American Elite Molding in Crestview Leading Manufacturer of Cable Ties
Generating products worth $25 million in annual sales.
photos by todd douglas
American Elite Molding was named 2017 Florida Manufacturer of the Year. Presenting the award to CEO Robert Sires and VP Barbara Mitchell is (at left) Amanda Bowen, executive director of the Manufacturers Association of Florida.
The manufacturing floor at American Elite Molding is one busy place.
From bustling workers to the steady hum of 14 custom injection molding machines spitting out the company’s signature cable ties, the 24-hour operation is rarely quiet or still.
And if CEO Bob Sires has his way, the floor will only get busier.
“We currently manufacture more than 1.5 billion cable ties annually and are on track to double in size within the next five years, reaching $50 million in sales,” said Sires, who founded the company as Bay State Cable Ties in 1998 in Massachusetts and moved it to Crestview in 2004.
“Right now, we sell in all of North America. Our goal is to be worldwide.”
Leading the way
Sires’ predictions are difficult to dispute when you consider AEM’s numbers. In a little more than a decade after relocating to Crestview, the company expanded from 4,000 to 75,000 square feet, adding critical space for production and warehousing.
With current sales at $25 million, AEM — whose customers include 3M, Home Depot, Fastenal, Thomas and Betts and Grote — has enjoyed 12 consecutive years of double-digit growth and currently employs 130 people.
“Hard work is what got us here,” Sires says. “Challenging ourselves every day, never being satisfied and remembering customers and employees.”
Though some friends and family thought he was a little crazy for banking on cable ties all those years ago, Sires had a good feeling about the tiny strips of nylon.
“I had just sold a company … and I was looking at commodity products,” he recalled.
An experienced manager, Sires had previously served as vice president of operations and finance at Leeds and Northrup, an international manufacturing enterprise, and as president of Leach Holding, overseeing operations in the United States, Europe and Mexico.
When he began scrutinizing the cable ties market, Sires found a sector with the potential for major growth.
“It was just an industry that was underserved,” he added. “There was no real market leader.”
Today it’s a much different story, and Sires attributes AEM’s increasing command of the market to several key decisions. At the top of that list is moving his operation to Florida, particularly Crestview, which sits an hour away from AEM’s main supplier, Ascend Performance Materials.
On an annual basis, AEM purchases roughly 6 million pounds of nylon from Ascend to produce its extensive line of cable ties in a variety of colors, lengths and tensile strengths.
Another of those decisions was remaining in Florida when he decided to expand AEM in 2015. Though courted by several states including Alabama and Georgia, Sires stayed put after Crestview city officials, the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, Gov. Rick Scott and Enterprise Florida worked as a team to offer up generous performance-based incentives. That expansion — estimated to have a capital investment of $17 million in the local community — included 25,000 square feet of manufacturing space and a target of 40 new jobs within three years.
A staunch champion of American manufacturing, Sires also was committed to keeping his operations in the United States.
“I think others give up on it too easily, and I have always been convinced that we, in the United States, can compete with anyone,” he said. “It is important because it helps provide jobs, makes people feel good and shows others it can be done.”
To better reflect that overall mission, a few months after the expansion, Sires officially changed the company’s original name of Bay State Cable Ties to American Elite Molding.
“We are an American manufacturing success story, and we wanted our corporate name to reflect that,” he said.
‘Believing in people’
The leadership team includes (from left) Expedito Serrano, chief operating officer; Barbara Mitchell, VP for corporate development; and Don Vargo, customer service manager.
Most critical to that success are AEM’s workers — a belief Sires and his team repeated with gusto when the company was named the medium-sized 2017 Florida Manufacturer of the Year by the Manufacturers Association of Florida.
“It is validation for all the hard work,” he said of the honor, which is based on several criteria including leadership and strategic goals. “We would not be where we are without our employees. It’s certainly not me alone, not us alone. It’s a group effort.”
AEM officially celebrated the award in February with a luncheon and open house that drew business and community leaders as well as state dignitaries.
Speaking at the event, State Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin, told the crowd Sires had managed to fashion far more than a company that sells cable ties.
“When you step through the threshold, you quickly realize it’s not just a company, it’s a family,” Ponder said.
That culture does not exist by accident. It’s a direct result of “treating people with respect and paying people a good wage with full benefits,” Sires said.
At AEM, full-time workers are brought in at $10 an hour and receive benefits that include fully paid health insurance and 401k matching.
“I don’t believe in minimum wage,” Sires said. “I believe in a working wage. … It’s about believing in people.”
He also believes in training employees on the job and promoting from within.
“It all comes down to positive attitude,” Sires said. “Everything else can be learned. … All of our supervisors on the floor started out at the base level and worked their way up.”
The benefit of that practice is cohesion and institutional knowledge.
“Once you find good people, you want to keep them, train them and help them progress,” Sires adds. “We are constantly building better and stronger assets. … We have a common goal, which is to make our company the best it can be.”