Carney Plastics Makes Its Case(s) in Global Market

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — All over the world, people want to ensure that their keepsakes and mementos are protected properly and displayed handsomely. Often, they turn to a small company here to make that happen.

For decades, Carney Plastics Inc. has manufactured custom display cases for hobbyists and collectors and today produces plastic parts for industrial and commercial uses as well, says its president, Sean Carney.

“Our display cases are sold worldwide,” Carney says as he watches workers assemble orders at the company plant, 1010 W. Rayen Ave. “A lot of our commercial stuff is national, and our industrial work is mostly local.”

Today, Carney Plastics’ clear cases can be found housing prizes such as the five Super Bowl trophies the San Francisco 49ers have won and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup. The company has also done work with the Butler Institute of American Art and similar institutions.

“Probably the most interesting was the Stanley Cup, because we got to see it. We had it here,” Carney says. “As well as one of the Super Bowl trophies.”

Mostly, the cases Carney manufactures are designed to hold die-cast collector cars – a market that arose out of necessity as the company’s commercial customers started to source their manufacturing outside of the United States.

Sean’s late father, Paul, started the company in 1986. At that time, a substantial amount of plastics manufacturing for standard commercial use – store fixtures, for example – was still done in the United States. “It used to be a big chunk of our business,” Sean says. “It was almost like someone shut off a switch.”

That was more than 20 years ago, Carney recalls. For about five years, he attended various trade shows trying to get the pulse of the market for display cases. “That’s what kind of got me started – trying to find out what people wanted and how to make them efficiently.”

By the mid-1990s, the business took off as motorsports started to climb in popularity and enthusiasts began to collect die-cast replicas of Nascar vehicles. Meanwhile, Carney Plastics carved out a lucrative market by selling its product over the Internet. “We have a whole line of 30 standard display cases, and we do some customs,” he says. Customers can order through the company website, or online vendors such as eBay and Amazon.com. “We have a distributor in Australia, which serves New Zealand and Asia,” he says.

On this particular day, workers are busy manufacturing the clear cases used to hold more than one small-scale die-cast car. Employees are also building demonstration displays for a company that sells gutter guards.

Clear acrylic plastic arrives on pallets stacked with single sheets – four feet wide, eight feet in length, and either 1/8-inch or 3/16-inch thick, says office manager Maria Capezzuto. “At Christmas, you go through a lot more material,” she says. During the holiday season, more than 80% of Carney Plastics’ business consists of manufacturing model display cases. During the summer months, demand for the cases drop, so more of the work is focused on industrial and commercial accounts.

“That’s when we want the industrial and commercial work,” Capezzuto says. Five are employed on the floor during the slower months, with more workers hired once the busy season starts.

Plastic sheets are cut to size and then fabricated into parts – sides, bottoms, and clear plastic shelving, for example – that are eventually glued together to form cases for die-cast cars. Other custom products are formed, cut and bent to a client’s specifications.

All of the parts are polished and finished, Capezzuto says, while some require additional drilling or cutting.

The company has found innovative ways to use material that would normally be recycled and turn it into new products, Carney says. “These are drop-off pieces that would normally be discarded,” he explains, as he holds a small, rectangular plastic piece with curved edges. The components were fabricated to form a base for stand-alone cases. “We had so many people tell us they had no more room on their walls, so we came up with this. It’s really taken off.”

Carney relates that other companies in his business have found it tough to stay afloat because much of the plastics production has moved out of the country. “A lot have come and gone,” he says, “but we’ve made it through the lean times and have dominated online.” In 2007, Carney Plastics acquired Giovanni Plastics in Struthers.

Although efficiency has improved dramatically, small manufacturers such as his still confront challenges, Carney adds. “The material is 50% to 60% more expensive than when we started,” he says. “The cost of raw materials has gone through the roof.”

Acrylic, Carney says, is made from the same base ingredients as the material used for flat-screen TVs and smartphones and is not a petroleum-based product. “Demand for these materials went up,” he explains. “One year, materials went up 40%.”

Industrial orders for the company are on the rise, Carney continues: “Mostly safety stuff, such as partitions, a large window, small-machine guards, splash guards – those kind of things.”

Capezzuto says that the small company nevertheless has a large footprint in the global market in the display case business. “I ship to Canada, I ship to Europe, Brazil, Asia,” she says. “We’re in homes. We’re in car dealerships. We have Nascar drivers that buy our cases. We are everywhere.”

Pictured: Sean Carney, presdident of Carney Plastics, and office manager Maria Capezzuto, show off some of the cases made in the Rayen Avenue plant. Some of the companies projects have included cases for car dealerships, Nascar die cast cars and sports trophies.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.