On the threshold of its 70th successful year in business, Cope Plastics, Inc. continues to build its reputation as an industry leader, a key employer, and a business highly respected for its green initiatives and environmental stewardship.
Headquartered in Alton, located along the Mississippi River in Madison County, Illinois, Cope Plastics has grown over the years from a small home-based business to a nationally known employer. With 17 locations and a staff of 380, including sales, engineers, programmers, machinists, operators, accounting, HR, IT, finance, purchasing, marketing and more, Cope Plastics remains a proud, family-owned and operated business serving a variety of sectors.
Founded by husband and wife team Dwight and Mozelle Cope, the company got its start in the basement of their St. Louis home back in 1946. A teacher, Dwight had worked in distribution at another company, Plastics Parts and Sales, which he and Mozelle purchased. From their cellar, the couple made many small items out of clear acrylic material – mainly for hobbyists and school industrial art departments, such as craft items, pen holders, bookends, lamps, and lighters. The coming years would see plastics being used more and more, with the company devoting more of itself to the distribution of plastics to industry, with items such as flat sheets, tubes, and rods.
With increasing demand came the need for more space. In 1958, Cope Plastics relocated from St. Louis to Alton, Illinois, purchasing a small facility. In a brief time, demand for plastics increased to the point where the company opened several branch warehouses and sales offices to keep up with requests from customers. Soon, industrial clients requested fabrication of finished components, including drilled holes, machining, and plastic parts cut-to-size. Along with requirements for sheets of plastic, there was a need for fabricated, finished parts and the distribution of semi-finished materials.
“A local provider of plastics was very important back then, because of shipping,” says Jane Saale. “Transportation has come a long way since then, but basically if you weren’t in that town, you couldn’t distribute across a couple of states – they wanted it right then and there – so that’s how that philosophy of the branch locations came about.”
As Chief Executive Officer and President and shareholder, Saale represents the latest generation of the family-led business. The working owners include Saale and her two sisters, Cindy Smalley – who serves as the company’s Director of Marketing & Communications and Roxanne Wittman – who serves as the Director of Finance. In addition, Cope Plastics is owned by two other women; another sister, Donna Rintoul, their mother, Sharilyn Beem (the major shareholder) and their father, Don Beem – who are Dwight and Mozelle’s daughter and son-in-law. Starting off in outside sales and working her way up to chief financial officer, Saale has served as the company’s President/CEO for the past 11 years. The company was certified about three years ago by the National Women Business Owners Corporation, the NWBOC having led the way for women business owners to obtain WBE (Woman Business Enterprise) Certification for the past 20 years. Together, the family members represent over 200 years of plastics industry experience.
Working with virtually every industry
With extensive fabrication capabilities, experienced design assistance, multiple distribution points, and a commitment to quality, Cope continues to provide plastics solutions for a range of sectors. From distribution to custom fabrication, the company is able to provide its many customers with plastic sheet, rod, tube, acrylics, engineering plastics, polycarbonates, and many other materials for numerous uses and applications. With a list that could literally fill an encyclopedia, plastics are everywhere, and their use continues to grow.
“Basically, plastics touch every industry,” says Saale, “but the industries that we serve and have a heavier focus include agricultural, heavy equipment, fluid handling, aerospace, oil and gas, point of purchase, medical, and energy. There are at least 24 markets.” Many of the company’s products find their way into items we see or use on a regular basis. For airports, Cope Plastics products are used in the manufacture of the acrylic enclosures seen around full body scanners and plates used to stand on at security check-in stations. In grocery stores, the company’s molded products are made into plastic food display bins. And for persons missing a limb, the company regularly sells plastic sheets, which prosthetic companies then mold into an arm or leg to meet the needs of the recipient.
