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Bay Shore display maker keeps fizz in the biz

Louis Marinello, Summit Manufacturing president and co-owner, shows

Louis Marinello, Summit Manufacturing president and co-owner, shows letters used on the menu boards made at the plant. Coca-Cola is an important client. (July 20, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

If you've gone to a deli, pizza place or even a fish shack that sells Coca-Cola, you probably saw what Summit Manufacturing ships out in the thousands each year from Bay Shore.

It's a plastic menu board with the soda giant's graphics. The widespread version has a black frame, with striated white panels for food and price lettering.

"I've seen them in every little mom-and-pop place on the planet," said Richard Rickman, an operating owner. "Every time I go for pizza, I look."

Summit designs and makes displays, stands and signs for a range of companies to show off their products in stores, but Coke was the main account when the business began in 1977 as Summit Plastics.

The menu board is not Summit's big moneymaker. But in a field where products and marketing campaigns are launched all the time, it's a staple.


A quick turnaround
Production is often scheduled for the 24-hour factory's down times, like the late shift. A worker places sheets of plastic into a "thermal-forming rotator" to make metal imprints of the menu and steam them into shape. Another huge machine melts plastic pellets into letter and number molds. Workers assemble the parts and Coke poster graphics. About 250 can be made in eight hours.

They go out as vendors order them from Summit's portfolio of Coke items. "We have to produce and ship within 24 hours upon receipt of an order," Rickman said. "That's very tough. What happens if we receive an order for a thousand?"

The hard part is making it in an area that's not a manufacturing mecca while edging out cheap labor markets like China. "If we were just trying to win on prices alone, we couldn't compete," Rickman said.

"But the way you survive on Long Island is bringing better ideas to the marketplace that will be game changers in the way things are currently done. It's the idea that reduces the labor on the other side . . . and increases the efficiency and the process in the way they merchandise the product."

For example, Summit uses post-consumer plastic, in line with Coca-Cola's recycling goals. Remnants are sent to a recycling plant, returning as plastic sheets, a cost-saver that can help corporations avoid layoffs.

Summit long ago graduated from just pop fizz to a resume filled with huge industries -- liquor, cosmetics and ubiquitous retail fixtures, from gift card racks to shelves. How they design and manufacture displays can make or break a product and client's ad budget.


'One-stop service'
Its conference room looks like a cosmetics store, with Maybelline, Revlon and other displays seen at stores. A hallway shows Summit's range -- Boar's Head cart, shelving unit shaped like a bottle for Absolut vodka, backlit counters and a DirectTV monitor stand.

Rickman and Louis Marinello, president and an operating owner, turned Summit into a "one-stop" service to conceive, make and distribute displays -- sometimes with the products -- right into stores. Being close to New York City, home to many corporate headquarters, has been a boon, letting executives easily visit to monitor progress.

"Our strategy is having everything in the facility," said Marinello, to ease fast changes.

Since the two men took over in 2003, Summit has bubbled up from a $4-million business to a $40-million one. Marinello's aim: $100 million in five years. This is where Coca-Cola comes in again. Summit made the cut recently when the beverage giant narrowed its list of 150 manufacturers to 12.

"Our role there today is fairly limited, but we hope to expand upon that," Rickman said. "They're one of our top 10 accounts. It may go into the top five."


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