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This business is shrinking and growing: Annapolis firm shrink-wraps just about anything

By ALLISON BOURG, Staff Writer, The Capital –

Dustin Hoover and Christopher Grimm are pretty wrapped up in their work.

As owners of Annapolis-based Atlantic Shrink Wrapping Inc., the two spend their days shrink-wrapping everything from military choppers to John Deere tractors to – in one unique case – a historic train station in Virginia.

“It was a station that had burned down, and they wanted us to come in and protect what was left of it,” said Hoover, of Pasadena.

It’s a profession that often raises eyebrows; admit the men, who are in the process of founding the National Association of Shrink Wrap Professionals.

“Someone will ask us what we do, and when we say shrink-wrapping, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, I know what that is,’ ” Hoover said.

And they never actually do.

“People ask us a lot of questions,” said Grimm, who lives in Cape St. Claire. Saying you shrink-wrap things for a living “is not the standard answer,” he added.

Shrink-wrapping is the process of sealing an item in plastic to shield it from the elements. When heat is applied to the plastic, it shrinks tightly around whatever it is covering.

It’s a common way of protecting boats from snow and ice during the winter, which is how Hoover and Grimm got into the business about 10 years ago.

The duo – old friends from Broadneck High School – already owned a trailer repair company. But they found that business tended to dry up in the winter, and they wanted something to supplement their income.

So they decided to look into shrink-wrapping boats. Why?

“Good question,” Hoover said with a laugh.

There just seemed to be a need for it, Grimm said. It’s not as if there is any shortage of boats in Anne Arundel County.

They learned the craft from another local who was in the boat shrink-wrapping business, and that was it.

They focused solely on boats for the first two years, then started getting calls for commercial jobs. One of the first, Hoover said, was for a rigging beam at a Pennsylvania power plant.

“It was something we wanted to get into, so we said yes,” Hoover said. “The answer is always yes. If we can’t shrink-wrap something, it can’t be done.”

To shrink-wrap something, the men take a sheet of plastic – the size of the material depends on what it’s shielding – and cover the object in question with it. They then use welding tools to smooth the plastic until it’s tightly sealed, with no air bubbles or loose ends.

Becky Foy, program manager at Maritime Applied Physics Corp. in Baltimore, said the company uses Atlantic to shrink-wrap anything “that is an odd shape and very delicate.”

“It’s an interesting concept, and it works,” Foy said. “It’s amazing how they can mold that plastic to any shape and size.”

The job isn’t as easy as it may sound. Shrink-wrapping a helicopter obviously isn’t the same as shrink-wrapping a boat.

“You have to evaluate what you’re protecting it from,” Hoover said. “Heat? Moisture? It’s a big plastic tarp in a sense. Is this going to be traveling at a speed of 70 miles per hour?”

All of those factors play a role, he said. And then there’s the weather.

“If there’s any wind or rain, you’re done,” Hoover said.

Hoover and Grimm handle about 65 to 75 commercial projects a year. They’ve shrink-wrapped a fleet of tractors in Wisconsin and some leaf vacuums owned by the city of Bowie. They shrink-wrapped a backup generator for a diamond mine in South Africa, and an airport people-mover that was shipped to China.

Atlantic’s supplier, Mike Stenberg of Michigan-based shrink-wrap manufacturer Dr. Shrink, said boat shrink-wrapping companies are fairly common. But there are only about four businesses that he knows of that are similar to Atlantic.

“They’ve taken the bull by the horns,” Stenberg said. “There are a lot of people who spend a couple months out of the year shrink-wrapping boats, but they’ve gone and turned this into a full-time job.”

Projects can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, and items the company has shrink-wrapped have been shipped all over the world.

“Over the years, things have just grown,” Hoover said. “You never know what that call is going to be.”

They’ve gotten a few calls to shrink-wrap mattresses and furniture, among the few items they have to turn down. There’s too much potential for damage, they said.

The company still shrink-wraps boats.

“We don’t forget where we came from,” Hoover said.

Their favorite jobs, though, are the ones they’ve done for the military. They’ve shrink-wrapped tanks and helicopters; the latter can be challenging because of the antennas and wheels.

But those projects are arguably the most important, they say.

“If anything happens to a helicopter, and there are servicemen waiting for it – that’s kind of a big deal,” Hoover said.

Even after years of being in the business, it still amazes him.

“We were in Fort Riley, Kansas, and I just said Chris, here we are, two guys from Annapolis,

and we’re shrink-wrapping stuff that’s going to be beneficial to our troops,” Hoover said. “It was emotional.”