Composites One: Partnering with the Marine Industry… And That’s Just the Start

April 15, 2016

by Jeff Angers

You can’t get much further from saltwater fishing than the office park near O’Hare Airport in Arlington Heights, Illinois, where Leon Garoufalis leads Composites One as its President & Chief Operating Officer. Yet the Chicago-area company is America’s leading distributor of composites materials – the whole array of resins, fiberglass and all the high performance products that help boat manufacturers build safer, faster, lighter and longer-lasting boats.

Until you’ve survived an ocean storm, you likely haven’t visualized the power of an 8-foot wave and wondered whether your hull could withstand the crushing stress of its direct impact. Thanks to Composites One, you don’t have much to worry about: today’s boats are made of state-of-the-art composites materials far stronger than anything your grandfather could have imagined.

Founded in 1940, the company was distributing industrial chemicals when it had the chance to sign on as one of the original distributors of Owens-Corning fiberglass through its primary supplier, Shell Chemical. “It was Louis Dehmlow, the father of our current CEO Steve Dehmlow, who said, ‘this is neat stuff, let’s distribute it,’” Garoufalis explained.

The marine industry quickly became a key market for Composites One products, as composites were rapidly becoming the material of choice for boat makers. Their strength, flexibility, durability and light weight changed the face of boating, liberating designers to build beautiful, faster and safer boats, ships and personal watercraft.

Four generations later, Composites One is the North American leader providing composites and high performance advanced materials to the marine industry, all the while offering extensive technical support and up-to-the minute guidance to manufacturers on health, safety and environmental compliance.

As vital as marine applications are to the company, however, Garoufalis and his team have built a highly diversified product line that serves industries ranging from aerospace and construction to national defense – even the cultured marble and solid surfaces you’ll find in many American kitchens.

“I tell our team members that we sell products to manufacturers so they can make products to make people’s lives better – so they can enjoy their lives more – so they can do more,” said Garoufalis.

“We distribute to the defense industry and they make armor that has saved lives. And we sell to the wind industry where they build the wind blades that provide energy,” added Garoufalis. “And of course we sell to the industries like marine that produce great products so people can work and play on the water!”

“Visit to view all of the market segments Composites One serves – they all make people’s lives better. Almost anything you can think of has a composites component to it – or could be made out of composites,” Garoufalis added.

The company carries 38,000 different products – and it is still just the beginning.

As engineers continue to develop new applications in existing and emerging industries, manufacturers of a rapidly growing array of products turn to Composites One for materials, technical support and training.

The company’s horizon is almost unlimited.

“The same reason we make boats out of fiberglass – because it lasts so long and is so durable – is also a great reason to make bridges out of composites,” Garoufalis points out. “Utility poles, tanks – all kinds of products – because you won’t have to replace them every 10 or maybe even every 50 years.”

“Still, the marine business continues to be our number one market segment,” says Garoufalis. “Many of our top customers in both the Southeast and the Mid-Atlantic are all in the marine industry.”

The company takes its commanding leadership role seriously and maintains a strong commitment to giving back to the industry. Composites One sponsors workshops and demonstrations to educate manufacturers how state-of-the- art materials can make their products better, stronger, lighter.

“We’re not a traditional distributor that only buys, takes title, warehouses and sells,” Garoufalis says. “We are very focused on providing technical resources to our customers.” The company retains eight technical support managers and few companies can match their decades of composites and advanced materials experience in their team of over 80 technical sales people.

Himself a 28-year veteran of the company, Garoufalis notes many of the company’s 480+ workers have been at their jobs for much longer – a few over 40 years.

Industry leadership is what led the company to join the Center for Coastal Conservation. Even though Garoufalis is hundreds of miles from the nearest saltwater, he knows that saltwater recreational fishing has been critical to his company’s success for generations. The company has a lot at stake in helping advance the interests of saltwater anglers, making CCC membership a natural.

“We may be hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, but it’s not just coastal anglers who depend on recreational saltwater fishing,” Garoufalis asserts. “We’ve been a thriving business because of the marine industry, and recreational saltwater anglers have helped put us where we are – and we’re not alone.”