Americo Manufacturing Co. got its start in the basement of their family home, all of 50 years ago. But to carry on success, the Rones brothers had to reinvent their father’s business around an ever-changing model of environmental sustainability.
“My dad had the vision,” says Richard Rones (BBA ’86), who is president of the company his father Jim founded in 1969. “We’ve successfully taken the second generation and looked at what other products we could be making and how to position ourselves for continued profitable growth.”
Joined by his brother David (BBA ’83) and brother-in-law, Leonard Shutzberg, Richard leads a company that uses a 100% recycled polyester fiber made from plastic bottles to create doormats and other products designed around sustainability. This includes helping firms construct plastic artificial islands, some as large as two acres, where plants can grow and work as barriers to absorb fertilizer runoff, prevent erosion and stabilize habitats for wildlife such as nesting terns.
The future-forward company began with much simpler ambitions. It was started by Jim Rones, a World War II B-24 bomber pilot who succeeded in business as a joke-telling salesman of commercial cleaning materials for schools, airports and hospitals. It occurred to him to have products on hand for immediate delivery, which led to keeping supplies in the basement of his Atlanta home. When the supplies began to crowd his growing family (two sons who went to UGA and two daughters who went to Florida), he acquired a warehouse and created his own company: American Manufacturing Co. The name was changed in 1984.
“He was a classic American entrepreneur and risk-taker,” says Richard.
But the business was flattened, literally, in 1975 when a tornado tore through Atlanta and destroyed the warehouse. Jim used a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration not only to rebuild the warehouse but also to design and build the machinery he would need to manufacture the type of large round floor pads he was selling for others. The pads attached to large buffers that clean hard-surface floors. The company moved the warehouse twice before settling in Acworth.
By the time Richard joined the family-owned company after graduation, it was bringing in around $4 million a year in revenue. But Richard began looking for ways to grow, which led the company into producing custom doormats as well as developing products around sustainability.
His older brother, David, was running his own computer company but joined Americo in 1992. As president of the PromoMatting division, based in Cartersville, he led the company’s expansion into doormats – individualizing them with client logos and acquiring other small mat makers.
The main product line of floor pads is produced in Acworth on a giant machine that resembles a printing press. The machine produces long rolls that can be stamped into pads and a variety of other products. The pads are made from recycled material, but contain a biodegradable additive that quickly breaks them down when they’re discarded in landfills.
Since Shutzberg joined the company as CEO in 2000, Americo’s revenue has grown more than tenfold. The company employs 300 people in Acworth and Cartersville and is distributing its products to more than 70 countries. Americo took in an equity investor last year and is making bold plans to double the company’s size with new products and acquisitions.
Americo is working with several different companies, including Shell Oil Co., to use discarded plastic water bottles collected at the New Orleans Jazz Festival to build the artificial floating islands in the Gulf of Mexico. In the 15 years since Americo began using recycled fiber, it has kept approximately 120 million plastic water and soda bottles out of landfills.
Richard and David agree that their dad, who died in 2004, left a legacy of values for the Americo family: honesty, integrity, work ethic and, perhaps most of all, a sense of humor that infuses the company. David says their finance degrees from the Terry College gave him and Richard the analytical tools they need to decide which customers and products will be profitable.
“I think Dad would be very proud that we have been able to take his baby and grow it substantially over the years,” Richard says.