I was getting ready to settle into retirement when the opportunity to join a group to purchase Waterloo Industries presented itself a little more than a year ago.
But the more I looked at the facts, the more I was compelled to put my hat back into the ring. It just felt right.
This was more than a 90-year-old, Sedalia, Missouri-based company, best known for making metal tool storage chests. It was a company that purchased 100% of its steel from American steel mills, and its 340 employees – who weld, assemble, paint and more – averaged 15 years of experience. In a town of 21,000, it’s a big deal that those 340 people were able to make their livelihoods under this roof.
At the time, Waterloo was only operating at 50% capacity, so there was room to grow the business and create even more jobs. I went in with a group of investors, bought Waterloo and started knocking on doors. Four hours to the south, in Bentonville, Arkansas, Walmart opened its doors and was willing to listen.
I could immediately see Walmart’s commitment – to source more products that support American jobs – was real. It mattered that we were producing quality products right down the road, and the company agreed to give us a shot. In February, we began selling our Hyper Tough 3-drawer project center on Walmart.com. After a series of follow-up meetings – including the annual Made in USA Open Call to suppliers – two of our products were on Walmart.com, and they’re being added to the tool centers in stores over the next several months.
For us, and for the community of Sedalia, this is huge. We’ve already added about 75 jobs, many of which are a direct result of our business with Walmart. By February 2017, that number will push to 100 new jobs with benefits. The most encouraging thing is that Walmart is already asking what other categories we can support for them beyond toolboxes. We’re talking ammunition boxes, hobby carts, grills and other products. If it involves shaping metal, we have the expertise. And getting into other areas like this is only going to help us diversify and become a stronger overall company.
We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what we can do, and opportunities with a company like Walmart provide the confidence and momentum we need to grow. We have good people here at Waterloo Industries. Just the other day, I was talking with two brothers who now have two of their own kids working here. That’s the kind of stories and livelihoods made possible through U.S. manufacturing.