Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Company | Where the Bells Ring On
Matt holds Abdirahim up as an example. A Somali immigrant hired through Catholic Charities, he’s worked his way up to floor supervisor. Matt is planning to send him to management class. He believes that these kinds of small investments in his workers will pay dividends in the long run. “When you invest in people,” he says, “you give them a reason to give a crap.”
Making people care is one of the great challenges of any American manufacturer. It’s become such common wisdom that the days of “Made in America” are over that to argue otherwise sometimes gets you labeled as crazy. But American industry isn’t dead yet, and signs of that can be seen throughout the Bevin factory.
In one corner of the break room–in territory traditionally ceded to Coke or Pepsi–stands a vending machine stocked with Hosmer Mountain sodas. They’re from a tiny bottling firm based in Willimantic, Connecticut–one of a small web of New England manufacturers doing business with the Bevins. “There are a lot of little guys that are sort of dependent on other little guys like us,” Matt explains, ticking through a list of local contractors and clients.
He mentions a final Bevin client, one who’s based at the North Pole, repeating an old family joke about being Santa’s exclusive supplier of sleigh bells. Then, with perhaps a little too much sarcasm, he adds, “Santa, luckily, hasn’t outsourced to China yet.”
Unfortunately, to a large extent the rest of us have. “People say, ‘These Walmarts, they come in and ruin the mom-and-pops,'” Matt notes. “But the same people who say that don’t shop at those little places. They go to Walmart, where they can get it cheap.” He hopes to see the day when “Made in America” receives the same treatment as “organic,” with big-box retailers setting aside space for those products and giving people the choice to pay a little more to support something they believe in.
For now it’s all Matt can do to keep the factory running. After two years, he’s weeded out many of the inefficiencies and feels as though he’s stopped the bleeding. “I don’t know if we’ll thrive,” he adds. “But to survive and then do better than survive, that’s really what I’m striving to do.”
For Matt this isn’t just about keeping the family legacy going; it’s about digging in and defying the odds. He speaks of himself alternatively as the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike and as a contrarian businessman with his thumb in the eye of convention. “We might end up being the last company in America making something, and if we are, good,” he says coolly. “But I’m determined to at least get to our 200th anniversary. I’ve got 22 years to go.”
It’s impossible to know whether Matt has a chance of reaching that goal, and only time will tell whether he’ll be remembered as a visionary or as a stubborn businessman standing in the way of history. But what we do know is that in one small New England factory, he’s writing a different story. It’ll be interesting to see whether it catches on.
To learn more: Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Co., East Hampton, CT. 860-267-4431; bevinbells.com