A western Missouri factory is a major success story amid a massive transfer of manufacturing jobs overseas.
Waterloo Industries has been operating in Sedalia since the 1970’s producing metal tool kits of all sizes. It’s the only U.S. based manufacturer of such products that are sold at retail outlets.
Operations were running smoothly last year when the company’s new owners considered an option which has become commonplace in recent years.
Waterloo’s Phil Frerking says the subject of moving production out of the country received serious attention shortly after longtime owner Fortune Brands sold the company to a group led by private equity firm AFI Partners in September 2015.
“We were in the process of deliberating whether the operations needed to move to Mexico, or the Mexico operations be moved to Missouri” said Frerking. “The decision was to come to Missouri with that. So we actually shut down a Mexico plant and moved that product to Sedalia, Missouri.”
The private equity owners of Waterloo haven’t opted flip the business for quick profits. In fact, it appears to have solidified its commitment to growing its market share.
In addition to consolidating operations in the state, it’s in the process beefing up production at its facility. It’s invested $3 million into the Sedalia plant this year with plans to increase spending in 2017.
The company added 70 full time jobs in August, and is in the process of hiring 80 additional workers by this month. It currently employs 400 people.
Frerking credits the success to the dedication and experience of employees. He says the business has a lot of local ties to the Sedalia area, having been operating in the city since 1978. “There’s a lot of combinations of fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, cousins that work here at the plant. It’s a strong, deep rooted, strong working community with a lot of pride in what they do.”
Frerking says, to stay competitive, the company has to function with fewer employees who work more efficiently. “Our biggest competition right now is coming from Asia. We all know the stories about their labor rates in Asia. They’re cheaper. Their steel costs are cheaper. So it’s not really a level playing field. So we have to get better at what we do. And our team has signed up for that.” Frerking says the company’s workers are willing to adopt new methods of operation to stay ahead of global competition.
In the past year, Waterloo has started making products for Walmart, Lowe’s, Tractor Supply, Menard’s and Caterpillar. Its biggest customer for decades has been Craftsman, a brand sold thru Sears. Waterloo also markets its own brands online through Costco and Amazon.
Waterloo’s metal tool storage products range from small portable tool boxes up to industrial containers which can cost as much as $8,000 each. The company claims its annual revenue is $100 million plus.