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Shop-Vac rebounds in Pa. under Chinese ownership after near-death experience

Andrew Maykuth, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Business News

GreatStar Tools USA, which owns several other American hardware brands, including Arrow Fasteners, the maker of heavy-duty staple guns, hired Charlie Lawrence, a veteran marketing and brand management executive, to turn around Shop-Vac.

Lawrence, 63, grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and has worked at several firms across the country, including the last nine years as president for Workrite Ergonomics, a California manufacturer of height-adjustable office accessories.

Lawrence said he and his wife longed to return to Pennsylvania to live near their son, a pharmacist in West Norriton, when GreatStar recruited him for Shop-Vac. His mission: Rebuild Shop-Vac's culture and restore harmony with the mighty home-improvement store chains that control the retail market for hardware.

Rebuilding relationships

"A lot of relationships were damaged with our retail and distribution partners," said Lawrence, who grew up in Parkesburg, Chester County. "We have been spending a large part of our energy rekindling those relationships. Some have been very receptive because our competitors didn't do a very good job while we were absent."

Shop-Vac has signed a deal to supply Menards, a Midwestern home-improvement chain with 300 outlets. And Lawrence said that the company is close to sealing a deal to be a primary brand at Lowe's, the second-largest national home-improvement chain after Home Depot. Lowe's had been a key outlet for Shop-Vac before the company closed last year, and it also has long-established supply relationships with other GreatStar Tools brands.

 

Shop-Vac's pitch to retailers is that because it still produces the larger vacuum units in Pennsylvania, it can more quickly fill orders than its major competitors, who have moved nearly all production of wet-dry vacuums overseas. Deliveries of imported goods have slowed because of post-pandemic supply-chain congestion, and logistics is no longer cheap: The cost to ship a container from China to America has soared to more than $20,000, up from $3,500, Lawrence said.

"That is putting incredible cost pressure on our competitors," said Lawrence. "It's also creating empty shelves for the retailers and distributors because the supply is so unreliable. That's a big advantage for us."

As a bonus for Williamsport, GreatStar is also relocating some manufacturing operations to Shop-Vac from another subsidiary, SK Hand Tools, a suburban Chicago company GreatStar acquired in July. SK makes premium ratchet wrenches and the kinds of tools that are now produced and used in Shop-Vac's facility, so GreatStar saw synergies in relocating some of its operations from Illinois to Shop-Vac's sprawling plant.

"Chicago is a little higher-cost market to operate than in Williamsport," said Lawrence.

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