Stuck on Growth: Q&A with Venture Tape co-founder

A.J. Bauer

When Lewis Cohen co-founded Venture Tape in 1980, the company sold one type of copper foil tape. Now the Rockland company manufactures more than 1,500 different varieties of tape.

The company’s strong presence in the industrial tape market led to its acquisition last year by St. Paul, Minn.-based manufacturing conglomerate 3M. Now, nearly one year after the acquisition was announced last September, little has changed at Venture Tape.

Cohen, a Needham resident and Venture Tape’s president, said a relatively hands-off approach of the company’s new corporate owner has allowed his company to continue to thrive. The company now has more than 400 employees nationwide, including about 300 that work at the company’s headquarters in Rockland. Venture Tape makes a variety of industrial tapes for use in construction, insulation, automotive and medical applications, among other uses.

How has the market for industrial tape fared during the current economic slowdown?

The market is certainly smaller than it was, but we are still growing, still growing in double digits.

How have you managed to continue to grow?

New products, better technology, working harder, gaining market share.

What are some of the new products you’ve come up with lately?

We have products, which we’ve had out for the last six or seven years, that are really starting to get some traction now – our external covering for insulation, whether its duct or pipe, and they’re self-adhesive so they replace either metal (aluminum or stainless steel) jacketing or the old glass fabric – they’re higher performing and don’t allow moisture in or out.

How has competition from Asian companies affected the industrial tape industry?

It’s just constant. We have to stay ahead with new technology, new products – that’s really what’s driving us forward. We have to stay ahead of them. They have a different approach – they’re looking for high-volume. At this point in time, it’s focusing on lower performance products, or products that aren’t technically complicated. But they get better all the time so we have to continue to innovate.

Do you manufacture all of your tape here or overseas as well?

We had two plants in Italy. We sold them last Friday (Aug. 1).

What caused you to sell those plants?

The (plants’) technology didn’t fit in what has become a very high labor area of the Euro-zone. … Italy has a lot of issues with unions.

Plus 3M is in the process of developing a very large “green field” site in Poland where we’ll have new technology, new equipment and lower labor costs. So we’re transitioning some of the product manufacturing that we were making in Italy. And some of them we’re bringing back here because it’s less expensive to manufacture them here now.

Do you see the return of manufacturing to the United States as a trend moving forward?

It has been. Our business in Europe is up significantly and has been up for several years. The U.S. products are more cost effective. The issues we have now are getting containers. There’s a shortage of ocean-going containers. It used to be you’d ship it and it would arrive in Europe in two weeks. Now it can be five or six weeks.

What’s caused that shortage?

There’s less product coming back from Europe because of the high Euro.

Where do you see Venture Tape heading in the future?

We’re continuing to innovate, develop new products. We’re looking at what other opportunities there are. We have a growing automotive business. Our custom product business is growing. We’re also, we make product wider than most of our competitors, so it’s more efficient. We’re producing typically 35 percent wider than most of our competitors and at higher line speeds and with newer equipment, which makes us typically more competitive.

What effect has your acquisition by 3M had on the way Venture Tape operates?

Really nothing. We’re still a standalone company. They’re keeping us outside of the big 3M umbrella and we’re operating as a different model, (so we are) quicker to answer customer problems or solve customer problems, different market channels. Of all the tapes we make and all the tapes they make, there was only 5 percent overlap.

What was Venture Tape looking to gain in accepting the acquisition?

Obviously there was a financial part, really taking the risk off the table. But also having greater global resources to be able to roll our products out to more countries more quickly. ... We’ve been approached over the years many many times, but if you’re going to sell your business in our industry – 3M is the global leader. It was primarily best for the employees. (3M wasn’t) going to make any radical changes and we tried to take care of the people that allowed us to get to this point. There’s been no downsizing. We’ve added people rather than subtracting.

A.J. Bauer may be reached atajbauer@ledger.com.