by Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC
Nestled in Big Run PA (next to Punxsutawney in the heart of north central PA with a population under 500) is another example of a resilient Pennsylvania manufacturer – and this one is over 100 years strong.
I recently toured the Standard Pennant Company (SPC) and learned of their unique history serving regional and international customers. They operate in a 15,000 square foot facility with 23 employees to design and manufacture items for corporate, college, high school and retail markets. Products, such as banners, felt pennants, branded garments, and chenille varsity letters are manufactured using a variety of methods such as automated embroidering, screen printing, manual sewing, and laser engraving. Current Owner and President, James Casaday, purchased the company with a partner in 1995 and became the sole owner in 2002. He actually worked at SPC as a graphic designer for a total of 15 years over two stretches starting in 1976 after graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). In 2019, the company celebrated 100 years in business – just before the pandemic hit. During the shut-down, they were deemed an essential business because they shifted to customizing gowns and masks for regional healthcare facilities. Jim says, “We’re still recovering, but we made it.”
The five departments at the company, including Sewing Manufacturing Dept, Embroidery, Screen Printing, Graphics/Laser, and Chenile, enables their diversification – so if one area is slow other areas are often busy. In addition, they are a distributor for numerous promotional products that often go hand-in-hand with the other branding products they produce in-house. They mix old technology with the new… from their standard sewing machines to automated embroidery equipment and their newest investment of a laser engraver for which they found multiple uses to improve production.
The team at Standard Pennant considers customer loyalty part of their success because their recurring business has helped them survive. They currently have a strong customer-base built on contact relationships, but if someone leaves at one of their client companies, it’s sometimes like starting from scratch to win their business. Customer retention and attaining new customers is often a challenge because of the competitive nature of their line of products. Thanks to their online web presence they continue to pick up new business, customers including a movie production company in Pittsburgh where they manufactured pennants for the old-school look of a gymnasium for a movie set. Jim mentioned several occasions for helping with this type of work, including a recent Cinemax movie with Jeff Daniels that required making banners for a bowling alley and bar located in the rustbelt.
According to Jim, what first comes to mind when asked how the company differentiates from the competition is their team’s talent and skill of providing customization with an in-house art department. Like many manufacturers, his concern for the future is related to workforce. The company has low turnover, but there will inevitably be retirements on the horizon. One of their strongest niches is making handmade felt banners and pennants relying on sewing and skilled seamstresses – “somewhat of a dying art” so employees are more difficult to find.
Over the years, NWIRC has worked with Standard Pennant on various projects, from value stream mapping for improving their production process to enhancing their website and sales initiatives. Jim noted that the previous work with NWIRC has helped his company move away from the “mindset mode of doing things the same way we’ve always done them.” They now run a lean operation. Most recently the company participated in NWIRC’s COVID-19 Recovery Program that provided them with a tactical action plan identifying areas to focus on in the future. More ideas to keep them going for another 100 years.