DeSoto Acrylics firm creates ‘invisible’ products of support

Published 5:34 pm Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Steiner Plastics products sit throughout retail stores in plain view and yet they are nearly invisible to the thousands of shoppers buying for Christmas.

The Olive Branch company’s clear acrylic products hold up signs advertising “30 percent off,” and hawk shirts with the lure, “Buy two, get one free.”

John Steiner, 44, of Lake Cormorant, started the business with his father, Bob, who died in June. He doesn’t mind his products being an unperceived part of the shopping experience.

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“You don’t really pay attention to what’s holding these signs,” he said, “but I know what my product’s for — to display other people’s product.”

Almost all the Steiner acrylic fabrications — Plexiglass is the trade name — are custom made. The company, unable to compete with China’s price for volume, caters to companies needing smaller orders, under 500 pieces.

Designing the pieces to the needs of the customer, Steiner and his employees also create jewelry displays, shoe stands, brochure and business card holders and bank deposit slip holders.

He also creates the “jigs” to hold pieces together while they are being assembled.

He’s humble about his ability.

“I guess you could call it an invention,” he said at the suggestion that he’s an inventor. “You put your heads together. It’s not rocket science.”

The Christmas rush is over for Steiner Plastics, but the team has been busy filling other orders recently. Steiner and Melissa Nesmith, Steiner’s plant manager, worked on an in-store display holder.

Standing two 8-by-11 pieces of acrylic sheets together, Steiner squeezed a syringe of quick-drying, super-strong glue along the ends. After a few minutes in the jig, he loosed the glued piece and handed it to Nesmith.

She attached circular rubber feet to the bottoms, ensuring the piece wouldn’t slide. Each finished piece weighed almost 3 pounds.

Moving to another project, Nesmith fired up the outlet to a hydrogen/oxygen mixture. She turned the 1,200-degree flame onto the ends of squares of acrylic to melt rough edges and create smooth surfaces.

An employee for four years, she uses her opportunity to comment to praise her boss.

“He is the fairest, most honest person I have ever worked for,” Nesmith said. “Anytime we’ve needed time for our families, he’s said go ahead and go take care of it.”

For Steiner, a husband and a father of four, family has figured pivotal in his life.

He was a recent high school graduate the summer of 1982 when he told his father pool-side that he’d like to follow him into the plastics business.

Bob Steiner had been in plastics since the 1960s. As a youth, the younger Steiner had worked with his father. Now he was deciding to make it a permanent career.

Steiner Plastics opened that year. A decade later, the family moved it to Olive Branch to relocate from the Memphis International Airport buyout area.

The Olive Branch industrial park seemed to have what Steiner Plastics needed — for one, easy passage for truck lines.

“I would never go back to Memphis,” said Steiner from the plant at 8805 Cypress Woods. “I love it down here.”

The company employs four full-time workers, including Steiner, three part-time workers and the occasional group of temporaries.

While about 40 percent of the business is acrylic fabrication, about 30 percent is vacuum forming. The process entails a vacuum-forming machine helping to create plastic parts from molds.

Steiner Plastics makes a back rest for Harley Davidson motorcycles using this process.

Like the in-store displays, the back rests aren’t so obvious. They are upholstered and bolted to the remainder of the bike. Unseen. Imperceptible.

That’s OK to Steiner. He’s happy quietly providing for his family and employees.

“We’re not just making tons and tons of money, but we’re making a living. If I’d wanted to be a millionaire, I would have done something else. We built this together,” he said, referring to his father. “I’d love to see one of my sons or daughters take over.”