Rising to the Challenge

Complex Chemical Company
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

Complex Chemical Company manufactures antifreeze, viscosity modifiers for lube oils, brake fluids & components, and Glycols. The Tallulah, Louisiana based business produces products for numerous regional, national, and international customers, including a number of well-known Fortune 500 companies.
With 115 dedicated employees and a plant that covers 15 acres, boasts five million gallons of storage capacity, and has a state-of-the-art testing lab, Complex is well prepared to handle the needs of the most challenging customer.

The family-run company relies on several key strategies to edge out the big corporate competition. “Our primary advantage that we offer over large companies, and many of our competitors, is our quick turnaround response time and customer service,” says Sales & Marketing Vice President Travis Melton. “We are flexible [when it comes] to meeting the customer’s needs, being willing to make exceptions when necessary.” The team partners with their customers, working together to figure out the most economical solution. “If we see a way that we can save them some money by making the process more efficient, we will offer that [option] to them.”

A commitment to quality also sets Complex apart. This means that customers may not always get the lowest price out there, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. “To be the cheapest normally means that you have to cut corners somewhere,” Travis points out. “We are not necessarily the cheapest, but we do believe that we will offer the most return on your investment.” An internal lab verifies quality, ensuring consistency of product. “We do our own testing on our material. We check each truck and rail car load of material before it goes out to make sure it is up to specification.”

Jerry Melton along with a partner launched Complex back in 1974 – and is still at the helm today. Travis, his son, plans to take over the company in the future. “There is a plan in place to transfer from the first generation to the second,” he says. A “very competent management team” will help make the transition successful, as will Travis’ extensive experience; he had to work his way up to management in order to learn the ins and outs of the business. “It was important that I spent time in the back of the plant as an operator, learning how things work so that I would have the knowledge and the experience I need to understand what is going on within Complex and make the best decisions.”

The Meltons have cultivated a family-like atmosphere and a company culture that values every employee. “We give a lot of credit for Complex’s success to all the employees, not just to the management,” Travis insists. “We try to stress to our employees that everyone’s job is important and that everyone’s job matters. It doesn’t matter if you are at the bottom of the ladder or all the way at the top, everybody needs to be willing to work as a team [and] they should have pride in the company they work for.” The team rewards hard work through performance bonuses and shows their appreciation through company sponsored events. “We do two cookouts a year to remind them how valuable they are to us.”

Integrity and reliability are also key company values. “We operate with high standards for quality and are straightforward and honest in our dealings. We believe in long term relationships with our customers.” A positive, can-do attitude is another important aspect of the company culture. This attitude really came into play when Complex took a direct hit from a tornado – and the team managed to overcome the disaster.

On April 24th, 2010 an EF-3 tornado roared through the Complex facility, flattening buildings and hurling debris. Thankfully the tornado hit on a Saturday, so only 12 employees were at work, all of whom escaped serious injury or death. The facility suffered severe damage, however; all warehouses and offices were almost completely destroyed, the electrical infrastructure was completely destroyed, and the piping system was severely damaged. Seven tanks were toppled, several railcars flipped over, and countless items were lost. Rubble and twisted metal littered the site. Spilled liquids lay in massive puddles where buildings had once stood.

Fortunately, the spill prevention system came through and no materials escaped the confines of the plant. And, that wasn’t the only good news. “We had a few things that worked in our favor,” Travis recalls. The central server containing all of the business records made it through, as did many crucial files. In addition, the laboratory, heaters, and all eleven processing units sustained little to no damage.

Shutting down temporarily – or even permanently – seemed the logical course of action. But the team refused. “We made the decision very early on that even though we had adequate damage insurance and business interruption insurance we would reopen as soon as possible.” The team knew that if customers were forced to go to other manufacturers, there was no guarantee they would ever return. “We were afraid they wouldn’t come back to us and there would be no point in rebuilding the plant if we didn’t have customers to come back to us. So we were very quick to bring back the plant.”

The team hauled in generators to get the equipment running again. Employees worked around the damage, taking care to maintain strict safety standards within the challenging environment. “We took proper safety precautions; we had safety meetings every morning,” Travis remembers. The results were phenomenal. “We were able to start producing a fair amount of product within 15 days. Within 90 days the plant was running at 95% capacity. During that time none of our employees missed a single paycheck and we were able to fill between 80% and 90% of the orders that were in house before the tornado. We shocked a lot of folks. When they saw the initial photos, most of our customers didn’t think we would be up and running for a year.”

The Meltons refuse to take the credit for the remarkable comeback. “We are very proud of our employees. We give our employees and the Good Lord all the credit for the success we had in the rebuilding effort. We also deeply appreciate all our customers that had the patience to wait [while the company rebuilt].”

Despite the obvious challenges, Travis points out that there have been some clear positives to the near-tragedy. “As difficult a struggle as it was to recover from, it allowed us to modernize and rebuild sections of the plant in a more effective manner so after the rebuilding process Complex Chemical has a much more modern [facility].”

The team also gained some crucial knowledge from the experience. “We learned a couple of major lessons from the tornado that we feel all companies could benefit from,” Travis says. “Number one, have more than one professional specialist thoroughly examine your insurance policy to make sure that you have the coverage that you think you have because there could easily be some fine print that you don’t know about.”

Keeping this policy up to date is also critical. “Review your insurance policy every year and consider the fact that it needs to be updated every couple of years because the replacement cost of equipment becomes more expensive as time goes on. And as government regulations become stricter, you may not be allowed to rebuild things that were grandfathered in in the same manner. You may have to rebuild in a more costly, timely procedure. So make sure you have enough insurance, not to cover what it originally cost to build it, but what it would cost to replace it. Fortunately we had the coverage that we needed. Otherwise we might have been in big trouble ourselves.”

Travis also recommends having a plan in place to maintain production even if your facility becomes inoperable. “Work out a strategy on having alternative companies that could produce your products for you in the event that you suffered a catastrophic event.”

Now that Complex is fully recovered from the tornado, the team is looking to the next company milestone. “Dad and I are doing our best to make sure the second generation will continue to build on what the first generation has done,” Travis remarks. When the reins pass from father to son, the team is committed to keeping the core company values intact. “Complex will remain the same company that they [customers] are accustomed to doing business with. They will continue to get the same level of customer service, the same level of quality, the same attitude of partnership. We consider all our dealings to be long term investments that are going to last.”



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