New Leader Reshapes Business at Shapes Unlimited Inc.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — When the owner of a company dies, the transition to new ownership is never easy. Shapes Unlimited Inc., a distributor of custom aluminum extrusions for the vinyl window and ornamental fence industries, not only faced the challenge, but positioned itself for future growth, its new president says.
John Sullivan founded Shapes Unlimited in 1996 and owned it until his death in March 2015. The Sullivan family retained ownership and gradually assembled a new leadership team to manage the business at 590 E. Western Reserve Road.
“The family is taking a long-term outlook, so the leadership is trying to make the best possible decisions to increase market share and expand our product offerings,” says the company’s vice president and long-time chief financial officer, Jack Colonna.
To that end, the family established an advisory board and, working with Colonna, began a search for a new president. They hired Steve Gruver, who recently sold his ownership in a Wisconsin-based Orchid International after 25 years as its CEO and co-founder.
Steve Gruver is the new president of Shapes Unlimited Inc.
The management transition coincided with substantial capital investments. In the fabrication area, new specialized tooling was purchased and automated punch press equipment was installed, allowing finished parts to be produced in a single operation rather than multiple labor-intensive setups as previously required.
“We streamlined our workflow and eliminated excessive handling, which was causing product damage,” Gruver says. “The department now runs more efficiently and has the capacity to handle larger volumes of work with faster lead times and improved quality. The improvements have already translated into greater quality assurance and rapid order fulfillment for our customers, with more than 70% reduction in product returns over the last two years.”
Other capital investments included the implementation of NetSuite, a cloud-based software system that monitors inventory in real-time and automates the customer workflow process. The software includes a CRM (customer relationship management) module to manage customer information and communication.
Shapes Unlimited also invested in new staff to handle sales increases, Gruver continues. In addition to hiring an inside sales manager, Shapes brought on customer service managers for its fencing and window extrusion programs. That means better service and faster response, he adds, which puts the company in a position to reach into new markets.
“We have a growing customer base in the southeast, but the freight cost from Ohio to those states is very expensive,” he says. “So, it makes sense to have a southeast location to service those customers.”
Gruver emphasizes that a southeast location would be an expansion, not a move. Shapes Unlimited has a strong customer base in the northern part of the country. “Youngstown is very central to that customer base, making it an ideal location to service those customers. A southeast location would only serve the growing market,” he says.
Shapes Unlimited employs 50 full-time. Gruver says the company’s greatest strength is its team but also attributes growth to the Sullivan family recapitalizing the business and the re-launch of customized guaranteed stocking programs.
“We expected things to start happening over the next few years, but we are pleasantly surprised to see an immediate positive market response to our upgrades,” he says. “Two years on, Shapes has a new vision, strategy and financial strength to make it a reality that John Sullivan would have been proud of.”