DAP's restored digs Factory: DAP Inc. moved from Ohio to Baltimore and into a factory that has become a showplace of the company's building restoration products.

March 22, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

They make caulk. They make spackling compound. They make adhesives and roof sealants and window glazing. And now they've just finished making their biggest product of all -- a new world headquarters near downtown Baltimore.

DAP Inc., a 133-year-old manufacturer and marketer of home improvement and building products, just completed the first phase of its corporate move from Dayton, Ohio, to Baltimore's harborfront.

It is the first office tenant of the American Can Co. complex in Canton, now undergoing a $30 million transformation into an office and retail center near the water's edge.

DAP's new home, an 1895 factory building originally used to make tin cans, provides room for both the administrative staff and the research department to work under one roof.

As transformed by Design Collective of Baltimore, the three-story structure at 2400 Boston St. has become a showplace of all the products DAP makes to restore old buildings -- from glazing compounds to decorative paints to adhesives beneath the new carpeting and tile floors.

"We could have chosen to go into a gleaming new corporate tower, but restoring great buildings is so much a part of our business. We wanted something unique," said John McLaughlin, DAP's president and chief executive officer since 1994.

DAP's 40,000-square-foot home is "both a symbol of our move forward and a real impetus to our growth," he said. "It makes us proud to be working inside a slice of the city's history."

After nearly three weeks in the new building, McLaughlin and his colleagues say they've discovered that moving from Ohio has had an energizing effect on the entire operation, and not just because of the new surroundings.

The very act of moving from one state to another has shaken longtime employees out of old work patterns while enabling the company to hire new employees with fresh ideas.

Of the 125 people who now work in DAP's headquarters, about 20 moved from Ohio. The rest either came from other jobs in Baltimore or moved from other cities to work for DAP in Baltimore.

As a result, everyone in the company is new in one way or another -- either new to the company or new to town.

During their first weeks in Baltimore, DAP employees have been wearing name tags to help them get to know one another.

"There's a new energy," said Chip O'Rear, a 35-year-old ceramic tile specialist who moved from Ohio and has bought a house in Canton.

The people who came from Ohio include key executives who still guide the operation, he said, but so many others have been hired that it's practically a new company.

As a result, O'Rear said, no one is working the way he or she did before. Back in Ohio, he said, people may have been content to work in their own departments and stick to what they know, but now people want to "cross train" and find out what others are doing.

"Everybody wants to get involved and learn about the business," he said. "Everybody is motivated and eager to do well. It's going to make us a stronger company."

When DAP decided to move to Maryland, it offered many of its employees a chance to move with it. But many decided to stay in Ohio because they had family members or other ties to the area, said Robert London, vice president of marketing.

Already home to employers such as Black and Decker Corp., Baltimore's work force gave DAP plenty of candidates to consider. And that gave the company a rare chance to add employees who were knowledgeable about the building industry and able to bring fresh thinking to all aspects of DAP's business, McLaughlin said.

"In most companies, one or two employees are hired at a time" and gradually fit into the existing staff, he said. "Here, you essentially have a 133-year-old company that's starting over."

DAP is owned by Wassall USA, a division of Wassall PLC, a British holding company that is publicly traded in London.

It traces its roots to a Dayton sealing wax company founded by Robert H. Dicks and Elmer Wiggin in 1865. DAP stands for Dicks, Armstrong (Company) and (George) Pontius, early owners of the company.

Today, DAP makes a full line of caulks, sealants, adhesives, decorative paints, coatings, patch, repair and other products used by contractors and do-it-yourselfers, and sold through retailers such as Home Depot and Hechinger's. With eight plants in the United States and Canada, it has nearly 1,000 employees worldwide and annual sales of more than $200 million.

McLaughlin said DAP's move to Maryland wasn't prompted by a desire to reinvent the company, although he knew that would be a byproduct.

He said he primarily wanted to find a location where the administrative staff and the research department could be consolidated, because they were 15 miles apart in Ohio.

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