Maintaining Tradition and Values in the Face of Change

In prior posts I’ve focused on many developments affecting the Pencil industry and how companies have reacted in their business operations and strategies to these external influences. I’ve covered trends such as globalization and growth of imports; consolidation within both manufacturing and distribution channels and the resulting rationalization of brand ranges and manufacturing facilities. I’ve also commented on anti-dumping duties and other trade, environmental and product safety issues. Most of these posts have focused on larger industry players and their adaptation and leadership embracing change to remake their companies (i.e. generally the acquirers and market share leaders) with both positive and negative impacts on quality, customer perceptions, market share, and other typical measures of business and industry success.

This time I provide an alternate view, an example of a family owned and operated business in our industry that stands out for its gritty devotion to a set of traditional values, processes and standards. Historically such family owned and operated companies were the norm in our business. While many companies throughout the world pencil industry remain privately held and controlled by their founding families, quite a few have become actively involved in shaping and driving many of these industry trends. This includes our own business California Cedar Products Company which despite our continued devotion to sourcing US grown Incense-cedar as the raw material for our #1 product line, CalCedar® slats, we relocated slat production to our new Tianjin, China facility in 2001 closing our US based slat and sawmill operations soon thereafter.

General Pencil Company, was originally founded by Edward Weissenborn as the Pencil Exchange in Jersey City, NJ in 1889. The company is devoted to providing sustainably produced products under their General’s® brand range for artists of all ages, skills and abilities; amateur and professional alike. While General has added a range of complementary art supplies to build out the product range through the years its stable of wood cased pencils produced from Genuine Incense-cedar remain as a central foundation of the product quality and performance. The company continues to this day as a fully integrated pencil factory in its original Jersey City location producing its own graphite and other special formulation cores in house.
Proudly made in the USA is a vital principle for General’s® brand pencils. General refuses to import cores and leads or increasing proportions of raw, semi-finished or even finished pencils as opposed to all other US based pencil manufacturers who have long since adopted such practices.

While the CalCedar® slats they use are produced by us in our China operation the wood itself is 100% grown in the USA. General is essentially the only remaining US pencil manufacturer exclusively devoted to a Made in USA and predominant USA component supply strategy. Given the recent relocation of Newell Rubbermaid Lewisburg, TN operations to Mexicali, Mexico, (yet another victim to global manufacturing rationalization) General is now one of 3 remaining US based pencil factories producing for the art and writing pencil market which have vertically integrated processes from wood milling department forward to finish product. The others all import some varying degree of pencils and cores as a relevant part of their supply chain strategy.

Another core value at General Pencil Company is the Weissenborn family’s commitment to consistently producing a high quality product from then best quality sustainable materials. General’s® products are well known by both professional and other devoted artists as being produced to exacting standards to provide reliable performance whatever the application. General’s dedication to traditional internal standards of fine craftsmanship and manufacturing processes assures this result time and again. In addition to its exclusive use of Genuine Incense-cedar slats, General also uses recycled packaging materials in the majority of their products. Additionally General is devoted to producing consumer friendly and safe products which are tested and certified under both the PMA Seal and under the Art & Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) Program.

Certainly many industry participants also produce safe, high quality products with an emphasis on sustainability. Many businesses also have multi-generational family ownership. In my view what is of exceptional note is that General Pencil Company, the Weissenborn family and employees of the company truly live up to these values while continuing to exclusively produce in their original Jersey City factory for over 120 years now. General is a company dedicated to supporting the local workforce (many are also multigenerational employees) in a culture indicative of traditional family values that extend also to the customer service experience. General faces the same competitive pressures all of us face in this industry, but they continue to hold firm and thrive as a result. Speaking from personal experience from a multi-generational family business manager who guided our own company through a challenging manufacturing and market rationalization to off-shore production this commitment and dedication deserves great respect.

As two companies and two families, General Pencil and California Cedar and our respective owners have had a long and positive relationship. I am proud to be associated with this relationship and especially pleased to announce the addition of General’s® products to our Pencils.com Store to further build on this partnership. Indeed with this latest collaboration another generation of both families has worked together on a cooperative industry project. These are represented by Kirstin (5th generation descendant of founder Edward Weissenborn) and my son Philip (a 4th Generation Berolzheimer now helping out at California Cedar Products and 7th generation relative to our family involvement in the pencil industry when consideration of Eagle Pencil Company ). These two focused on setting up the products on the Pencils.com store as well as posting product information pages and developing initial promotional materials for the launch. Thanks for their efforts and here’s a toast to a new generation of promise for the supply of high quality sustainable products from tradition driven family owned pencil industry businesses.
1 reply
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Three pencil companies still in the U.S.? I know of only General's and Musgrave. What is the other one, please.
    Thanks.

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