Duo Form - 2022 John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year (Large Tier)
Duo Form is one of the largest plastics thermoforming companies in the country and has been a leader in the RV industry for 50 years. When faced with a global pandemic, however, this long-time maker of RV tubs, showers, fenders, bulkheads and skylights pivoted their business in order to keep their employees working and support the community.
For many executives, it takes years to face their toughest challenge. For Shelly Ditmer, President of Edwardsburg-based Duo Form, it happened on day one. Ditmer moved into the president’s role in March 2020 and shortly after faced a total plant shutdown. When employees were allowed to come back to work, they immediately started development on their face shield prototype that could be used at hospitals and for other front-line emergency responders.
Not only was the company able to sell the new face shields to customers who needed to get their employees back to work but they donated to local police and fire, EMTs and schools all over the country.
“It allowed us to help our community as well as help our employees get back to work,” says Ditmer.
Or, as Mike Ganger, Vice President of Finance, put it: The pandemic showed the true strength and temerity of the company.
“The pandemic really brought out the best in all of us,” says Ganger.
Team building and culture have taken center stage over the past three years under Ditmer’s leadership. She has focused on knocking down traditional silos that exist among departments at any large organization which has led to more team building, an understanding of common goals and a bright future.
“When I stepped into the president’s role, I knew we had a great team and I just wanted to make sure and relay that to everybody,” says Ditmer. “For any organization, there’s always that division between sales, production, engineering, office staff — and I really just wanted to do everything I could to bridge that.”
The team-building process leads to empowerment within the entire staff.
“There’s a lot of ownership that you get at Duo Form. You have the feeling that you’re part of something bigger,” says Jennifer Pitcher, Customer Relations Manager. “We’re proud of each other, and proud of ourselves. We’re proud of our upper management and proud of the people that come together and make Duo Form what it is every day.”
Duo Form’s team-first culture took center stage during the pandemic. The face shields went from prototype to production in one week and made their first sale within 21 days — an unprecedented event in the company’s history. Not long after that, Duo Form had sold 1 million face shields.
“That showed all of us what we could do. I think we all had the feeling that we can take this company further than it ever has been,” says Ganger.
That process ended up being the launching pad for Duo Protects, an original product line that focuses on personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care industries. On the heels of the pandemic, Duo Form launched another sub brand in Duo Pets which provides RV owners and campers with travel-ready products such as a collapsible pet beds and food and storage bins.
Being one of the largest thermo-forming plastics companies in the country, Duo Form is in a unique position to be an industry leader on sustainability. The company has made a significant investment in their recycling program, and last year they recycled 3.2 million pounds of ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). Through their in-house program and the amount of material being shipped out to other recycling vendors, Duo Form stops roughly three garbage trucks of material going to the landfill every week.
“The main goal is to repurpose and recycle as much as possible and keep everything that we can out of the landfill,” says Bob Phillips, Warehouse and Recycling Supervisor. “This is our way as a plastics company to keep that from happening.”
With relentless dedication to their employees, their customers and their community, Duo Form has seen tremendous growth. When every employee at Duo Form feels valued and understands that they’re a vital piece of their recent growth and the company’s future, that’s when Ditmer knows she has done her job correctly.
“People here, they’re not just a cog on the wheel, they matter,” she says. “Just knowing that we care and that they matter is extremely important.”
From Duo Form’s company culture to their dedication to customers and protecting the environment, they are a very deserving winner of the 2022 Large Tier John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year Award.
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