Ames Textile, a supplier of twisted manmade filament yarn, was “holding its own” and somehow still in the black in 2012. But the company was down to 12 employees and had seen better days, according to Jennifer Lucas, administrative manager.
That’s when Quebec, Canada-based 3A Throwing, owned by Richard Mercier, saw an opportunity to expand into the U.S. by purchasing the company, which traces its roots to 1865 in Lowell, Mass. And thanks in large part to 3A’s financial investment and resource infusion, Ames is thriving today in this small Virginia mountain town, she added.
“When 3A Throwing purchased us, we had only half the machines producing single end twisted products,” said Lucas, who joined the company upon startup 25 years ago and worked her way up to become a vital part of the Ames’ management team.
Since the acquisition, Ames has expended its offerings with filament plied and cabled yarns ranging from 20 denier to 100K denier products. By the end of Q1 2020, Ames will again expand into spun twisted products providing the market with a full complement of twisted textile products. This includes the ability to twist spuns and filaments together.
The company has grown to around 50 employees on three shifts, and capabilities have expanded. Its 77,000-square-foot facility twists all manmade fibers in multiple plies on modern, 2-for-1 up-twisters in climate-controlled conditions.
Today, Ames Textiles operates as the Synthetic Yarns Division of 3A Throwing and, by producing in the U.S., qualifies as a Berry Amendment contractor and can offer made-in-America products to companies requiring or requesting that offering. With the additional equipment, the company is able to provide twisting, doubling, cabling, winding and autoclaving services to the woven-label industry, hook and loop manufacturers, seat belt weavers and other specialty end-use customers.
“Products have been added to our capabilities,” said Mack McCarter, general manager of Operation & Sales. “If we continued with the same product line that was here when 3A Throwing purchased us, we would find it hard to compete or be in business. We went from running a couple of products in 90 denier in different colors, all for label yarn, to now around 100 SKUs. So diversification has been the key to remaining a supplier or non-commodity products.”
In just the last two years, Ames has doubled its production capacity, adding machinery and cross-training employees, said Plant Manager Mario Laframboise. And the company is adding more capacity that will enable the twisting of spun yarns in a project expected to be completed by mid-March, McCarter said.
In conjunction with 3A Throwing and its other affiliate, SMI for specialty sewing threads, the company offers yarns and threads in many end-product applications, including industrial filtration, wire and cable, fire hoses, industrial hoses, industrial belting, seat belts, industrial sewing threads, narrow fabrics, pulp and paper, hook and loop, medical, upholstery, woven labels, bedding, flame-resistant products and more.
Given those attributes, that makes 3A Throwing and its affiliates the largest filament yarn twister in North America, McCarter said.
The plant runs multiple raw materials, including nylon, polyester, polypropylene, acetate, Kevlar, Nomex and more – virtually anything except steel.
“We’re the most versatile yarn twister and we offer the largest product range in North America,” McCarter said. “We believe our service and providing the best response times is the key in providing the customer with what they need, because there are hardly any blanket orders now that you ship on a weekly basis, week in and week out. It’s all spot business, and we’re able to provide that service with exceptional turn time.
“We believe that a response time for our customer service should be no more than 24 hours,” he added. “Hopefully it's within the same business day.”
“And we're small enough that we can do 100-pound order or 10,000-pound order, and we don’t shy away from small orders,” Lucas added. “So that gives us some versatility.”
Ames also provides product development services, working directly with customers that are users of its products and the end customer downstream, McCarter said.
When Ames was bought by 3A Throwing, management spent a lot of time during that first year meeting with existing customers, many of whom had moved away from single-sourcing of thrown filament yarns, to assure them that Ames was here to stay.
“We had to prove that Ames was going to continue being in business, and that was the initial hurdle,” McCarter said. “Being a stronger business with a wider product offering, and regaining part of that lost market share while developing other products has allowed us to grow.”
McCarter joined 3A Throwing two years prior to its purchase of Ames, with a direction to grow its business in the Southeast and expand its offering with new products.
Laframboise started with 3A Throwing 36 years ago, when Richard Mercier’s father owned the company. He was transferred to Christiansburg about two years ago to become plant manager overseeing day-to-day operations on the manufacturing side.
“These two,” McCarter said, pointing to Lucas and Laframboise, “are the nuts and bolts of the operation. As the plant grew, we needed additional personnel on the management side, so Mario was brought down. And Mario and Jennifer mesh extremely well together. Mario had come down numerous times to oversee the installation of equipment, so the employees already knew him and respected him.”
Ames also has been blessed with a number of hourly employees who also hold tenures of 15, 25 or even 30-plus years of service, McCarter added. Flex time and cross-training have been pivotal in allowing employees to achieve work-life balance and to avoid layoffs during soft periods, Laframboise said.
“We implemented a flexible schedule, so if somebody wants to work from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. because they have kids or whatever, we allow them to do that,” he said.
“And sometimes that's more important to an associate than an extra dollar or $2 an hour,” McCarter chimed in.
Laframboise was instrumental in implementing a cross-training program, McCarter said, so instead of having to resort to layoffs in certain departments when one area is slow, employees can move to another department to assist in production.
The company also has built-in and flexible holidays, as well as incentive-based opportunities for employees willing to cross-train.
Having a thin management layer allows the company to operate nimbly and flexibly, McCarter said. “If we need a new twister, for instance, we don’t have to go through a big RFQ (request for quotation),” he said.
And when dealing with customer requests, Ames works as a team, he added.
“When someone calls, we’re not all caught up in, ‘that's not my customer,’ ” he explained. “That's not how we function. Our concern is, how can we get the information to the customer the fastest way? We are not looking to put trophies on walls here. We just want to take care of the order and the customer. We’re not into titles around here. The end game is how can we be profitable and stay out of each other's way and make it simple to do business? We just want the so-called Easy Button. We don't want to make it complicated. We just try to make it happen. And Richard is the same way, just easy to deal with.”
With the additional capacity and new products and customers coming on line almost weekly, Ames Textiles and its parent company see a bright future, McCarter said.
“We've been fortunate,” he said. “Business has been good to really good, and we don’t see that slowing.”