What do you do when all your customers go out of business? If you are an entrepreneur at heart and a survivor in business, you adapt. Gary and his brother run a plastics plant, for decades making the plastic webbing familiar to us all on traditional lawn chairs. Since the '90s, they have been the only company making lawn chair webbing domestically. Over time the last domestic lawn chair manufacturers went out of business, as big box stores buy cheaper chairs from overseas. Gary realized that the only way to have a market for his lawn chair webbing was to become the chair manufacturer too. So now he makes the webbing, shapes the tubing, punches the holes, hand-weaves the chairs, secures the rivets, and boxes the new lawn chair up for shipping.
"My two uncles were into polypropylene right when it came out in 1960 making plastics. My father jumped in too. Years later I was working as an engineer, Dad owned the business now but was ready to get out, so in 1985 I'll decided I'd give it a shot. I've been here ever since. There were probably 10 million chairs a year made back then, but when people started going out of the country, all the manufacturers went bankrupt. The chair business is seasonal. They'd start making chairs in September that wouldn't sell till the Spring, so they'd borrow money to buy a years' worth of inventory. All that capital on hold, so they ran into trouble if a company returned some or canceled a pre-order. Now the chair I make is made from aluminum, whereas cheap chairs are made with steel. Steel rusts and it's heavier. Aluminum is light and rust-resistant. Now the rivets are zinc-coated, so it can still rust, but not like that $19.99 chair that's heavy and rusts quickly. Campers like our chairs because they're light and can be left outside."
"What I like most about the job here is that I like making something from something. I enjoy that, I have no desire to sit behind a computer desk, I don't even like email. I like being out in the factory making things as efficient as possible. I like employing people and being able to give people a job. Having them work and be part of our team is one of the reasons I keep doing what I do. I like hearing comments from customers about the chair. Enjoy improving on the manufacturing process."
"It's kind of difficult to get into manufacturing. Unless you have some good monetary backing or a darn good idea that you can convince someone else to help back you on. We already had a company and some money, but to get into lawn chair making we bought used equipment and rebuilt it, learned about hydraulics. If you're going to get into making something, make sure there's a market for it. It depends on what you like to do - I get the satisfaction from taking plastic pellets and turning them into webbing, from shaping aluminum tubing into all the parts needed. My brother and I were quite excited from the first day we started making chairs."