SOUTH BEND -- FDC Graphic Films Inc. is on a roll.
The firm, which streamlined during the Great Recession, has emerged in a strong market position, attracting customers with one-day shipping and added product lines.
It also just completed a 60,000-square-foot expansion that triples the size of its building on William Richardson Drive.
FDC is a vinyl converter for the sign industry, buying large rolls from such companies as Avery and 3M and cutting them to make smaller rolls that they sell to distributors who in turn sell to sign shops.
Volume has soared in the last two years, with the high-productivity organization working two full shifts and adding new workers to its work force of 70. Its success won FDC recognition as a Company to Watch from the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
This is a far cry from several years ago, when demand dropped during the economic downturn, with companies cutting back on advertising and signs as their sales slumped.
"A lot of our customer base, some of them were down double digits," said founder Judy Eck. "We were down single digits. Each manager looked at their area, and we examined every line item. We've gained a lot of efficiency."
"We made some appropriate moves to position ourselves a little bit better in that marketplace."
Part of the reason customers choose FDC is because its reliable next-day delivery, enhanced by South Bend's strategic location, means they can carry less inventory.
"Our business model is conducive to this kind of a market where people are looking to lean down their inventory because we ship same day," Eck said. "They can have it tomorrow."
FDC Graphics, started in a suburban Chicago basement in 1988 and moved to South Bend in 1995 after Eck met then-Mayor Joe Kernan at a baseball game and enjoyed an eager welcome after less cooperation in other states.
The company built a 20,000-square-foot building on William Richardson Drive and brought 22 workers from Chicago, including Andrew Nussel, vice president of purchasing and information technology.
Nussel said the industry has evolved, adopting wider-web and replacing vinyl lettering with digital printing nearly a decade ago and calling for cleaner, fingerprint-free products so that ink will adhere.
"Recently we've added heat transfer textile stuff, which is another market that will cross over into crafts and things," he said.
Chris Tucker, the operations manager, said FDC ships both to distributors and directly to distributors' customers, mostly in North America.
"We've gained ground with a number of stocking distributors," he said. "We've brought on new product lines and new customers. They've also come to the realization that the drop-ship program is fantastic.
"It's increased exponentially in both areas. We're always trying to diversify and gain another foothold in another area."
The company, which also produces for other brand names, is increasing the focus on its own brand with a new marketing campaign and website.
Company officials said cooperation among the employees helped the company weather the downturn. Workers in two-income homes offered to cut hours to avoid layoffs for others, and the customer service and accounting departments went to four-day work weeks.
"When the increase started coming, we had trained personnel," Tucker said. "We were able to react to the upswing. We have a really good core group of people. A lot of our lead people in the shop have been here a long time."