Pivotal moment: Barriers present opportunity for acrylic manufacturer

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Declan McLaughlin

Declan McLaughlin looks back and sees some silver linings in the cloud of a pandemic.

For one thing, sudden demand for protective barriers bolstered sales of the clear acrylic panels Reynolds Polymer Technology manufactures.

For another, employees overcame remote work, travel restrictions and other challenges to serve customers.

“I’m so proud of the team and the way the team came together,” says McLaughlin, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction-based company.

Growth in the commercial market, the development of new markets and a continued focus on quality products and services all position Reynolds Polymer well moving forward, McLaughlin says.

The company is well known for supplying acrylic panels for aquariums, architectural features and other unique projects. Along with the creativity required of the company mantra to build the impossible, basics remain important, he says. “If you deliver quality products on time, you should always be successful.”

The coronavirus pandemic affected operations quickly and dramatically, McLaughlin says. He recalls a board meeting in Grand Junction in early March and what was a mostly routine discussion. Then everything changed in a matter of days. “It’s a different world.”

While some of the large projects in which Reynolds Polymer is involved were put on hold, he says demand surged for thin acrylic materials to position clear protective barriers at everything from checkout counters at stores to reception desks at offices to gambling tables at casinos. Staff managed the supply chain to quickly provide materials to installers.

McLaughlin believes the effort will grow business in the commercial market over the long term. Given the prospect barriers will become permanent fixtures, Reynolds Polymer has worked with customers on installing projects that are not only effective, but also aesthetically pleasing. In addition, testing is under way on new, flame-retardant acrylic materials for barriers and other applications.

Meanwhile, some big projects proceed in the midst of the pandemic, including a large aquarium planned in Vietnam.

Work is scheduled for completion later this year on the Sky Pool, a transparent swimming pool spanning two, 10-story residential buildings in London. The pool will extend more than 80 feet long and 16 feet wide and enable residents to swim from one building to the next.

The Sky Pool has attracted widespread interest on social media and will garner the company additional attention when the project is complete, McLaughlin says.

Reynolds Polymer also has gained traction in the aerospace market for developing acrylic domes used for flight simulators. McLaughlin says he’s sat in the simulators, and the experience is remarkable. “It’s so realistic. The clarity is off the charts.”

Components for aquariums, the Sky Pool and flight simulators are manufactured in Grand Junction.

Serving customers and working on projects during a pandemic has been a challenge, McLaughlin says. But several things helped.

The Paycheck Protection Program provided a loan and a measure of certainty that enabled Reynolds Polymer to remain open, keep staff employed and serve customers, he says. The loan also enabled the company to recruit talent that became available.

Maintaining good communications and taking advantage of information technology tools enabled those employees working remotely to keep operations going.

Rather than resist change, staff has embraced it to maintain a reputation of a company that’s not only innovative, but also easy to work with, he says. “That’s been really rewarding.”

McLaughlin began his role as president and CEO in August and says the work since then has afforded a learning experience — even more so in a pandemic. “Learning has been on steroids the last three months.”

And that, he says, is another silver lining.