Time Is On Their Side

What's important to us is selling tools that we're proud of and that our customers take pride in selling or using," states Mayhew Steel Products president John Lawless. It's this focus that has established a reputation for producing high-quality tools in each of the last three centuries. And while their goal has remained the same, the company's ability to embrace change is one of the reasons they'll celebrate a 150th anniversary in 2006.

The origins of the business go back to 1856, when English immigrant H.H. Mayhew began making spikes and other metal hand tools on the banks of the Deerfield River in Shelburne Falls, MA. From these humble beginnings the business took off, thanks to a steady flow of settlers who made the 100-mile trip from Boston to this northwestern corner of Massachusetts.

As the company grew, it began expanding its line to include what have become Mayhew's core offerings, namely pry bars, chisels and punches. World War II would provide growth from government contracts, but growth that was limited by material allotments. This wouldn't be the first time steel availability would impact the business.

A later catastrophe would literally change the face of the company. In 1948 the Shelburne Falls factory burned to the ground. "After the fire, my grandfather and three others got the business up and running again. Over time, the other partners were bought out and the business has been passed from my grandfather to my father, and now to me," explains Lawless.

The factory in Shelburne Falls was eventually re-built. So while all of the forging and rough manufacturing is done there, final assembly, storage and shipping was transitioned to a new building in Turner's Falls in 2002.

Once Mayhew was back on its feet after the fire, another major transition awaited. "During the 1950s and ‘60s, we started to do more private labeling," continues Lawless, "which was a new direction for us." It's a direction that took the bulk of the company's business to the growing automotive sector, and away from a shrinking hardware market. So not only was Mayhew transitioning to new markets and different distribution channels, but also to new customer types with more stringent needs.

So was the situation when Lawless took the reigns in 1980. "When I came on, we had a great private label business, but the Mayhew brand was being under-utilized. So we started putting greater emphasis on our own name. That led us to the industrial market.

"The trick there was that in order to meet these customer's needs we had to start using a higher-quality steel. So the product improved, which led companies that weren't working with us to re-evaluate who they were sourcing from. The end result was growth for the private label business, as well as the Mayhew brand. We captured what was working in the factories and put it on the tool trucks and store displays," recalls Lawless.

Currently, this translates to having 12 different handles at the ready for many of the company's products. Each handle is the same, except for the logo, which could represent their own name, or the numerous other companies they supply.

Doing It With Pryde
Mayhew's line consists of about 200 core products, with unique sets that stretch the company's total offerings to over 400. A point of differentiation continues to be its manufacturing methods, which include forging, heat-treating, stamping, chroming and polishing the Mayhew line of tools, as well as those for their private-label partners, right here in the U.S.A.

Mayhew also uses S2 steel, which Lawless states is unique to products made here in the States. The alloy is a special balance of carbon and silicon that helps maintain the right level of hardness throughout a product's lifespan.

Although their manufacturing levels and product quality have built a solid reputation, and served as a catalyst for growth, Lawless feels that expanding Mayhew's breadth of offerings is vital when looking to the future. To this end, the Cats Paw™ line by Mayhew was recently introduced.

This line takes the company into a realm that, as Lawless explains, is close, but not exactly Mayhew's specialty. "The Cats Paw line features a collection of more conventional tools, like screwdrivers, bits, sockets and scrapers. Although they're manufactured overseas, we're being very careful in making sure they meet our specifications for quality and performance," he states.

Lawless continues, "Basically, we know how to make excellent pry bars, chisels, punches and other types of particular hand tools, but the more basic items are not something we specialize in. So the premise with Cats Paw is implementing our strengths in terms of distribution and extra features to provide a high-quality tool at a lower price point. These products aren't on the same level as the Mayhew brand, but they're still a premium product targeted at the professional," he explains.

Some of these extra features include metal-capped handles like those on Mayhew's Dominator® Pry Bar, as well as higher quality steels in the screwdriver blades.

The cliché is that change is good. Examples abound which demonstrate that's not always the case - just ask those behind the concept of New Coke.

Fortunately for Mayhew, change has been very good. Not because it led to something different, but because change has pushed the company in new directions that have led to growth and opportunity. "Looking ahead, we just want to grow in our niche, and continue to sell quality," states Lawless. Still the same goal, but with new practices in place to reach it.