Kingsport, Tenn Aug. 24, 2010 In 2004, James Braeunig and a team of local investors purchased Ball Bounce and Sport Inc., then a division of Hedstrom Corporation, from bankruptcy court and began the process of rebuilding it. Headquartered in Ashland, OH, Ball Bounce now produces 95 percent of the play and sport balls sold in the United States and Canada. But taking a company from despair to prosperity requires forward thinking and tough choices.
After rescuing the company from bankruptcy, we adopted a new corporate culture to be a leader NOT a reactor, said Braeunig, President and CEO of Ball Bounce. Once we bought the company and had the power to make decisions quickly, it was our quest to be innovators in everything from how we market the company to the quality and safety of our products.
In 2006 and early 2007 when talk of restricting the use of certain phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates and used to make PVC flexible), from childrens toys in the European Union emerged, Braeunig and his team were keeping their ears close to the ground. Aside from impending regulatory demands, the company understood the effect growing concern from consumers about the safety of childrens toys could have on its business. Rather than wait for product bans (which happened in mid-2007) and ensuing consumer pressure to take effect, Ball Bounce began proactively searching for a non-phthalate alternative to incorporate in its manufacturing process.
Kicking up the search
With both domestic and international manufacturing capabilities, Ball Bounce needed a non-phthalate solution that satisfied quality and safety needs across the globe. Switching a key component of an entire product portfolio is no small task, and required Ball Bounce to carefully evaluate the alternatives.
After testing six different non-phthalate plasticizer alternatives, only one met the companys high standards. Ball Bounce chose Eastman 168" non-phthalate plasticizer from Eastman Chemical Company - a non-phthalate plasticizer with a history of safety and utility in the manufacture of toys, food and beverage packaging, medical devices, and other sensitive applications.
Working with a true team player
Being an early adapter of a technology can bring its manufacturing challenges, and Eastman 168" was no exception. In the early stages of implementation, Ball Bounce experienced a left over residue that made printing on its toy and athletic balls difficult. And when working with brands from Disney to Bosu, aesthetics are of utmost importance.
With its years of plasticizer expertise and commitment to collaboration with its customers, Eastman allocated resources from its engineering, technical and even management teams to help smooth the transition from traditional phthalates to Eastman 168". Quickly, the technologists were able to tweak the formulation and solve the residue issue.
The folks at Eastman have been invaluable assets in helping us work through the production snags, said Braeunig. They recognized that we were early adapters and mobilized resources across the globe to ensure we minimized our downtime and produced quality products that are safe for children and adults alike.
Today, 100 percent of Ball Bounce products manufactured in the U.S. market use Eastman 168" non-phthalate plasticizer.
Shooting for new markets
Building on its success in the toy and athletic industries, Ball Bounce is making plans to expand into the inflatables market with products such as punching bags and swimmer arms. Smart companies adapt early to shifting regulatory and consumer demands, concludes Braeunig. We just want to continue innovating new products with the help of suppliers like Eastman.