Just as important to the company as quality is forming strong, long-term relationships with all its corporate partners. With the company motto, “Your Vision, Our Quality, One Partnership,” Cope Plastics takes pride in its abilities to meet all customer needs, including consistent, long-term supply of materials, creating solutions, working on prototypes, research and development, and a great deal more. With a corporate office of approximately 180,000 square feet, a secondary fabrication facility in Cedar Rapids Iowa of about 20,000 square feet, and 17 sales/warehouse locations ranging from 8,000 to 15,000 square feet, the company works to optimize strategic cost management, electronic data interchange (EDI), supplies chain partnering, and is ISO 9001:2008 certified.
“Not only does ISO certification help with getting new customers – they require it – but it also make our business processes better,” comments Smalley. “Basically, we do what we say we do, and that is basically what ISO says: tell us what you do, and then do it. And we follow our own QMS that we developed.” Refusing to compromise on quality, Cope Plastics equipment includes state-of-the-art CNC machinery, which works within extremely tight tolerances to produce high quality machined/fabricated parts. Through the company’s ISO 9001:2008 certification, the Cope Quality Assurance Program ensures satisfaction. “From the receiving process through requirement specifications and first article inspections, each phase of material handling or fabrication/machining is closely monitored, reflecting the Cope commitment to quality and performance,” says the company’s website, https://www.copeplastics.com/.
With dedicated fabrication facilities and highly trained staff including machinists, Cope Plastics remains focused on the success of its customers as it creates solutions to help their businesses become more cost-effective, flexible, and efficient. Operating nationwide, Cope will sometimes send materials or fabricated parts outside of the United States. In addition, the company also has sales people located strategically throughout the country selling fabricated, value-added parts, “which is our five-year and longer plan – to grow our value-added parts, expand that, and expand geographically into other states,” says Saale.
Although some industries are feeling the pinch from offshore competition, the team at Cope Plastics knows that many firms who moved outside the U.S. have come back. “We don’t feel that is as big of a threat as we did several years ago,” comments Smalley. “And because we are so specialized, you really have to have the knowledge and the expertise and the people who know how to engineer and run the machines… [our competitors] don’t have what we have. We are special in our industry. We are the largest distributor and fabricator in the nation that I know of, doing what we do. There are larger distributors – we are in the Top 10 – but they don’t have the value-added fabrication capabilities and facilities that we have.”
Key environmental initiatives
Well-known in the industry for its commitment to a cleaner, greener planet, the company has been recognized by the International Association of Plastics Distribution (IAPD) for having the Best Recycling Program and Most Innovative Environmental Program. In addition, Cope Plastics has introduced a new and improved “Customer Recycling Program” to further its objectives of keeping plastics out of landfills while supporting social responsibility goals and providing value added services for customers which, the company believes, “will ultimately make a difference in the future of plastics.”
A veteran of recycling for over two decades, the company made another huge leap forward when it established its solar-powered processing center in 2012, which sees Cope recycle 90 percent of the materials used in its business processes, including cardboard, paper, oil, metal, and even electronics.
“We have been recognized through our trade association several years in a row for having the most innovative, the most creative, the best recycling program,” says Saale. “We started that about four years ago. We didn’t think it would pay for itself, but after the second year it did, and it actually makes money now, which is amazing. People think of recycling and the cost, but it actually can be a money producer.” In addition to being able to properly remove remnants and increase environmental sustainability, the company’s separate green building – which is equipped with solar-powered panel skylights – uses little electricity, and what is left over goes back into the grid for credit.
Next year marks the 70th anniversary of Cope Plastics, which will see the company host a large company picnic complete with tents, tours of the facility, a BBQ, presentations and more. Looking toward the future and best serving the needs of its customers, Cope is growing the value-add part of the company, and plans to keep up with the latest technologies as the company expands into other states. Recently, Cope Plastics made its first acquisition with the purchase of a screw machine company in Wisconsin to add to its capabilities.
“We look at diversifying our portfolio,” states Saale. “We want to maintain our cutting-edge technology. We want to provide and be the best application/solution provider out there in plastics. That is our vision, our plan for now and that’s where we are headed.”