STOW — Esterle Mold and Machine Co. Inc. continues to grow in size and payroll, and with a third generation coming into the family business.
When Adam and Carol Esterle founded Esterle Mold and Machine in 1976, the company had six employees. Thirty years later, in 2006, Esterle employed 67 workers. Today, employees number around 105 and they are still hiring, both skilled and unskilled labor.
Founded in Kent as a designer and maker of pipe-fitting molds, Esterle (pronounced Ester-lee) moved to Commerce Drive in 1978 where they built a 4,800-square-foot headquarters where they branched out into specializing machining, mold building and repair, extrusion tooling and forged tooling and eventually injection molding.
The company’s 20,000-square-foot injection-molding building was erected in the 1990s. In 2015, a 16,000-square-foot addition was built with higher ceilings to make room for a 15-ton crane. This month, the company completed its latest expansion, a 30,000-square-foot addition built between the two productions sites. It houses a 40-ton crane.
“Esterle now controls four buildings totaling 190,000 square feet on Commerce Drive,” said Richard Esterle, president of the company and son of its founders. “The family also owns 14.5 acres fo raw land on Allen Road in Stow for future expansion. It has freeway frontage on Route 8.” He said the land is two parcels purchased 15-20 years ago.
Despite Esterle Mold and Machine’s global presence in plastics, it remains a family owned company. When Adam Esterle retired in 1994, his son, Richard Esterle, became president of the company and his daughter, Kathleen Sawyer, became executive vice president. Sawyer remembers coming to work with her mother when she was 6 years old.
“I used to come in with my mom and open mail and do whatever she asked me to do,” Sawyer said. “I worked here part-time all through college. I’ve been full time ever since [graduating from college].”
Sawyer said more women than ever before are finding jobs in manufacturing, and the Esterle company has more women working as machinists than it has in the past. “Which is a good thing,” she said. “Part of our business plan is to continue doing that.”
Sawyer said she would advise women seeking employment in the manufacturing field, either in the shop or front offices, “Be strong. Leave your emotions out of it. Lead by example.”
“Women are getting better and better at leadership skills,” Richard Esterle said, adding he had a female customer who was asking if he had completed a job for her. Before he could finish explaining why it wasn’t ready, she stopped him and said she didn’t know a good excuse from a bad excuse, she just wanted her job.
“I think that’s how women are nowadays. Maybe they don’t know the ins and outs of the business, but they now how manage,” he said. “Men take to that when a woman shows good leadership.”
Sawyer said she would tell women in leader positions to “empower your team and strive to be the same leader every day … consistent leadership.”
Richard said he and his sister work well together. “We complement each other,” he said. “We have good checks and balances. I’m sales and marketing. It lands on my plate, in a sense. What’s in the shops, I’ve got to answer to the customers if they pin me down, but I’m also out there looking for what we don’t have yet; how to grow. And Kathy’s a good sounding board.”
Richard Estelle’s son, Ryan, is the company’s warehouse manager and his daughter, Andrea, is in human resources. He has another son who may come to work here, as well, he said. Sawyer’s daughter, Aubrey, works here in sales and marketing.
Their company is a single source for plastic injection molded parts. “We design and build the tools, repair them, and we can run the parts,” Esterle said. “We’re expanding to increase our capacity for size. We can do very small work up to very large, and we’re doing that by design.”
According to Esterle, the bigger the parts the less competition there is to make them. Logistically, he said, you can’t ship plastics parts very far because “you’re shipping a lot of air, lots of times.” Esterle said his company is known worldwide for its design and build of pipe-fitting molds. “There’s only a handful of companies in the world that are competitive at it,” he said.
Because pipe-fitting molds don’t expire and last a long time, the Esterle company diversified and got into the forging, sheening, die work, extrusion tooling and then, in the early 1990s, injection molding. As an example of what his company is making today, Richard Esterle brought into the conference room from the warehouse a 5-gallon plastic painter’s bucket with a wire handle.
“It’s good quality, made in America and they’re selling the lights out of this,” he said. “But the painters complained the paint dried out when they went to lunch. So the client came to Esterle again and asked, ‘Can you make a lid?’” Esterle said yes, and his designers came up with an 18-inch lid that covers the entire bucket and doubles as a paint tray. Esterle also makes an 8-inch partial-lid.
“We did the product development, we design and build the molds and we do the production,” he said. “And we maintain the tooling. All here within two buildings next to each other. That’s huge." Esterle said this is an important job for his company because it employs every department from start to finish.
In addition to these industrial size and strength paint buckets, Esterle makes weatherproof plastic stadium seats. You may have sat on their handiwork while attending outdoor sporting events in the stadiums of Stow-Munroe Falls High School or Kent Roosevelt High School. These seats are manufactured under Esterle’s “Tuf-brand” line of products. In addition to Tuf seats, Esterle makes Tuf trays used in commercial bakeries.
Reporter Steve Wiandt can be reached at 330-541-9420, email@example.com @SteveWiandt_RPC.