Three weeks into its road show with potential investors in early 1999, Trex Co.'s underwriter warned that the deck manufacturer's story was not flashy enough, that it would not be able to hold an initial public offering, executives of the Winchester firm recall.
"Going public seemed like a very simple thing, and it happened all the time back then. And it did, but it did for high-tech and telecom companies," said Robert G. Matheny, president and chief executive. "When you had a real product that might be viewed as boring, it was not all that easy."
With the help of a different underwriter, Trex completed an initial public offering in April 1999. It raised $41 million, modest proceeds when $100 million dot-com IPOs were commonplace. But as the Internet companies faltered, Trex grew.
The company had about 150 employees and $49.1 million in revenue the year before the IPO. In 2003 sales topped $191 million, and Trex now has more than 500 employees. It posted a $21 million profit last year.
Trex was first established as a plastics division of Mobil Corp. The company developed a method of recycling wood and plastic into a durable new material that could be used as an alternative to traditional wood decks. When Mobil decided to sell the unit, Matheny and three co-workers in the division bought it.
The company's goal is to convince consumers that decks made with Trex's material are superior to standard decks because they do not splinter or fade. Matheny's strategy is to build a brand that homeowners will recognize, but he acknowledges it's a work in progress.
"If you go to certain markets, people say, 'Yeah, everybody knows Trex.' You go to other parts of the country and nobody knows Trex," he said.
Matheny initially thought the market for Trex products would be in the hundreds of millions; now he believes it will be a multibillion-dollar business. The company is expanding its product line to fences and is developing industrial applications. Investors have reacted favorably to the company's efforts. Its stock, which sold for $10 a share on the day of its IPO, closed at $37.41 Friday.
Matheny said he never regretted pushing the company into the public markets. "It got us to where we are, " he said. "Any small-cap company has a bumpy road. . . . We've made more right decisions than wrong decisions."
-- Ellen McCarthy