Started In A Garage.
We’re In Good Company!
LET’S START FROM THE TOP
Actually, let’s start at the beginning.
You see, this story begins a lot like the stories of so many others. Possibly even you.
My father, Michael John Stevenson, was born in 1945 to John & Stephanie Stevenson. After his parents’ divorce, my dad, like his two siblings, were tossed back and forth between the two warring parents, from city to city, state to state and new companion to new companion. Like so many other kids that live within broken homes, his biggest wish was to be part of a loving family while earning the approval of his father as a young man who was in the midst of coming into his own!
Living with his dad at 15 and being miserable, my dad tried running away only to come back about a month later. By the time his father remarried, most of his time was spent at friend’s homes with their families as his new stepmother had officially banned him from entering the house or opening the refrigerator by himself after getting home from school. On the morning of his 18th birthday, my grandfather walked down to my father’s room, woke him up, and told him it was time to pack up his things and move out of the house for good!
Meeting Kathleen King at high school the following year was his first real big break. Kathy was the oldest child of a big family, 7 kids to be exact, and being around them was something my dad was instantly attracted too besides my mother’s good looks. The inclusive nature of Kathy’s mom Rosie and father Jack culminated in 1965 when the two got married and began life on their own.
By 1970, my parents decided it was time to move from California to Sedona, Arizona, after my oldest sister was born. My dad’s first jaunt was being a cook at my grandpa John’s restaurant on the creek until he decided to try running his own place. In 1970, my other sister was born, and my dad tried his hand working as a general carpenter helping frame some of the buildings that still exist today. By the time I was born in late 1973, construction projects had dried up, so my parents put their savings on the line and took over The Red Rock Lodge just outside of town. In early 1974 though, the “Oil Embargo” of Nixon’s Presidency hit, causing fuel prices to skyrocket and tourism to halt. My dad was forced to declare bankruptcy, pack up our family and move us to Southern California in hopes of something new!
A NEW LIFE
By 1975, trying to find a decent job and barely making ends meet for a family of 5 was emotionally & physically draining on my parents. With nowhere else to turn, my dad gave his life over to Christ and desperately prayed for help. His prayers were answered when a neighbor mentioned an ad she saw. A local plastics company happened to be looking for a general carpenter to build display tables for them. My dad went in and got the job. A job that eventually led to him being hired full-time overseeing the roto-molding division at Cambro Manufacturing making thermoplastic food-service products.
Having a full-time day job allowed my dad the time to enroll in night school at Coastline Community College where he took classes, and earned his diploma, in industrial management and plastics technology.
Through a friend of my moms, my dad met Gary Cook, founder of Cook Bros. Racing, a motorcycle & bmx bike brand in Huntington Beach. Gary needed someone to help him manufacture and label bmx bike number plates with his brand. My dad, with his new plastics background, began hot-plate molding & decorating the Cook Bros. number plates in the garage, I mean workshop, of our small California home. This was his first experience, and what he called a “nightmare”, trying to label & decorate polyethylene (PE) plastics.
Ironically, and as fate would have it, representatives from Carls Jr. came to Cambro faced with a problem. Labels were falling off their Cambro supplied PE drink dispensers during wash cycles and employees were inadvertently pouring milk into coffee and coffee into milk dispensers, causing their customers to complain about taste.
A NEW PROJECT
Known by Bill Campbell (his boss) at Cambro as a “problem solver”, my dad was the one tasked with solving the Carls Jr. labeling issue. Of course, he was also trying to solve his number plate decorating nightmare too. But as a few years passed with no major progress, the Carls Jr. project was scrapped in favor of other projects and my dad was moved onto other things.
But with so much time already invested, my dad asked Bill, and was given permission, to continue his research at home.
A DREAM & A BREAKTHROUGH
I remember my dad coming home from work just to walk through the house and straight for the garage (his R&D lab). He literally spent countless hours studying chemistry books and experimenting with pigments and polymers well beyond my bedtime. But after years of trial, error, failure, prayer, repeat, my dad said it was God who woke him from a dream with an idea he’d never thought of or tried before in all the hours he studied. He jumped out of bed, ran out to the garage and tried it. And for the first time in a very long time, it worked.
In his mind, not only did he achieve a breakthrough for decorating number plates, he saw the possibility of one day working for himself while offering a breakthrough technology for decorating the world of PE plastic products too.
It was 1977, and my dad began using his new innovative liquid ink for the Cook Bros. number plates he was molding at the time. Unlike anything else he’d ever tried before, the Cook Bros. Brand and colors molded right into the plastic and scrap was eliminated. Over the next 4 years, my dad produced thousands of those number plates in our little garage. With his carpentry background, he made the coolest contraptions to help him print, mold, shape, cool, drill, rivet and then package each set of number plates and parts needed for Cook Bros. It was a little one-man operation, but it gave my dad the seed money necessary to buy his first real piece of printing equipment.
ONE STEP FORWARD
While working through his innovation, my dad also worked through a new job at Jacuzzi Whirlpool Spa and Hydrospa in management positions. And that is when he decided it was time to sell off the number plate making business to spend more time perfecting his printing inks.
By late 1981, windsurfing had become the world’s fastest growing sport. Nearly 1 million boards had been sold in Europe and sales in the USA were expected to grow 50% to 75% annually over the next five years thanks to Hoyle Schweitzer, the founder of Windsurfing International Inc. It was Hoyle who graciously listened to my dad and allowed him a chance to come into his factory to set up a “direct-to-mold” single-color black printing operation for their rotationally molded polyethylene sail boards. As my dad said to me, “Hoyle took a big gamble on a guy that didn’t even have a real factory!” For my dad, this was his one shot, and quite a big risk!
