Shale creates new market for lock firm

STEUBENVILLE – Ohio’s Utica shale play has opened up a new market niche for 153-year-old family owned and operated Wilson Bohannan Lock Co.

Wilson Bohannan, founded in Brooklyn back in 1860, is America’s oldest family owned padlock manufacturer still in operation. Based in Marion, Ohio, since 1927, the company currently “does a lot of business with the pipeline companies, the oil and gas industry, because we have a weatherproof product and are 100 percent American-made.”

“We make the cadillac of padlocks and we’re the oldest family-owned business in the industry,” said Craig Stone, vice president of sales for Wilson Bohannan, who says one of their biggest competitive advantages “is our commitment to be American made.”

“More and more today, I think people are paying attention to American-made products,” Stone said. “They see the results when they buy (imports), just look at the unemployment rate. When you lose your job because someone overseas is making that product (and sending it here), you get a lifecheck of reality, you know. If we don’t start buying American-made products, we’re not going to have jobs anywhere.”

Wilson Bohannan manufacturers single-bolt, double ball, key-in-knob, interchangeable core and cylinder locks. Stone said the company employs about 70 people at its Marion plant, which currently has about 40,000 square feet of production space.

“We’re a total manufacturer. We go from start-to-finish right here in our plant,” he said. “We’re busting out at the seams, I can tell you that. We’ve invested in a lot of technology and a lot of machinery that has helped us keep our prices down and competitive with imported products. We do everything we can to compete.”

That includes manufacturing to order.

“We don’t put a bunch of products on a shelf and then try to sell them,” he said. “Everything we do is unique to the (customer), so we can go from start to finish in three to four weeks.”

And unlike some competitors who import materials and assemble their locks here in the U.S. “so they can get to 51 percent and call it American-made,” every thing at Wilson Bohannan is done in house, Stone said.

The company sells by the dozen, and Stone said they like to do 400 or 500 dozen a day, “but we try to make it as easy as possible to do business with us. … We deal with some small mom-and-pops, and we deal with major corporations or utilities that might use, literally, 30,000 of our locks.

“I think the quality of our product pretty much speaks for itself,” he added. “You can compare our padlock to imported product and physically tell the difference, the way it looks and feels and the weight. You can tell it’s a solid product. We hold to some of the tightest engineering tolerances for precision operation.”

Tolerances in “the thousandths” are typical for them, he said. “With larger tolerances we wouldn’t have to be so precise, but we pride ourselves on making a good quality product.”

Wilson Bohannan’s markets its product primarily in the U.S., though they’ve also shipped to places like Saudi Arabia, Canada and France. “We send bits and pieces all over the world,” he said.

Stone, who has been with the company 28 years, said it’s currently enjoying its seventh-generation of family ownership.