How One American Manufacturer Competes Successfully with Offshore Competition

Many American businesses have simply thrown up their hands and resorted to outsourcing instead of finding ways to compete. West Coast Corporation, makers of KEY-BAK® and T-REIGN® retractable tethers, is a successful exception.

As Boake Paugh, president of the Ontario, California company, says, “We were determined that with ingenuity and dedication we could win that battle. One big factor is that we are an employee-owned company, so we all have a stake in it.” Paugh is a second generation; his father started working for WCC in the early ’70s and later bought the company in the mid-1980s.

The process that led to success began by acquiring, modifying and perfecting sophisticated equipment specifically to meet the unique requirements of their manufacturing operations.

A good example is one key area of their plant where 2-1/2 employees control a wide range of machinery, essential to primary steps in production. Another is their insert molding system, allowing for quick changeovers of molds, resulting in custom molds at globally competitive rates. It also means a smaller green footprint by eliminating the need for large, costly mold bases.

High-tech molding machines have robotic arms that separate parts and can run overnight and on weekends, unattended, reducing both labor costs and utility bills, which works for a greener America. Time-hardened chain machines anchor WCC to its history. Automated since the ’40s, they still are producing the highest quality chain in the world.

But it’s far more than sophisticated equipment. It’s ergonomic application of their skilled workforce. For example, production specialists are trained and experienced to carry out every step in the process from the initial stage to final completion of any model. So they may start at the beginning, then move on to fill another task. This is more than an efficient use of manpower, it also avoids “burn-out” and physical problems caused by repetitive functions on a full shift.

All take pride in being part of the WCC family and many make it a career. The assembly supervisor, production supervisor and tool room supervisor all started with the company at entry level and over 20-plus years worked their way up while helping build the company’s solid foundation. Numerous employees have retired from WCC, enjoying the benefits of profit sharing and more recently ESOP (1998).

Another efficient use of personnel is their satellite program of outside contractors for jobs that can be done independently. But these are not random choices. They are experienced former employees not able to work full time, for maternity leave, illness or semi-retirement, but still skilled at their specialty. Paugh calls it “homesourcing,” with a smile.

Even their beginning, 64 years ago, demonstrates the creative thinking and dedication that has been their solid foundation ever since. In 1948, an entrepreneur with imagination, Ray Lummis saw the need for railroad switchmen to have a safer way to carry all their keys. Dangling key chains could catch as they mounted and dismounted moving rail cars. And so the famous KEY-BAK® key reel was born and became an essential accessory for workmen and security staff everywhere.

But that was just the beginning. Applying the same proven, time-tested system to benefit outdoorsmen of all kinds, T-REIGN retractable gear tethers were created in 2009. Every hunter, fisherman, camper and hiker has at least one special piece of gear they want ready when they need it. T-REIGN makes sure it will be there, not lost on the trail or in a stream.

All T-REIGN tethers feature a durable, waterproof polycarbonate case; a rugged Kevlar® cord for quiet, smooth extension; and a universal gear attachment to secure the gear. From there, a wide range of options means there’s a T-REIGN retractable gear tether to meet every need, including an innovative locking system available on the Large and XD models.

Attachments include a belt clip, a carabiner and a hook-and-loop strap. The choice of lengths (from 24” to 48”) and retraction forces (from 4 oz. to 14 oz.) of the cord make T-REIGN the answer for gear of various sizes.

Latest addition to the T-REIGN family of retractable tethers is the ProCaseTM, introduced in 2012, designed to protect hand-held electronic gear that has become increasingly important to outdoor enthusiasts – but is often dropped or is difficult to access when you need it.

These rugged protective cases come in four sizes to hold range finders, smart phones, digital cameras and GPS systems. All have a 36-inch Kevlar cord and a retraction force of 6 ounces.

In every way, West Coast Corporation is determined to prove that “Made in the USA” is more than a slogan; it’s a powerful statement that American ingenuity and dedication is alive and well, and can succeed.