Tigre USA charts growth in Janesville

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012
— When it landed in Janesville in 2006, Tigre USA could have been considered a start-up manufacturer of molded PVC fittings.

Certainly new to Janesville, the company also was new to North America.

But don't be fooled. The Brazilian company entered the North American market with 70 years of experience as the world's third-largest maker of PVC pipes, fittings and accessories.

That expertise and history have helped the Janesville plant double in size since 2008.

"We arrived in the United States at a time when the housing market was suffering," said Fabricio Rubine, the general manager of the plant on Beloit Avenue. "We were trying to grow the business in a very hostile environment."

In Janesville, Tigre has 47 employees who work across three shifts to make molded and fabricated fittings for plumbing and sewer applications.

The Janesville plant ships to eight warehouses in the United States. Its products are sold through 30 manufacturer's representatives in North America, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.

In part, the company came to Janesville because of an initial relationship with Freedom Plastics, which no longer is in business.

Tigre USA has grown because it found innovative ways to stand out from its competition, Rubine said.

As examples, he points to the company's incorporation of manufacturing expertise from Tigre's other facilities and the hiring of experienced leaders.

In addition, he said, the company has made significant investments in state-of-the-art equipment, including a 1,000-ton injection molding machine that is the largest of any at other Tigre plants.

The company has two primary sectors. The above-grade plumbing market is traditionally associated with home and business construction, while the sewer market serves municipal infrastructure markets.

"The housing market is very important to us, and when it comes back we will be in a very good position," Rubine said. "We've been very aggressive since we got here to pursue suppliers and distributors and establish relationships with them."

Specifically, he said, Tigre targets niche markets where it can use its size to be creative and flexible in delivering outstanding products and customer service.

That flexibility is evident on Tigre's production floor, where the company's 16 machines use any of 284 different molds to convert resin pellets into fittings with a scrap rate of less than 1 percent.

Production manager Mike Hicks said a new system has enabled employees to become current with their production quotas while still retaining the flexibility to accommodate special orders that require different molds.

A look at a recent production log shows just three of the plant's 430 or so different products on back order.

"Last fall that would have shown 30 back orders," Hicks said.

That improvement is critical to Dagoberto Darezzo, the plant's logistics manager who choreographs order management, shipping and customer service.

"The easiest thing to do is make a production schedule when you're behind," Darezzo said. "The difficult part is when you're ahead."

That's a challenge employees welcome, even as the production schedule now includes weekend work.

Worldwide, Tigre had 2011 revenues of $1.5 billion. It's in the middle of an aggressive growth plan that aims to double the company's size by 2014.

The expansion plan calls for new products and global acquisitions. It also includes an uptick in business at Tigre's existing 22 plants, including Janesville.

Rubine said he'd love to see the operation and its local employment expand in Janesville.

So, too, would Vic Grassman, Janesville's economic development director.

"It's a company I'm impressed with," he said. "I'm convinced Fabricio really wants to grow the company here and has made significant efforts with the corporate headquarters to see if that's possible."

Tigre USA, he said, has easily met the benchmarks tied to the tax increment-financing district in which it's located.

"This is a very mature market with a lot of competition," said Tim Johnson, Tigre USA's marketing and product manager. "We're still relatively small here, and that puts us in the hustle mode.

"We're growing and doing well, and we've gotten to the point that we have talked to our landlord about adding space."

That landlord is Eric Schwartz, president of Sara Investment Real Estate.

"Tigre has put a huge amount of financial and human capital into Janesville," Schwartz said, recalling how the company started in about half of his 67,000-square-foot building and filled up the rest in short order.

Schwartz has a plan that would add about 30,000 square feet to the building if Tigre decides to expand.

"I could get that done tomorrow," he said. "But if they keep growing and stay in Janesville, my building won't hold them. They'd have to build, and everything they do is huge."

Last updated: 8:07 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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