Talking Small Biz: He's weaving some profitable yarns

Martin Heilman says Germantown's Wayne Mills employs about 65 workers. (Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer)
Martin Heilman says Germantown's Wayne Mills employs about 65 workers. (Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 15, 2013

M ARTIN HEILMAN, 61, of Abington, has been president of Wayne Mills, a Germantown fabric manufacturer, since 2006. The family-owned company, which has been around since 1910, makes narrow woven fabric strips in a former textile mill. Heilman began working at the company in 1969 running a boxing machine for $1.50 an hour.

Q: What exactly does the business do?

A: We're currently weaving about 40 different yarns, with about 50 percent of the business cotton, 45 percent polyester and 5 percent nylon. Our yarn goes into twill tapes, binding and light webbing in 180 items.

Q: Do you have some examples?

A: We make a cotton yarn used in medical gauze for military field equipment. We make a header tape that goes along the back of American flags where grommets sit. We make a lot of the safety tape - the bright, yellow tape with the reflective stripe - that gets sewn on to the vests of construction workers. We make cotton tapes used in mops made by Rubbermaid. I can go on and on.

Q: Seems like you're in a lot of niche markets. Is that how you've managed to be a viable fabric manufacturer in Philadelphia?

A: I think the secret of our success is we don't actually make a finished product. We make a part of someone else's product. About 25 years ago, the bulk of our tapes went into apparel. When that moved offshore, we switched to a different customer base. There are a lot of niche markets.

Q: How did you find them?

A: We go to a half-dozen trade shows a year. We also get business off the Internet. Last year, we added about 124 customers and 94 found us on the Internet. Most are small customers, but when you add them together, it's a nice bit of revenue and eventually some become larger.

Q: You're a $10 million business?

A: Yes, and over each of the last four years we increased revenues. We also keep about 200 pounds of woven inventory on hand to facilitate delivery.

Q: How many employees?

A: We have about 65.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: We sell to contractors like Vinyl Technology; they're on the West Coast. We sell cotton tape used to bind carpet, to a distributor in Louisville. We sell to the secondary market, or carpet-installation market.

Q: How big is Wayne Mills' physical footprint here?

A: Wayne Mills has been here since 1947. In 1976, the company acquired basically a whole city block. We occupy about 70 percent of the space and rent the rest, some of it as artists' lofts.

Q: Why has the company chosen to remain in the city?

A: One of the key factors is our employees. Many of them have been with us for 25 to 40 years. They're honest and dependable, so it's sort of like a family.

On Twitter: @MHinkelman

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