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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 7, 2017 5 years ago

Open Door

A niche manufacturer expects a 40% increase in sales this year. It's even paying overtime again.
by: Ted Carter Contributing Writer

Like most owners of small businesses, Gulf Contours Inc. owners Jerry and Janet Goin let the good times carry the load.

This is one of those times at the mom-and-pop shop situated inside Punta Gorda Airport on Golf Course Boulevard. The company expects $2 million in revenue this year, a 40% increase from 2016, and has become a one-of-a-kind shop in Southwest Florida, the owners say.

“When I looked at what we did in the last four months of the year, we were literally doubled over the same months” in 2015, Jerry Goin says.

The reason, he says, is a growing volume of orders for vinyl thermofoil wrapped cabinet doors and countertops for motorhomes and conventional homes, tabletops for restaurants and a variety of fixtures for retail shops and other commercial buildings.
And much to the liking of his slightly more than half-dozen employees, overtime is back.

They do their work on sophisticated machinery the Goins installed after Hurricane Charley destroyed their shop in 2004. Together, a pair of numerically controlled, or CNC, routers and a multistep vacuum press represent close to $1 million in hardware.

The twin, computer-guided routers use100% diamond truing to cut patterns on medium-density fiberboard. Ultra-powerful vacuums hold the board in place as the diamond cuts the design.

The press is especially prized, Jerry Goin says, because it applies heat, vacuum and positive pressure sufficient to activate applied adhesive and make the vinyl pliable enough to form on the contours of the composite board fashioned by the routers.

“A press that uses only vacuum to form the vinyl is used by many of our competitors and cannot give the definition and quality that our multistep press gives,” he says.

Through the coding skills of Paul Nims, vice president of operations, “those machines back there can literally do everything our computers tell them to do,” Goin says.

New Year's rebound

In the slow, dusty days of the recession, demand for Gulf Contours' products dropped in proportion to steep declines in sales of new homes, restaurant furnishings and luxury motor homes.

The recession's end brought a rise in business but valleys remained, including the 18 months leading to the start of 2016.

The pace picked up significantly with New Year's greetings from Red Bay, Ala., home of Tiffin Motorhomes. Tiffin returned to Gulf Contours to make its cabinet doors covers and countertops after going with a lower bidder for half of 2014 and all of 2015.

“This is a great account,” says Goin, a former Michigan commercial insurance consultant who started the business in 1998 and persuaded wife, Janet, in 2013 to come out of retirement for a marketing role.

Tiffin makes the Allegro recreational vehicles and RV buses and several other models of high-end motor homes. New ones retail for more than $600,000.

That first year back with Tiffin ended with an invitation to supply the scratch-resistant cabinet door coverings for the 2018 Allegro models as well as the new Wayfarer RV.

Light weight material is a holy grail of sorts in building motorhomes. In its return as a contractor for Tiffin, Gulf Contours replaced its one-eighth-inch thick, 4-pound fiberboard with a board equally as thick but weighing in at 3 pounds a square foot, Goin says.

Tiffin liked the price and everything else, he adds.

“It's good stuff,” says Trent Tiffin of the Tiffin marketing department. “We like what we are using right now.”

Today, when Jerry and Janet Goin visit an RV trade show, they are not entirely strangers to exhibitors. At a recent show, Jerry Goin says, “We got a lot of referrals from the materials manufacturers. They sell to the motorhome guys. Now they have to find somebody who can supply them with the finished product. That is where we come in.”

Gulf Contours, he says, has become a “one-stop shop” that starts with a computerized design code from the RV manufacturer and ends with a finished vinyl-wrapped product. When asked, Gulf Contours can provide an RV maker, homebuilder or cabinet retailer the “box,” or framework that secures to the wall and to which doors and drawers are attached, Goin notes.
Airstream and Keystone, North America's top RV maker, are interested in working with Gulf Contours, Goin says. “We're starting to open the door. I think it's because we have a longstanding relationship with some of the big boys.”

Right now, the big boys will notice any vendor that can help to speed up manufacturing, says Ron Bloom, spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.

“The industry is running pretty close to full capacity right now.” Bloom says. “Anything they could do make the process more efficient will get the attention of RV makers.”

Own the region

On a more local basis, Goin says his company's trade zone stretches from Tampa to Marco Island and east to Moore Haven. “Go over to Monty's Restaurant and Pizzeria (an eatery in Punta Gorda). The tables in there are ours,” he says.

“Go to the Best Western in Venice. The wet bar tables and bathroom vanities are all ours,” he adds.

Lakeland-based Crisper's restaurants put Gulf Contours tables in its several dozen locations across Florida. More recently, an LA Fitness in Sarasota installed 6,800 linear feet of the company's fixtures in a new center, Goin says. “That is opening up a whole new door for us.”

Gulf Contours regional wholesale customers include cabinet companies in Englewood and Fort Myers as well as a large retirement community in Fort Myers, Goin says.

But as a Detroiter, Goin is especially proud of having provided Ford Motor Co. vinyl covering materials for kiosk displays in more than 2,600 dealerships. An equal source of pride, Goin says, is the use of Gulf Contours' materials in the display area for one of President John F. Kennedy's Lincoln limousines at the Henry Ford Museum.

Bigger and better

The pride the Goins have now over the business was tears 13 years ago.

That's when, on a trip to Michigan, the couple switched on CNN for a report on Hurricane Charley. They saw their flattened shop across from the Charlotte County Sheriff's headquarters, where a press conference was underway.

“It was devastating to see what happened to our community,” Janet Goin says, noting she supported her husband's determination to rebuild bigger and better. “We were up and running within 90 days. We were able to help the community rebuild by supplying their doors,” she says.

It would still be nearly 10 years before Janet, who had retired as a registered nurse, would agree to join Gulf Contours full time for a few months. “Here it is five years later,” she says.

But in those years, Jerry Goin says, she transformed the company's scope of work.

Gulf Contours used 10 colors in its materials when she joined the firm. “We sold mostly white,” Janet Goin says. “Now we're up to close to 200 colors and textures we can offer our customers. Bringing in all these different colors opened the door to do other things, like decorative wall panels.”

One reason she can't return to retirement, she says, is that Jerry has never been a colors guy. “Jerry has a problem finding what color of socks to wear in the morning. We look at things in a whole different way.”

Jerry Goin says with good times having arrived, now might be the time to sell and go into his third retirement.

But for now, he'll stick to the job description Janet Goin gave him. “I'm the door opener and he is the closer,” she says.

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