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Phillips Fibers.

Phillips Fibers

Box 66 Greenville, SC 29602 (803)242-6600; Fax (803)234-6666

Worldwide Nonwovens Sales: $115 million U.S. Nonwovens Sales: $115 million Key Personnel: Ted Kelly, vice president-marketing; Tom Oakley, director-nonwoven fabrics marketing Plant: Seneca, SC Process: Needlepunched Major Markets: Geotextiles, Home Furnishings, Roofing, Paving Fabrics, Industrial Brand Names: Duon, Supac, Petromat, Fabrisoil, Alpha (olefin fiber), Petrotac, Rufon, Ruftac, SuperGro Notes: The industry's idea of Phillips Fibers has always been that of a giant producing needlepunched nonwoven fabrics for the high volume, low margin geotextile and industrial markets. All Phillips ever did at its plant in Seneca, SC, the industry thought, was churn out mile after mile of fabric for these businesses. Phillips was, many believed, totally dependent on the whims of the construction, transportation and housing industries and, even worse, on the economy.

While that may have been true once upon a time, the picture at Phillips is radically different as the 1990s nonwovens industry takes shape. While still a major player in the geotextile, home furnishings and roofing markets, the world's 14th largest producer of nonwovens, and the largest needlepuncher anywhere, has taken a distinct turn towards more specialty niches by incorporating its vast knowledge of the technology with some innovative marketing.

The story at Phillips is based on the very interesting line-up of new products it has introduced in the past two or three years, most of which are just taking shape today. These products were born out of the company's ability to spot a special, well hidden niche within their major markets and expand on it. Their development mandated a slight change in marketing strategy, but the company has managed to pull it off.

The primary example of this specialty niche development growing out of existing large markets is a product called "Fabrisoil," launched just last year. The product is described as a daily cover material on the working face of a landfill, designed to replace the mandated six inches of soil that are supposed to be spread on top of a landfill every night. The product helps prevent litter blowaway, suppresses vapors and odors, ensures excellent vector control and minimizes surface water infiltration. The needlepunched polypropylene fabric is a prime example of the ability of nonwovens to benefit the environment by extending the life of increasingly scarce landfills.

While the initial acceptance to Fabrisoil has been extremely encouraging, the company reported, grandiose estimates of the potential size of the market have had to be tempered a bit because of one unforeseen development--the product works too well. Phillips had originally envisioned a layer of Fabrisoil being placed each night on a landfill and then covered with the next day's garbage, with another layer of Fabrisoil placed the next night. But actual use has been removing the liner every morning and reusing it at night, significantly reducing the square yardage potential. Even the product literature now promotes Fabrisoil as being able to be used for up to four weeks per panel; Phillips uses the innovative slogan, "Works Great, Less Filling," to promote the Fabrisoil product. But company officials remain optimistic.

"We have developed a better mousetrap and, although we had thought it would go further than it has, its acceptance is proceeding even faster than we expected," said director-nonwoven fabrics marketing Tom Oakley. "People have determined that they could use Fabrisoil over and over again, so from a volume point of view it is not as great as using it once and covering it. But there is greater potential and acceptance than we had imagined."

The other major new product from Phillips is "Supergro," a landscape fabric also introduced last year that is just starting to climb its learning curve. Supergro is a needlepunched polypropylene fiber blanket reinforced with polypropylene netting that is engineered to prevent soil erosion while promoting rapid grass and plant growth in freshly landscaped areas; it is also being used next to highways, beaches and in a number of construction applications. The product is engineered to degrade at an accelerated rate in sunlight.

Mr. Oakley said that the development time for Supergro has been a bit more extended than originally anticipated, primarily because of the education factor involved. "We have to develop our own case histories and success stories, which we are doing," he said. Phillips is marketing Supergro through both its geotextile business and its residential landscape business.

Another new geotextile product, introduced in July, is also aimed at a specialty segment. "Supac DS" (drainage system) is a composite needlepunched polypropylene combined with two types of polyethylene to produce a drainage system for parking lots, roof decks, patios, balconies, atriums and planters. The nonwoven is used as a filtering media. Supac DS is the first of a two phase introduction into this market, with a product extension due out this fall.

"Drainage has always been a major part of our business," said vice president-marketing Ted Kelly, in explaining the thinking behind the new product. "This was a natural extension for us. It brings something extra to our distributors and provides for future growth for them."

One other new product for geotextile applications is "Pro-Gard," a composite that utilizes Phillips' "Petromat" in conjunction with asphalt. Introduced during this past summer, Pro-Gard is basically used for retarding cracking in pavements in specific applications.

The industrial/apparel business is a major growth area for Phillips and is a prime example of the emphasis it is putting in areas other than its traditional high volume markets. Its newest product is an innovative, patented one piece counter and liner for shoes called "Coun-Tech." It utilizes its Duon nonwoven to replace a traditional textile product that required multiple steps for manufacturing.

Phillips has developed and patented the product in conjunction with Proctor Products, Chesterfield, MO. Phillips provides the nonwoven fabric and Proctor saturates and molds it into a thermal counter and liner material in one piece that, according to product literature, "offers unsurpassed wear performance and quality." The product comes in a array of colors.

And in the upholstery area, Phillips has introduced its Duon needlepunched polypropylene fabric as a decking for furniture and bedding construction. This Duon variation also comes in an array of colors, weights and widths and is promoted as offering superior uniformity, tailoring, hand and appearance and air permeability. For the first time it is going into upholstery areas where the fabric is visible, putting more of a premium on appearance and performance.

"All of these new products are just adjuncts to our core businesses," Mr. Kelly pointed out. "We are still looking at our core businesses as our volume areas and will continue to do so."

In its core geotextiles area Phillips was fortunate that the tough, recession-battered early portion of 1991 coincided with the traditional slow season for its construction and geotextile fabrics. "The business for geotextiles was off on a seasonal basis when the recession had its greatest impact," Mr. Oakley said. Based on a turnaround that began in May, he expects the second half of the year to remain strong.

"Looking back at 1990, we were able to hold strong in the geotextiles business," added Mr. Kelly. "Our business surprisingly didn't go hand-in-hand with the recession and polypropylene in general had a good year in 1990 compared with other synthetics." He repeated that the fall-off in early 1991 came at a traditionally slow period for Phillips' geotextiles and roofing businesses, although the home furnishings and automotive segments did suffer.

Mr. Oakley also reported that he is pleasantly surprised by the performance in 1991 of Phillips' home furnishings business. There was a March/April period where a downturn occurred, but the market did rebound strongly and most observers believe the worst is over for this segment.

Overall, Phillips Fibers will certainly continue to live up to the industry's view of it as a high volume producer of geotextiles and industrial nonwovens. But, based on this array of new products, the industry will do well to keep an eye for the many innovations coming out of the Greenville company, because that is where the future of the company lies.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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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