TWO STEPS BACK
Things seemed to be going well after just a few short weeks of trying out the new printing system. But that’s when my dad got the call he never wanted to get. An upset Hoyle on the other end of the line and in a “firm” voice, telling my dad to come pick up his equipment and take it out of his shop as he was fed up with all black ink and blem boats everywhere. In the matter of a few moments on a brief phone call, 7 years of development was back to square one. For my dad, he was starting all over again. He knew that the only way forward would be to make the process more useable. He had to figure out a way to make a label transfer from a printable ink.
That’s when my dad decided to leave his job at Hydrospa in 1982 and pursue one that might help him perfect what he knew he was so close to un-covering. If this didn’t work, his dreams of self-employment and innovative technology for the world of PE plastics would be over.
ACTUALLY, THREE OR FOUR
That new job he went to, paid off significantly. Through a completely different industry, he found the missing information he needed to change his process. Instead of printing directly to the mold, a customer would only need to apply a printed label transfer and then mold their products as usual. Doing that would ensure a permanent colored label in PE plastic. Visiting a local rotomolder in the area, my dad sold a few odds & end label jobs for some local shops to prove the method.
But it was in 1983, with his new label transfer in hand, that my dad knew it was finally time to showcase his innovation to the world. He decided to attend his first ARM (Association of Rotational Molders) tradeshow. Expecting an open arm invitation as an innovator, he instead got the cold shoulder. As he visited molder after molder and booth after booth, he slowly became even more discouraged. That’s when one of the well-known and long-time members of ARM approached my dad. Uttering a threat, he told my dad that if he ever went around him (the molder) to one of his end customers, he would personally make sure my dad would never sell another label in the rotomolding industry again.
Discouraged but not intimidated, my dad’s persistence led him right back into Windsurfing International Inc. It was make or break after showing Hoyle his newer, better label transfer system. Hoyle once again took a gamble on my dad and not only gave him a chance, he asked my dad to supply all the labels for their boards for the 1984 summer Olympic games in California. This became my dad’s first ever official order and the beginning of Mold In Graphic Systems. And yes, it all began in a garage
DOORS CLOSED, BUT OPEN AGAIN
Up until that point, my dad had only been able to reproduce one-color label transfers because of some of the printing kinks that needed to be worked out. But now, all of a sudden, Windsurfing International needed him to make hundreds of these 4-color (Red, White, Blue & Black) Olympic logo labels for their boards.
Day 1, nothing!
Day 2, nothing again!
Day 3, same!
Day 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10+…
My dad tinkered with room & equipment temperatures, settings, ingredients etc., but night after night, he would end up empty-handed! 45 days it took! 45 straight days at 18+ hours per day of struggling to get just 1 four-color graphic out that looked right! It was a fragile system and hard to duplicate, but once my dad got it going, HE GOT IT GOING!
After the 84’ Olympic games, Windsurfing International made him their label supplier along with Windsurfing Japan, Surf Partners Sweden and more as the windsurfing surge continued into the late 80‘s.
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
Slowly, as rotomolded windsurfing boards began to fade away, Kayaks and other industry brands started to take notice of the new technology available to them when labeling their polyethylene plastics.
In 1985, as more and more business came my dad’s way, it presented him an opportunity once again pack up his family and move. But this time, it wasn’t to find his way. Instead, it was to return his family back to the place he had always loved. Sedona, Arizona.
With that came the realization that family is all he ever really wanted in the first place! Looking to find his freedom as a self-made man, he instead found genuine freedom in giving his life over to Jesus Christ. Looking for love and approval from his dad, he instead found it in the arms of the woman he loved and married and the 3 kids they raised together to form a family.
In 1992, my dad was able to purchase some land and build his own first “real factory”. Over the years since we’ve been there, we’ve added on, expanded and made improvements along the way to over 75k square feet of factory space and 85+ employees. A vast difference from that little garage or other rental spaces he had along the way for sure.
Today, my dad sees what MIGS has been able to do in Clarkdale, Arizona. The small community 25 minutes south of Sedona that MIGS calls home. Things he never imagined or really expected when he began in that little garage, but none-the-less, it’s now a company that people here depend on to sustain their lives and the lives of those around them.
What’s truly amazing to me is the fact that I don’t go a day without seeing a label we’ve produced on a product that needed it! On all the kayaks I see on top of vehicles heading through town. On the Rubbermaid dustpans, mop buckets and waste containers at Starbucks during clean up. On the shopping cart flaps at Fry’s supermarket. Or on the cell phone charging pad in my brother-in-laws GMC truck.
The significance, I believe, of what my dad invented so many years ago is unknown to much of the world that uses these products day to day while at the same time being so vital to the Brands that created them. My mission is that our Brand, our significance, will be known to the plastics world by the time I’m done.
A lot has changed over the last 30+ years of MIGS existence except for one thing, the heart of this amazing company will forever be in that small Southern California garage where my dad began so many years ago.
In 2015, my dad officially turned the keys of his company over to me in order to begin work on some of his other creative projects. After all, creating and building things has always been in his blood!
My personal goal is to take this unique company to a whole new level by making the MIGS Labels Brand known to the world while advancing our mind-blowing service to existing customers!
Matthew Patrick Stevenson
President / Brand Specialist, Advocate & Enthusiast