MARYSVILLE, Mich. -- Let other companies make headlines about acquisitions within the struggling auto supplier industry.
The executives behind plastics supplier Blue Water Automotive Systems Inc. say they are more interested in the nuts and bolts of creating a successful company that delivers "comfort and convenience" than in getting the news media's attention.
"We're not flashy," President Andy Ridgway said during an interview at one of Blue Water's complex of plants here. "We're flying under the radar."
But even under the radar, the company has started to show it is serious about building a solid business. Blue Water supplies airflow management, interior trim and subsystems, and plastic components.
A New York financial group, KPS Special Situations Fund LP, bought Blue Water a year ago from Sarna Kunststoff Holding AG.
Focused on air
KPS put $7.2 million into an expansion in Marysville. And in May, Blue Water purchased the automotive business of Injectronics Inc., uniting Blue Water's specialties in airflow management with Injectronics' abilities in interior trim. Injectronics is based in Clinton, Mass.
The airflow management niche barely exists today. But Ridgway and Blue Water CEO Al DeVore maintain it is a solid growth area: moving warm and cool air through the passenger compartment in a way that keeps everyone comfortable.
It is not just a matter of forcing air into the passenger area, Ridgway said. The air has to go someplace. Blue Water makes specialized venting systems that provide an exit for the air.
By placing that vent in a specific spot -- and funneling air out of the passenger compartment, through the trunk and out of an "air exhauster" near the wheel well or rear lights -- automakers can control the way air moves through a car.
"It all fits into the general approach of comfort and convenience," Ridgway said. "You'll never notice we're there unless it's not working. It's been taken for granted."
And it is a specialty that few other companies have approached, DeVore said. It cuts across a swath of interior components, not only heating and air conditioning vents but also the changes in air pressure from closing doors or activating airbags.
"It's an area that seems to be a void right now," DeVore said.
The field has few competitors, agreed Kim Korth, president of the Grand Rapids, Mich., consulting group IRN Inc. It is a specialty that still is developing -- and one that feeds into automakers' desires to set their interiors apart from those in other vehicles.
With its acquisition of Injectronics, Blue Water can marry its experience in vent placement with Injectronics' visible and structural interior trim.
"We looked at maybe a dozen companies before deciding on Injectronics," Ridgway said.
"We had to find something with a value proposition that took us strategically in the right direction."
Korth noted that Blue Water, with KPS' support, has the potential to become a key supplier operating in the second or third tier of the industry. The few companies in the industry that are seeing real profits have a combination of products and processes that make them valued businesses, she said.
Blue Water already had the processing capabilities.
Co-injection-molding machines make up a third of its press fleet, Ridgway said. Under the original owners, the Haas family, the company built a reputation as being able to make complex parts, and it is continuing to fine-tune those capabilities.
For example, the first generation of a vent near the taillight for one customer was made of six parts produced in 38 seconds. Now Blue Water has re-engineered the part and the process and just launched production of the next-generation vent using a tool that combines four parts in one 29-second cycle.
Defining a niche
Under its current structure, Blue Water has defined its product niche, one that takes advantage of the engineering and molding experience, Korth said.
"The market trends favor companies that can carve out a niche," she said. "Our belief has been for some time that the tightly focused (Tier) 2s and 3s are the ones that are going to do well."
Blue Water may make more acquisitions, and it is developing its product portfolio and presence, said CEO DeVore. But the company does not feel pressured to make decisions that it one day will regret.
"With KPS, we're stable and well-funded," DeVore said. "We can afford to be more selective. We're looking long term at what is going to benefit Blue Water."
You may e-mail Rhoda Miel at [email protected]