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Million-dollar project expected to take about four months

Sun-Pine expansion boosting space, adding production line

When Sun-Pine began operations in 1965, a 55-gallon drum was used for mixing, each bottle was placed under the spigot by hand and each bottle was hand-labeled. Today, the company, which produces 25 million bottles of household cleaning products a year, envisions installing the machinery and technology to blow its own bottles within the next two to three years.

Sun-Pine manufactures such products as window cleaner, fabric freshener, cleaner with bleach, wrinkle releaser, acrylic wax and potpourri, 25 different products in all, in its Canton and Brandon facilities. With both branded and private labels, there are some 150 different labels put out by Sun-Pine.

Now, the company is expanding its Canton facility by 44,000 square feet and adding a sixth production line. This will provide 110,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space.

The expansion is expected to take about four months and will cost some $1 million, according to Ken Courtney, the president who owns Sun-Pine with his sons, Michael, 33, and Mark, 37.

“We’re just overcrowded in every way,” Courtney said. “And we don’t have enough receiving and shipping doors.”

The new space will give Sun-Pine 10 doors for docking. Currently, the company has sufficient warehouse space for 70,000 cases. This sixth production line will increase Sun-Pine’s capability for making products in spray bottles, which account for 65% of sales. All of the spray bottles are turned out by the Canton facility. The Brandon plant manufacturers products that are in pourable bottles.

When the facility is completed and the sixth line starts producing, Sun-Pine will have 75 employees.

Courtney indicated that a new product will be introduced by the end of the year, but he preferred not to reveal what it would be.

“There are some other things on the drawing board,” he said. “Exciting things, to us. Such as blowing our own bottles. Bring on-site a blow-molder. Lots of machinery and lots of technology. It makes millions of bottle a year.

“Right now, though, we’re on the bubble about it being cost-efficient, so we have to wait and see what happens in the next couple of years.”

Dollar stores and discount retailers — such as Dollar General and Fred’s — are Sun-Pine’s biggest customers, and part of the company’s success, could be attributed to the phenomenal growth of these outlets in recent years.

The dollar stores are opening at the rate of some 4,000 a year across the country, according to Michael, who is vice president of sales and development. Mark is vice president of operations.

“The market for discount retailers has yet to reach its full potential,” Michael said. “They’re even being accepted and adopted by supermarkets, particularly for household cleaners. They have very good business models. Small stores, convenient to customers. And there’s a perception by customers that they get good quality at a very good price.”

“They’re here to stay and will continue to grow, but not at the current rate,” Courtney added.

Sun-Pine recently won a bid to package household cleaners for Kroger.

“Dollar stores really started in the South and Southeast,” Courtney said. “Now, they’re going north, east and west. Fred’s is based in Memphis. Dollar General, the largest chain in the country, with 7,000 stores, began in Scottsville, Ky., 60 years ago.”

Courtney believes that the dollar stores grew out of the five and dime stores. He cited the case of the Walker family in Columbia, which owned five and dime stores and out of which Bill’s Discount stores evolved some 40 or 50 years ago.

A significant factor in the boom of dollar stores is that in the past, the average shopper made $10,000 to $15,000 a year, but now that shopper has an income of $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

When asked what accounts for Sun-Pine’s success, Courtney said, “Sounds kind of goofy but we believe that we put out… when a lady buys what we make, we give her the best quality products in the marketplace.

“You can pour out the water from any household cleaner and have only the essence left and ours will be the best bargain. We strive to do that. We think we have a sound and solid purpose by providing quality to customers. A good concept. Value.”

Courtney also credited Sun-Pine’s success to “the good Lord’s blessing. And tenacity. We never give up. And that has sustained us.” Another key element in the company’s success: “We’ve always believed in going out and getting the business and then trying to make money later.”

Before Sun-Pine, Courtney said that he and his father-in-law, Mark Davis, worked in the field of housing development in Alabama. Then came Sun-Pine, which was born on Wholesale Row in Jackson — back in the days of bottling and labeling by hand — then moved to Brandon. Davis retired and got out of the business.

Part of Sun-Pine’s expansion came from buying out a competitor in Brookhaven and using that facility until 1998, when a Sun-Pine competitor in Canton filed for bankruptcy. Sun-Pine bought them out and moved the Brookhaven operation to the bankrupt company’s Canton facility.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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