An oft-heard phrase along the lakeshore is that, “It’s always cooler by the lake.” Oostburg-based Dutchland Plastics is adding to the chill.
With more than 500 rotational molders in the world, Dutchland has earned a place in the top five in North America for its products, particularly a deep-freeze cooler and kayaks.
So where does all of that success come from? Daven Claerbout, the director of business development
for Dutchland, says it starts with the people.
“By the end of the day, it’s about our employees. They are the key to our success,” Claerbout says. “We are known by our products, and we are powered by our people. That has been our motto from day one.”
Currently, the company employs 240 people who live mostly within a 20-mile radius. As dedicated as Dutchland is to its products, the company strives to find employees who are dedicated to the work they do. Based on employee tenure, that business mold has shown to be a great success.
Dave Ott, operations manager with Wausau Tile, has worked closely with Dutchland over the years and says its status in the rotational molding industry has not hindered the time spent to help others.
“They are a great partner in this business with great people to work with,” Ott says. “If we run into a problem that we cannot find a solution for, we always go to them.”
Claerbout says one employee celebrated his 43rd anniversary with the company, and notes several others are in their 30th and 40th year of employment with Dutchland. Every Friday, workers are encouraged to wear the color red, to show respect for U.S. troops serving in the military. Jack VanEss, who has been the shipping and receiving manager at Dutchland Plastics for 30 years, says he wears red every week.
“It brings you back to your roots, and oftentimes, you get lost in your own job and forget about those whose job it is to serve our country,” VanEss says.
While touring the plant, the smiles on the faces of the employees are noticeable. Claerbout says the most important thing is to make sure the employee is happy because that, in turn, affects the products they produce. It’s not surprising that a focal point in Claerbout’s office is a sign that reads, “Life is better, when you’re laughing.”
By the end of this year, the company is expected to have just under $40 million in total sales. One of the biggest contributing factors to this number is their client, YETI.
Whether it’s hunting, boating, fishing or simply tailgating, YETI provides a cooler that is as rugged as the outdoors. The coolers can keep items frozen up to 48 hours.
Claerbout says the durability of these coolers is due to the fact that they are made via rotational molding. This process has even earned the cooler a title of being “grizzly-proof.” There are no seams in the body of the cooler where plastic would be fused together, which reduces the risk of air getting in or escaping the cooler.
The entire process starts with a mold that is filled with a powdered plastic material such as polyethylene. The product then rotates in an oven where the plastic melts and takes the form of the mold. Each cooler takes about one hour to make. It then goes to an assembly line, where employees install accessories such as hinges, handles and latches.
“Not only do we make the actual cooler, but we assemble and ship the product directly from this plant,” Claerbout says.
Rotational molding drawbacks
Dutchland Plastics produces larger products that often pose a problem when it comes to shipping, such as kayaks. Claerbout says one of the biggest limitations rotational molding has is freight, since a lot of the parts are larger and hollow. For example, about only 130 kayaks can fit on a trailer, which isn’t a lot when it comes to shipping.
As a way around this, Dutchland came up with a way to fight the freight issue and to keep jobs in-house.
“A big part of what we do is considered complete turnaround. For example, we make the kayak, assemble the accessories, wrap it, and when an order comes in, we ship it directly to that person,” Claerbout says.
Dutchland prides itself on innovation and last year, the company was awarded two of the highest awards from the Association of Rotational Molders for a roof made for Polaris ATVs.
The company introduced a roof for the Polaris RZR off-road vehicle that houses speakers for an audio system. While a standard Polaris roof is manufactured from steel, the company says the plastic roof provides high impact protection for passengers. The hollow rotomolded feature holds three LED light bars, tailights, and the integrated audio package.
The products Dutchland produces carry a “wow” factor among its employees, which is also credited to a higher employee satisfaction.
“By the end of the day, it’s about our employees who are essentially the key to our success,” Claerbout says. “They really like to get to know a lot about the products, and this knowledge is what leads them to do such a great job.”