FITZWILLIAM — Dan Scheerer spots the handiwork of his company, PLP Composites, in all sorts of places.
The Fitzwilliam business produces fiberglass light poles and flagpoles, like the one on Keene’s Central Square, which has been there since the mid-1980s. The 80-foot-tall pole in front of Keene Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram came from PLP, too, as did the smaller one at the Troy Cemetery, which has stood for about 40 years.
Scheerer, a Jaffrey resident who bought the company just over three years ago, has even flipped on his TV on a Sunday afternoon and seen PLP flagpoles at NFL stadiums in Buffalo, N.Y. and Tampa, Fla., where about three dozen of the locally handcrafted poles line the upper rim of Raymond James Stadium, holding flags with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers logo above the field where Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions play.
“Most of the time, we don’t even know where they’re going,” Scheerer said of PLP’s products, which are sold through third-party dealers under the brand names Zeus Flagpoles and Hyperia Light Poles. The latter, which the company began producing in the mid-’80s, typically end up on college campuses or in retirement communities or small municipalities, Scheerer said.
And while PLP (which stands for Plastic Laminated Products) already sells nationwide, Scheerer said he wants to grow the company even more and add new product lines like planters and gutters using the same type of molded resin material the business already employs for light and flagpoles. But one main obstacle stands in the way of expansion, Scheerer said.
“Frankly, we just don’t have any space for it,” he said. “That’s why the next hurdle, for me, is to find a new location and get us moved so that we can not only keep up with what we currently have but to have space to produce these new products. ... So there are lots of things like that that we’re contemplating, but until we get out of this space, it’s really hard to pull the trigger in any meaningful way in any of those.”
PLP — which was founded in 1959 in Enfield, Conn. and moved to 57 Creamery Road in Fitzwilliam in 1972 — has not been able to find any existing buildings in the Monadnock Region to suit its needs, Scheerer said. So, the company hopes to build a new, roughly 40,000-square-foot facility in the coming years.
“Because of the training that goes into all of the employees, they’re all valuable to us. And we don’t want to move farther than all of our employees are willing to commute,” Scheerer said. “So, it’s really between Keene and Fitzwilliam. Those are really our only options.”
But the process of upgrading from the current 27,000-square-foot facility will take some time, Scheerer added, with the hope that the company will move in 2023.
“I want the balance of this fall to be identifying a site and capacity, capability,” he said. “We have to work out any support we can get in grants from the state, or other entities. And so I hope that we can wrap all that up next year so that we’re breaking ground on something in 2023. But who knows?”
In the meantime, PLP is pausing new hiring while the company trains several new employees and waits to see when it began rolling out new product lines. Like many businesses, PLP has struggled with hiring recently, Scheerer said, but has been able to add five new production workers in the past few months, and another three office employees since December, bringing the company to about 25 people total.
And though PLP has focused on hiring new people recently, the company still relies on several long-tenured employees, Scheerer said. John Heath, PLP’s director of operations started at the company in 1973. His father, Lewis Heath, co-founded the business and worked there until 2008. Over the years, four generations of Heaths have worked for PLP.
“It’s definitely been more of a family atmosphere over the years,” John Heath said. His brother, Tommy, oversees production of the company’s largest flagpoles, which can be up to 123 feet tall.
These bigger products require more planning than standard-sized flagpoles, since they are built in sections and need to be anchored underground to ensure stability. Regardless of the size, though, Scheerer said PLP uses a computer system to design the flagpoles to meet certain specifications for weight and wind resistance. For instance, flagpoles in Florida need to be heavier than others to withstand hurricane-force winds.
Aside from these computer-generated designs, though, PLP light and flagpoles are all handmade. Crafters apply multiple layers of fiberglass, resin, protective coatings and other materials, which are then sanded down and painted before being packed and prepared for shipping.
Larger poles get more layers of material, but all of PLP’s products use an entasis taper, a design from Greek architecture in which the pole is more narrow at the top than the bottom. This feature led to the the Greek-inspired brand names for the company’s two existing product lines, and Scheerer said he hopes potential future products would continue that theme.
This article has been changed to correct the fact that PLP is not an acronym.