Building Jamaica from the ground up
ARC Manufacturing Limited is one of the leading manufacturers and distributors of building materials in Jamaica. It has been serving its local and global customers and partners in the construction trades for almost 20 years. The family-owned business was founded by Norman Horne, who, according to Deanall Barnes, ARC’s Vice President for Marketing and International Business, hatched the idea for the company, one day, while up in the air: “Norman Horne wanted to invest in Jamaica. He was flying over the country and he recognized that there were significant amount of zinc used in the construction of houses,” says Barnes. “Subsequently, he started a company producing zinc sheets. Thereafter, having an appreciation for business, the company moved from zinc sheets to distributing lumber, steel and steel-based products.”
In fact, ARC’s official history is just as Barnes recounts. It was incorporated in 1996 as a Limited Liability Company (LLC), with a staff of five, manufacturing zinc sheeting. It began the importation of lumber and wood products that same year – form ply and one-inch lumber. In 1997, ARC acquired the Jamaica Steel Reinforcement Company and began manufacturing nails, construction fabric mesh, quarter wire, binding wire, and drawn wire.
Today, the list of building products that ARC either manufactures or distributes, covers a wide range of different materials, all of which are crucial to its many customers in the island’s construction sector: steel reinforcement and merchant bars; metal sheets and plates; welding rods; treated and untreated lumber; cedar and fiberglass roof shingles; chain-link fencing; hurricane struts; and, of course, all sorts of nails and wires.
Indeed, ARC is the sole manufacturer of binding wire and nails in Jamaica. Imported bare coil wires and wire rods are manipulated in its wire manufacturing plant to produce the desired diameter and form for the production of other wire based products: Wire Nails, Fabric Mesh, Binding Wire, Quarter Wire, and Welding Wire. The nail factory’s thirty-two nail machines produce approximately 200,000 lbs. of wire nails per month.
“We’re also big in cement,” says Barnes. “We’re the largest distributor, outside of the local producers, of cement in the country.” ARC has a production arrangement with the Caribbean Cement Company: it produces the cement and ARC puts in its own bags, and distributes it. “We do about 120,000 tons of cement annually. That’s a massive chunk of our business,” he adds.
Another one of ARC’s business units is its Lumber Treatment Plant – a $400 million, state-of the-art facility, which it launched in 2013. The plant is the first of its kind in Jamaica. It not only cuts and converts lumber into different products, sizes, and dimensions, it contains a pressurized cylinder, into which lumber can be automatically loaded in order to be treated with the chemical preservatives that protect the wood from termites and fungal decay. “We are one of the big three in the distribution of lumber in the country,” says Barnes, “but we also do our own treatment of lumber. By virtue of where we are in the tropics, Jamaica is exposed to the elements – weather, insects, etc. Approximately 85 percent of the wood that is used in Jamaica has to go through a treatment process.”
ARC has also been in the roofing business since day one, offering its customers circular and industrial-profile metal sheeting. Today, the company’s former, zinc-coated steel has been updated to the new global standard of aluminum-zinc-coated steel sheeting, called Galvalume. ARC’s suite of Painted Metal Roofing Tiles not only resists rust, they help to repel the heat associated with concrete roofs. In addition, they are fire resistant and, when expertly installed, can withstand the force of hurricane winds and rain.
ARC’s main office, manufacturing, and distribution facilities occupy an 18-acre site in Kingston’s industrial belt. The company owns and operates five manufacturing plants (Nail, Roofing, Wire, Fabric Mesh, and Lumber Treatment) as well as a 300,000 square-foot warehouse, elsewhere in the city. Sales offices, another warehouse, and a distribution hub are located in Montego Bay. The company gets its raw materials from myriad countries, including China, Turkey, Brazil, Honduras, Belgium, Sweden, India, the Philippines, Egypt, and Trinidad, among others. From the United States, it gets its lumber-treating chemicals and more cement.
While most of ARC’s customers are local, it does supply some business customers throughout the Caribbean and Central America. For example, it resells its U.S.-imported cement to Guyana, San Andrés, and the Cayman Islands, and is finalizing a deal with the Bahamas. Domestically, ARC is one of the four major distributors of building materials on the island, who, together, provide approximately 90 percent of Jamaica’s supply. “We sell primarily to projects, to contractors, and to developers, as well as to, what we refer to as, ‘mom-and-pop’ hardware stores that are located throughout the country,” Barnes notes.
What differentiates ARC from the three other major distribution companies, he believes, is its delivery system. ARC offers free, island-wide delivery on full truck load orders, generally within 24 hours. “We have a first-class, first-rate delivery system,” he asserts. “You order today – your goods are there by tomorrow, right by your doorstep.” In addition, because ARC does its own lumber remanufacturing, on-site, it offers its customers greater flexibility in the type of lumber products they might need. Barnes adds that the company also offers specialized financing to qualified customers.
As ARC completes its second decade of operations, the company’s VP outlines some of its future goals: “We want to be the number one building materials distributor in Jamaica. We are strategically expanding by virtue of acquisition; we’re looking at a few companies that are vertically integrated into the business that we do. But also what has been successful for us is the building out of small, light manufacturing plants. We’re looking to continue that. We will probably have constructed five or six plants within five years.”
Barnes is also excited about the Government of Jamaica’s Global Logistics Hub Initiative, which aims to make the country the fourth node in the world-wide system, joining Dubai, Rotterdam, and Singapore. If successful, it will position Jamaica as a significant player in the global shipping and logistics industry by capitalizing on the almost-completed expansion of the Panama Canal, and providing a more cost-effective platform from which to export product. “We’re challenged to export, at the moment, because of the trade rate coming out of Jamaica,” Barnes explains. “Once there are increased activities, we expect a reduction in trade rates which will allow us an opportunity whereby we can move more exports.”
ARC employs over 200 workers, and according to Barnes, attracting, employing, and training its workforce is a key component of the company’s ethos. “We’re a people-oriented company and an equal-opportunity employer. We invest in our community and we have a corporate social responsibility. Most of the persons who are doing manufacturing are low-skilled persons when they come here. We coordinate with national training agencies to ensure that these young men, especially, from depressed communities, have a skill and some form of academic certification, and are trained to the extent, whereby if they desire to leave this company at any point in time, they are employable. We pride ourselves in investing in youth. We believe in Jamaica and that’s why we continue to invest in this country.”
As ARC Manufacturing Limited goes forward, undoubtedly it will continue its tradition of providing its customers with superior products of superior quality, delivered via its superior delivery service. “Our customers and our staff are our two prime assets,” declares Barnes. “And it is our view, that if we continue to invest in both, then the return for the company will be consistent with our projections.”
Perhaps, the next time President Norman Horne flies over Jamaica, he will be able to see much more of what he and his company have helped to build from the ground up.
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Arc Systems
WHAT: Manufacturer and distributor of building materials
WHERE: Kingston, Jamaica
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