Tubes, fittings drive profits at Eldon James

Marcia Coulson and her sister Dee Andrews were looking for a business opportunity that would enable the growth of their customers to fuel their own growth.

They found it in Eldon James Corp., a Loveland-based manufacturer of plastic tubing and fittings used in a wide range of industries, including health care, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, auto manufacturing, biofuels and alternative fuels.

The sisters bought the company in 1987, partially because they saw the potential for repeat business, Coulson said.

Eldon James today makes more than 6,000 products, including “any piece of equipment connecting tubes carrying either fuel or air,” she said.

“We were looking for a product that we could manufacture ourselves, where the customers would buy it time and again,” Colson said. “Once the customers design it into their equipment, you grow with their company.”

The company has 36 employees, including a sales force of nine, and a large network of distributors.

Eldon James uses extrusion and injection molding processes to make the tubing and the fittings that connect the tubes together.

In extrusion, molten plastic is forced through a die that gives it the required shape.

With injection molding, the plastic is injected into a mold where it takes on the shape of the product after it hardens.

Eldon James has 27 injection-molding machines and five extrusion lines.

The company is constantly developing new products based on customer feedback, Coulson said.

It has recently created a couple of new products for the health care industry.

One is a new form of tubing made with an oil-free material that is used to deliver mother’s milk at precise temperatures to premature babies in hospitals.

The tubing is made with a resin that arrives at Eldon James in a plastic pellet, Coulson said.

“There is no harmful element that could come out of the tubing that could hurt the baby,” she said. “Oils can leach out of tubing.”

Another line of tubing and fittings that is also designed to be used in hospitals contains tiny amounts of silver, which is effective in slowing the growth of bacteria, Coulson said.

“Silver has been widely accepted as anti-microbial for a long time, so we have a tubing with a silver lining,” she said.

Eldon James has two plants in Loveland and one in Fort Collins, but is planning to consolidate all its operations in an 80,000-square-foot facility it plans to build in Timnath.

Marcia Coulson and her husband William Coulson plan to begin construction on the Timnath plant in March.

“There’s the potential that we’ll leave one of (the old plants) open due to several new contracts that are coming in,” Marcia Coulson said.

Despite the recession, sales grew 20 percent in both 2010 and 2011, she said.

“Once we get the new plant built, it will enable us to grow even more,” she said.

The Fort Collins plant, on the ground floor of seven-story building called Cortina built by William Coulson, has a 10,000-square-foot clean room, used to make the tubing and fittings used in health care.

“The manufacturing is quiet and clean,” Marcia Coulson said. “It’s a unique use for this kind of a building.”

About 15 percent of Eldon James’ products are sold in other countries, mostly in Europe, Australia, and South America.

Colorado used to have a lot of injection molding and plastics manufacturing that is now done in Mexico and China, Marcia Coulson said.

“We have a proprietary product line, so we don’t have to compete in molding,” she said. “That has enabled us to stay and manufacture here in Colorado.”

Coulson bought out Andrews’ interest in the company in 2000.

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