Sherrill (WSYR-TV) – A small manufacturer with a big history in the city of Sherrill is showing signs of new strength.
During three different centuries, New York’s smallest city was home to Oneida Limited.
Low-wage competition from overseas drove down prices and doomed the Oneida, but now, the homegrown business that replaced it is showing signs of a resurgence.
Manufacturing at the facility began in 1880 and, a century later, 2,500 people made a good living there.
But 10 years ago, Oneida Limited was no more.
“Many generations of families that worked in this facility all the way back to the 1800s, we had to say goodbye to about 1,500 people,” said Sherrill Manufacturing President Matt Roberts.
But Roberts and CEO Greg Owens refused to say goodbye altogether.
The two former Oneida executives bought the plant, and founded Sherrill Manufacturing – the only flatware maker anywhere in the U.S.
“When we caught wind that the plan was to shut down the Sherrill facility, we knew there was an opportunity there,” Owens said.
“I knew that we could create a niche business, made in America. We had the equipment, we had the knowledge. It’s very difficult to replicate this factory somewhere else in the United States. And it was also important to save jobs, and I knew we could do it,” Roberts said.
The recession didn’t make it easy. The company emerged from bankruptcy two years ago.
And now, Sherrill Manufacturing is growing again.
35 full-time employees work four 10-hour days each week, making high-quality knives, forks, and spoons in the most highly automated flatware factory anywhere in the world.
“We had a leg up, because we had a knowledge of the process. We knew what products we could make competitively. And if we created our own brand, we could leapfrog all the middlemen and compete with the brands that are out there today,” Roberts said.
“We started out as a captive manufacturer for Oneida. In fact, we had a no compete clause in place that prohibited us from making flatware for anyone else. As things evolved, for Oneida and the flatware industry in general, and they sort of fell on tough times, that relationship sort of came to its natural end, and that’s when we decided to go out on our own, start our own brand, and it’s really a made in America focus,” Owens said.
The brand is Liberty Tabletop. The steel is made in either Pittsburgh or Tennessee – nothing is imported.
“We’re driving quality back into the product. That’s what the customer wants and that’s what we’re giving them,” Owens said.
Sales have been exclusively online – until this week when a new direct sale initiative was launched at a gift shop two blocks from the factory floor.
The complete display of all four lines of the company’s flatware can be found at the White Begonia in Sherill.
By the end of next week, second boutique, just north of Minneapolis, will offer the Liberty Tabletop lines – and Owens expects that part of the business to take off quickly.
“Could be boutiques, could be furniture stores, could be any small family-run store that wants to take a certain small piece of space, leverage our ability to sell over the internet, make a couple of dollars, actually pretty good dollars on that space,” he said.
Owens says the gross revenue could hit $3.5 million in 2015.