yard in widths up to 200 inches. Its 90,000 sq. foot Pleasant Street plant is its oldest facility, while the new line is housed in the 240,000 sq. foot Putnam plant down the street. The Tidewater plant is situated in the center of the old textile complex in the heart of the city's industrial sector.

National Felt is also comprised of a Felt Div., which services mostly the industrial, craft, toy and apparel trades with blends of wool and other fibers in widths up to 92 inches with a variety of finishes. The company's third unit is its Converting Div., known more commonly to the trade as Commonwealth Felt. The division complements the Felt and Nonwovens Divs. with precision converting of both nonwovens and wovens.

Like many of the successful needlepunchers in the country today, National Felt produces an impressive array of products. "We make literally a thousand products," Mr. Rubin said. "We look for niche markets, which of course everyone does, but we go at them with specialized, very high speed equipment." And, again like other needlers, National Felt still goes after some of the high volume commodity markets to keep the equipment running. "But we expect them to make us a profit, too," Mr. Rubin pointed out.

Among the major National Felt markets:

* Incontinence: The company needles and finishes mostly polyester, as well as some polyester/rayon blends, for reusable pads.

* Filtration: A standard needlepunched outlet, National Felt utilizes polyester, nylon, rayon, "Nomex" and a number of flame retardant blends for commodity and specialty applications.

* Vinyl Substrate: At one time National Felt had 90% of what is quickly becoming a commodity business. It is one of the target markets of the new Putnam plant, which is focusing on higher end residential and marine applications.

* Acrylic Felts: An important, one year old product line, it includes a collection of 24 colors for retail distribution through fabric stores as a replacement for wool felt.

* Apparel: Its oldest nonwovens business, National Felt services the apparel industry with gloves, shoulder pads, under collar material and coat fronts, among other areas.

* Car Wash Material: A highly profitable, relatively unknown niche, National Felt currently has about 80% of the business for supplying commercial car washes with primarily polyester needlepunched brushes and strips that are guaranteed for 50,000 washes.

* Superabsorbents: Perhaps the most remarkable product from National Felt is its patent pending "SureSorb" line of superabsorbent clinical pads. The company still uses the "Fibersorb" superabsorbent fiber from Arco Chemical with more than 20 on-going products utilizing the novel fiber. National Felt was one of the leading customers for the now defunct Arco business and it currently owns the remaining Fibersorb inventory. It was also producing the two layer needled absorbent core for a disposable diaper project that has also been shelved.

But more successful has been the SureSorb clinical pad line. Available for the past year, it is promoted as a highly absorbent pad ("it absorbs and retains up to 60 times its own weight in fluids") to improve protection of medical workers from bloodborne diseases such as AIDS. SureSorb pads are durable and resist tearing and each pad is engineered for its particular application. The company also offers a pad with a pliable film laminated so it will not adhere to tissue.

* In one other highly specialized market, National Felt has done most of the finished needling for the "La Montage" art and home furnishings concept developed by New York City artist Liora Manne (the product was featured on the cover of NONWOVENS INDUSTRY, October, 1990). National Felt also developed a chemical treatment that made the needled fabric more durable, allowing it to expand from its original wall hangings niche into more widespread home furnishings such as upholstery and even rugs.

Marketing Focus for 1991-92

National Felt does sell some fabric into Western Europe, Australia and Italy and a very small amount into Korea. It is currently working on a marketing arrangement for medical products in Europe that may bear fruit soon. But its primary focus for the foreseeable future will remain the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, Canada and Mexico.

For the past two years National Felt has imported spunbonded nonwovens into the U.S. from a European supplier. In addition to providing diversification, this arrangement allows the company to explore and develop the market for a potential new technology to add to its strength in needlepunching. "The easiest way to look at a technology we are interested in entering was to sell someone else's product first," Mr. Rubin said. He emphasized National Felt would not be interested in adding a polypropylene spunbonded line so prevalent in the U.S. already. "When the technology is developed for polyester spunbondeds we will be highly interested," he said.

"We are headed more towards a higher quality bent, more involvement with SPC and the requirements attendant with that," Mr. Rubin concluded. National Felt will also go for a larger chunk of the highly competitive automotive market, while at the same time moving into markets it was shut out of before.

"Basically, we have a new line that allows us to do all that," he explained.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:nonwoven fabrics business
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:company profile
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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