The greatest part of America’s wealth lies with family-owned businesses. In fact, research shows that family firms comprise 80 percent to 90 percent of all business enterprises in North America. Here, Jonathan DeArment, president and chief operating officer of Meadville-based Channellock, Inc., talks about the family-owned company and how it continues to be a worldwide leader in the manufacturing of high-quality pliers and hand tools.
Channellock has a rich history established by George B. DeArment in 1886. Tell us about these early beginnings and how his principles help guide the company today.
More than 130 years ago, my great-grandfather George DeArment who wasn’t happy with the quality of the tools available, like most blacksmiths at that time, began making his own hand-forged blacksmith and farriers’ tools. Others heard about them and started to ask him to make them for other blacksmiths and farriers. Popularity had grown so much that he began selling them on a horse drawn wagon from town to town. Once the tools were all sold, he would sell the horse and wagon and jump on the train back to Evansburg, Pennsylvania. He focused on four guiding principles:
1) Good management is never far from the factory floor.
2) People count more than machines.
3) Bigger doesn’t always mean better.
4) Dedication to excellence is the surest way to surmount adversity and prosper.
Five generations later, CHANNELLOCK® is still making industry-leading products and proudly calls Meadville, Pennsylvania home. It’s those founding beliefs that we still adhere to today that have helped Channellock, Inc. become the industry leader in tool manufacturing, selling our famous pliers not only in the U.S.A. but across the world.
One of the biggest breakthrough years for the company was in 1933 when Chief Engineer Howard Manning developed the multi-position, tongue and groove, slip-joint style pliers, known as “Channellock.” Tell us about this historic moment and how it propelled the company — and its name — forward.
This was a breakthrough moment for the company for sure. At the time, with the advent of the automobile, it became evident the future of farriers’ tools was not very promising, so they looked to find a new tool that would be more practical for working on the automobile. My understanding is that our original CHANNELLOCK® tongue & groove plier was designed to work on and around the water pumps on these early automobiles and, in the process, came to be one of the most versatile tools. The popularity of the tool was so big that the name of the company was changed from The Champion DeArment Tool Company to CHANNELLOCK® to protect that trademark. That same desire to come up with tools that simply perform and provide the highest possible value to our customers continues to be our mission.
There’s a lot of talk about innovation in the tool business these days, but when it comes down to it, a good hand tool is one that makes work easier. You can put all the flash and pizazz on them you want, but it comes down to the skilled craftsmanship and quality materials that goes into making them that really makes a difference, and that is something we’ve been doing for over 130 years.
When your father, now-CEO and Board Chairman William S. DeArment, took over in the 1980s, the company was well-positioned for product growth and development. How would you describe his legacy as it relates to Channellock and American manufacturing?
Channellock, Inc., is a family-owned and -operated hand tool manufacturer dedicated to American-made craftsmanship. Under my father’s leadership, Channellock, Inc. became one of the largest employers in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. We continue to be an industry icon in the hand tool industry and currently manufacture more than 100 different sizes and types of pliers and hand tools. In addition, we continue to expand into new product categories, including aviation snips and mechanic’s tool sets. We grew our wholesale and retail partnerships to more than 1,500 domestic partners and have customers all over the world.
I’m especially proud that we have remained a U.S.-based company and all of our pliers are still fiercely made in Meadville, Pennsylvania. My father also played a key role when the company was awarded the trademarked CHANNELLOCK BLUE® color used on our grips. He has and continues to be steadfast in the defense of and protection of that vital trademark that truly identifies a genuine CHANNELLOCK® product. The value in that trademark is so great that, under his guidance and direction, we are now able to license that trademark in key home improvement markets on products we cannot manufacture here, which is a big contributor to keeping our manufacturing based in Meadville. I attribute that to my father’s vision and legacy.
Today, Channellock is a fifth-generation family-owned business, run by you, your father, brother Ryan, who is vice president of Sales and Marketing, and sister Joan DeArment Sweeney, who serves as manager of Benefits. What do you see as the secret to your family business success?
I grew up with Channellock, Inc. being such a big part of my life. So did my brother and sister, and also my father. With more than 20 years at Channellock, I began my career working in the plant on summer breaks in various roles. I
worked my way up through departments such as maintenance, the machine shop and sales and marketing. Ultimately, I found my niche in the manufacturing section of the business. During those younger years, I really got to learn not only about the business, but, more importantly, the people and families who also work at the company. I think that we have always believed that it’s important to be involved in the business if you are going to benefit financially from the business. That means also taking the responsibility of making sure we have a solid place to come to work not only for our family, but all of our associates’ families.
With more than 300 full-time associates, manufacturing 120 different pliers for customers in 45 countries, you are one of the largest manufacturers in Crawford County. What is your vision for the future?
Our vision is to continue growing as a profitable, family-owned business focused on the manufacturing and global distribution of high-quality hand tools. We plan to do that by continuously improving our quality and customer service while offering the best overall value to our customers. In today’s economy, growth is not easy and new products are going to continue to be an important strategy. As long as we remain committed to making things in this country, we will always need high-quality hand tools. As long as we continue to adhere to our founding beliefs, I see no reason we cannot continue to be successful.