Labor Day: Planning Ahead for Factory Tours
Labor Day isn’t a good time for a factory tour. In fact, most factories are closed for the day-long (stretch that to weekend-long) holiday that marks the end of summer while honoring workers who toil throughout the year to make all sorts of wonderful products that enhance daily life for millions of Americans.
But, while celebrating labor day, take a moment to reflect upon how lucky we are that so many of our fellow citizens are skilled at producing the things that support your lifestyle. Consider how difficult the pandemic has made it for workers to continue at their jobs. And resolve to support those who create your favorite products that are manufactured in the U.S.
There is no better way for you to get an appreciation of the products you take -- and why they work so well – than to take a tour of the factories where they are made. Many leading brand American factories offer enlightening and entertaining tours that let you see how things are made, give you an historical perspective on their development and, often, offer you samples, as well.
Some factory tours are self-guided, but those with staff guides are always curated with fun-filled and often surprising information – for example, did you know that it takes 20 days to make a jelly bean, that tiny tasty morsel that takes about two seconds to devour? Knowing that bit of information might make you bite into your next bean with greater appreciation, if no less gusto.
Taking a factory tour is also a wonderful way to express your personal appreciation for the workers who make the things you most enjoy – guitars, motorcycles, sporting equipment and a very wide variety of foods and beverages, in addition, of course, to jelly beans.
And, there are value added benefits. Many factory tours offer merchandise for sale at discounted prices. Or, better yet, they give samples to visitors who take their tours.
Some of the factories offering tours produce things that you use every day, others make items that you might only be able to access and appreciate from afar. However, with both, you’ll get a sense of how each product has evolved over the years, and how the factories have enhanced production and design to keep up with the needs of consumers in changing times. History is a big part of many factory tours, and it‘s fascinating.
For many commonplace products -- jelly beans again, for example -- the manufacturing process is sort of a mystery -- until you get to see how it’s done, and meet the men and women workers behind the wizardry. Your appreciation for the skills of the workers will really soar.
But, don’t try to pay them tribute on Labor Day. They won’t be at work.
With so many factories to choose from, you may need some guidance in selecting those you’d like to visit. There are several ways to whittle down the list. Here are two basic suggestions, for starters:
If you’ve already planned to travel for a vacation or an event, check with your destination’s visitor and convention bureau to see which factories at your destination offer tours. Make a list and contact your top two or three choices to see whether the location, opening times, tour duration and other conditions are convenient for you. Check with your hotel concierge or friends who live in town for recommendations or to see whether a specific tour is worthwhile.
Or, make a list of your favorite products. Then contact the manufacturer of each -- using toll free consumer hot lines or looking them upon the internet -- to find out whether they offer factory tours. If they do, add their name to your factory visit bucket list, noting the city where the factory tour takes place. When your travels take you to that city, or region, you can visit the factory.
This year of the pandemic has actually seen the suspension of many factory tours for the protection of workers and tourists, alike. One of my favorites, the legendary Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company, has suspended the super interesting tours at its plants in York, Pennsylvania, and Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, and don’t plan to reinstate them until 2022. Call 877-883-1450 (toll free) for more information about the tour in the location of your choice and the for status updates on reopenings.
Fortunately, the Jelly Belly Visitor Center (1 Jelly Belly Lane, Fairfield, CA 94533) is open for factory tours. And they are following all protective protocols to limit risk of exposure to Covid 19. The tour shows you just how sooo much flavor is packed into those popular, colorful morsels. Making jelly beans is a more complicated process than you might imagine. As mentioned above, few people realize that it takes 20 days to make each bean. It’s a good thing they make lots of beans at the same time! The guided tour is interesting and entertaining, and it’s free. You walk on a catwalk to see just how the flavor filled beans are made. The tour has video viewing stations, programmed with demonstrations of each phase of the manufacturing process. The video presentations allow tours to be given even during workers’ off hours. The factory also offers jelly bean activities, art and samples. Tours are offered from 9 am to 4 pm., daily except for holidays. Call 800- 953-5592 for more information.
If you love chocolate, visit The Ethel M. Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Garden (2 Cactus Garden, Henderson, NV 89014), which is open for a tasteful break from Las Vegas gaming. Forrest Mars, creator of the Mars Bar, named his candy factory after his beloved Mom. At present, paid guided tours have been suspended for the time being, but visitors are welcome to take self-guided tours to observe the full process of making Ethel M. and other Mars confections through glass walls that keep the kitchen clean and ingredients pristine. By the end of the tour you’re craving chocolate. So, it’s a good thing that are free samples and a shop where you can stock up for the road or with gifts for people at home. You can also pre-book to take a chocolate tasting class. A secondary treat is Ethel M.‘s cactus garden, and a recycling plant that reclaims 32,000 gallons of water daily. The Ethel M. tour is free, and the best time to visit is Monday through Thursday from 10 am to 4 pm. But, call first for scheduling updates. The customer service number is 800-438-4356 or you can check online at www.ethelm.com.
Go from sweets to hot stuff at the Tabasco Factory (Avery Island, LA 70560). Tabasco is as much a way of life in Louisiana as it is a product that people around the world rely upon to spice up local cuisine. McIlhenny, the Tabasco maker, is located on Avery Island, a favored tourist destination surrounded by a southern Louisiana bayou. Avery Island is also home to the 250-acre Jungle Gardens and Bird City, where visitors can see egrets and other local fauna and flora. The Tabasco tour is a culinary history lesson with tastings. There’s a road toll to get to Avery Island, and once you’re on the island, there are fees for most of the activities. The company offers several factory culinary tours, all of which are described online. You should check for the latest status on tour offerings and hours, and should make a reservation for your chosen tour as far in advance as possible. You leave with a Tabasco lagniappe (that’s Cajun for gift) of samples and recipes. For factory tour information, call 337-373-6129 or visit www.tabasco.com/visit-avery-island on the web.
Comestibles manufacturers are not the companies offering enjoyable factory tours. There are tours offered by toymakers, manufacturers of musical instruments, aircraft, boat, truck and auto manufacturers and the makers of microchips. If you’re curious about a product, look up the brand name on the Web, locate the headquarters and factories, call to see if tours are offered.
You may find that the actual factories are not the location of the factory tour. For example, if you’re a baseball fan or player and want to see how bats are made, you’ll find that the Louisville Slugger Company, manufacturer of highly regarded baseball bats, is headquartered in Chicago, but for a factory tour you’ll have to go to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory Tour, a popular tourist attraction located at 800 West Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202. The well-organized guided Louisville Slugger tour shows how bats are made from start to finish, fills you in on how the game of baseball and bat manufacture have developed over the years and culminates with your receiving a mini-bat as a souvenir. It’s a lot of fun and it’s currently open for visitors. Call 877-775-9443 or visit https://www.sluggermuseum.com/plan-your-visit for more information and status updates.
Before setting out to take a factory tour, double check to make sure tours are being conducted at the intended time of your visit, and that all health and safety protocols are being followed. And, when contacting a factory for tour information, always ask what is required, including whether you can or cannot wear open toe shoes, and whether there is a minimum age for admission. Also inquire about fees and accessibility.