Gary Manufacturing opened for business in 1958. Today, we do not know much about the original Gary of Gary Manufacturing, but we know that the original owner sold to Bob in the mid 1960’s.
After 20+ years of ownership Bob sold to current owners Brian and Helen Smith in April 1995. Brian and Helen have managed to turn a small factory with 9 employees into a 12,000-sq. ft. space with over 30 employees. I recently sat down with the owners and current general manager, Kerri Smith, yes… it is all in the family here, to discuss their time as owners and what they think of the 60-year milestone.
Brian is originally from England and Helen comes from Ireland, they met in Cape Town while both were traveling and later married and started their family in South Africa. After having the opportunity to own a plastics factory in South Africa in the 1970’s, Brian and Helen moved their family to America in 1981. Fourteen years of Brian working back and forth between San Diego and Seattle in the Aerospace industry, he found Gary Manufacturing was for sale. 1995 was a risky year for the Smith family, with offering up everything they have to purchase the business. Helen, wanting to insure some form of income, decided to stay in her Corporate America position for another 11 months, before making the leap to join the business in March 1996. One of the biggest challenges in the first couple years of ownership was transitioning the factory to a computer-based system. As with many companies in the early 90’s, computerization was fairly new as most work was hand written, including all receipts, invoices, orders, etc.
As with many small businesses, the landscape changes over the years. When taking over in 1995 the biggest items were aprons, table covers, and body bags. In her first year with the business, Helen managed to double the growth of the incontinence department, which accounts for a third of the business to this day.
After securing vendorship with major companies in the mid 2000’s, shower curtains started becoming a big seller for the business, it is now the best-selling product line. Most of the items come from a request, some trial and error and if successful, implemented going forward, the most surprising being our Coach Coordinates department. After a couple request for custom RV drapes, the company started a full line of drapes that have been very popular among many RV distributors and individuals across the country.
Because Gary offers so much in the way of custom products, it goes without saying that there have been many weird requests over the years, with Helen vividly remembering a request for body bags with a clear window to show the face. “That one will always stick out to me,” chuckled Helen. “I just can’t imagine wanting to view the face.” Turns out this was for a movie set.
Moving for the 3rd time to the current building in 2013 has been a favorite moment for both Brian and Helen. Mentioning the improvement of facilities and surrounding areas as a major plus. There have been low points over the years, but Brian and Helen maintained that a positive outlook is the key to success.
When asked what advice they would give 1995 Brian and Helen they both agree that it was a great move, and nothing beats hard work.
My final question was asking what the future holds for Gary Manufacturing, the business is 60 years old and still growing an average of 5% every year. Brian and Helen hope to eventually retire, but then what would they do? After owning Gary for 20+ years coming to work each day is just second nature for them and not something they plan on changing anytime soon. The future looks bright for Gary Manufacturing.