When Joseph Pristas founded Greenfield Research, Inc. in 1968, he probably had no idea the company would still be going strong 50 years later. But thanks to his vision and leadership, and subsequent teamwork by employees and management through the years, the local company is celebrating its golden anniversary this year and remains one of the community’s leading employers.
When Pristas founded the company, he saw an opportunity to network with other firms in the area involved in the automotive industry. In those early days, Greenfield Research started with cutting and skiving foam products to ship to automotive seating suppliers. The production staff consisted of just three employees.
With early success came more opportunities, and Pristas assembled a team of more people to meet production demands. By 1970, the company needed more space and had moved to 806 North St., locally known as the Spring Grove Dairy Building.
In the early 1970s, the company began cutting other materials to be molded into the urethane foam of car seats to provide durability and support. In addition, the company produced camper cushions and toboggan cushions for snow sleds.
Expansion continued through the years, according to current President and CEO Mike Penn, who has been with Research almost from the beginning. In 1972, the company acquired the Pine Street building from the Ferno-Washington Company, and that served as the headquarters for Research until 1992. The former Greenfield Area Life Squad building on Mirabeau Street was added in 1976 to meet increased demand for the Netting Bolster Wire. These buildings are no longer held by Greenfield Research.
In 1977, Greenfield Research added the former “Marine Sales” facility with its adjacent warehouses at the corner of Lyndon Avenue and Washington Street, producing formed wires and three-track ladder wires. The facility underwent additions in 1978, 1982, 1986, 1987, 2015 and 2016, and the sprawling facility now houses the wire department that produces the bulk of the components the company ships out.
In the 1980s, Greenfield Research acquired facilities in Howe, Ind. (1986) and Hermann, Mo. (1989). Both of those buildings have since been sold.
In 1991, Research acquired the former US Shoe building and land at 347 Edgewood Ave. which is still known locally as “The Shoe Factory.” Research moved its corporate headquarters to the shoe factory building in 1992, where it remains to this day. The Edgewood facility also housed the cut and sew operations, but has gradually transitioned out of that business line.
In 1994, Greenfield Research purchased the former Collins Meat Packing plant on South Second Street to add a warehouse facility to the operation. The Collins Building is still used for warehousing.
In 2010, Greenfield Research acquired the former Computer Stock Forms building at 324 S. Washington St.
Today, Greenfield Research occupies more than 255,000 square feet of production and warehouse space across three facilities in Greenfield.
The history of Greenfield Research has involved much more than different building locations. The processes used have changed as well. Reflecting on the company’s five decades in business, Penn said that at one time, Greenfield Research personnel did a lot of sewing, primarily of car seat covers, but even filled orders for graduation and confirmation gowns. Over the years, the sewing business has declined or been outsourced to other countries by the companies winning the bids. Today, Research focuses primarily on creating the formed wires for automotive seats and some consoles.
Penn said Greenfield Research processes miles and miles of wires in varying sizes that are shaped to exacting specifications and sent on to the companies with the contracts for many different models of cars, trucks, vans and SUVs. For one line of seats for a popular truck model, Research uses approximately 40,000 pounds of wire per week, or two million pounds per year. Companies like Adient and Woodbridge Foam insert the wires from Greenfield Research into the seat components and pour foam over them. The wires function as a kind of skeleton that holds everything together.
Some companies prefer the wire to be covered with paper, which seems to bond better with the foam when it is poured in. To meet those needs, Research buys huge “mother rolls” of paper weighting 1,600 pounds, trims the rolls down to smaller sizes, and wraps the paper onto the wire to meet each customer’s specifications. Although the wire and paper are not visible once placed inside of a seat, different colored papers are used by various customers to facilitate assembly by giving certain parts a unique color, Penn explained.
Today, Greenfield Research makes formed wires for just about every automotive brand on the market, and successfully maintains its QS and ISO certifications to assure that industry standards are maintained and best practices are followed.
According to Penn, in the late 1970s, Greenfield Research began to grow in new directions when Pristas had a vision of the future of the business. At the time, most of the wire forming needed to shape the structure of car seats was done by hand, with the wires bent around blocks of wood with nails in them to get the shape just right. That took considerable craftsmanship, but also a lot of time. Pristas purchased a basic wire-forming machine and soon had his staff working on ways to improve its functionality. With improvements in design and technological advances, Greenfield Research has stayed at the forefront of the business and has created computerized machines that transform 2,000-pound coils of wire into complex configurations with just a few millimeters of tolerance.
During the 50-year history of Greenfield Research, the company has experienced lean years as well as times of plenty.
“The automotive industry is cyclical, and patience and determination are required at times,” Penn said.
Fortunately, the auto industry has made a major recovery since the days of the Great Recession from 2007-09. Yet, there are always challenges. Currently, the company is dealing with the effects of tariffs on the wire from China and the paper from Canada that are important to the products that Greenfield Research turns out.
“We are a high-volume manufacturer primarily for the automotive industry; however, we custom tailor our products to support many industries and applications for our customers,” Penn said. “We understand our customers’ needs and we pride ourselves in producing the highest quality parts in the industry with an ongoing annual performance level of less than 10 RPPM.”
Penn, who began working at Greenfield Research as a young man in 1972, said he has enjoyed his time there and is thankful that he was able to have a career in his hometown of Greenfield.
“It is a competitive business today, but it’s been a good business,” Penn said. “We have established a track record of quality and reliability and look forward to many more years of serving our customers in the auto industry.”
To commemorate its golden anniversary, Greenfield Research is planning a celebration with employees and invited guests.
Ron Coffey is a former Greenfield city manager and local journalist.