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Maker of auto after-market parts readies a new facility

Rob Sabo

It used to be that Dennis Lee Prutch, vice president of national sales for Dashtop, a manufacturer of replacement auto parts for the interiors of cars and trucks, scrounged salvage yards for junked dashboards and door panels so he could create molds for his products.

Today Dashtop, based across the street from the Stead Airport, has created more than 400 molds for about 200 molded-plastic auto parts.

The company goes through more than 50,000 pounds of sheet plastic every five weeks creating replacement dashboards, padded door panels, arm rests, seat backs, center consoles and kick panels for a wide range of domestic and foreign vehicles.

Prutch and his staff of 30 are eagerly awaiting the company’s pending move into a 45,000-square-foot warehouse a few hundred yards east of Dashtop’s longtime location on the corner of Alpha Avenue and Mt. Anderson Street.

Although the new building is a few decades old, it’s a big improvement from Dashtop’s home of 18 years, a drafty, uninsulated 25,000-square-foot wood-frame building that was constructed during the early years of World War II.

Five years ago Prutch looked at buying the new space, formerly the home of Kimball Midwest, but the price of commercial real estate was just too high, he says. Today, several years after the real estate bubble burst, Dashtop will pay less for its mortgage on the new building it purchased than it does for its lease at its old space.

That new building also will help Dashtop become much more efficient, Prutch says. The company’s current building has very little open space or large spans to set up manufacturing operations in sequential order. Forklifts can only travel about 25 percent of the manufacturing floor, and workers spend an inordinate amount of time moving product from one station to the next.

“We will have a natural progression,” Prutch says. “It will help us a lot in staging everything.”

Prutch also says that the building is so outdated and out of code that he may have been shut down by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for instance, there isn’t a single fire sprinkler in the drab structure. Other benefits: Insurance rates will drop drastically in the new location due to the sprinkler system and utility bills also will decrease due to a great deal of natural lighting.

Getting equipment set up quickly during the transition is of paramount importance to Dashtop, which normally ramps up production volume beginning in mid February once its network of distributors work through existing inventory.

Dashtop thermo-forms the vast majority of its products using presses that heat sheets of plastic that are then vacuum-formed onto molds. The dashboard toppers glue down over existing damaged dashes, while other parts are designed for complete replacement.

About 15,000 pounds of post-production plastic is recycled every five weeks.

The company’s top-selling products are interior restoration parts for older Ford and Chevrolet trucks and muscle cars. Dashtop’s main market is the U.S., but it ships products globally using a network of more than 250 distributors and 100 mail-order catalogues. Online retail sales account for just a small fraction of total revenues.

Dashtop still is recovering from a 50-percent dip in sales in 2009. The company survived by trimming 30 percent of its workforce, or 15 positions, and moving to a 30-hour work week for 18 months. In 2010 Dashtop saw about 10 percent growth in sales and in 2011 the company recovered another 35 percent of sales; however, the company still is down about 30 percent from its peak year, 2006.

Prutch currently employs 30 production workers and has moved back to a full work week.

The company also ceased developing new products during the recession, but since then Dashtop has introduced another 40 products to the restoration market. The recession actually helped Dashtop become a more efficient company, Prutch says.

“When times are good you tend to overlook a lot of little things and cost factors,” he says. “When times are tough you start looking at how you purchase product and your capabilities. We are producing more now with 30 people than we did with 40, and our business could grow 30 percent and we would not have to increase employment.”

Prutch started in the replacement parts field 28 years ago and struck out on his own in Denver. He moved the business to Reno in 1993.

Looking ahead, Prutch says Dashtop will continue to develop new products since the needs of consumers keep changing.

“It is a matter of staying ahead of the curve,” he says. “I look back 10, 15 years ago, and the cars we were restoring, old Pintos or Toyota Corollas, are being crushed and tossed away. There is always a new wave of stuff that filters into a new marketplace.”