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Evolutionary Production: Blackinton celebrates 160 years of successfully adjusting to market needs

By Lewis Berkover

In 1852, Virgil Henry Blackinton, a jeweler from Attleboro, Mass., began a hands craftsman business in his hometown. With the changing industry demands brought about by the Civil War, Blackinton was commissioned to produce insignia for the military. What resulted from this partnership was what initially put the company on the map: unmatched craftsmanship, quality and attention to detail. And while the primary business unit was yet to be seen, the groundwork had been laid for a company that would come to be recognized as a pioneer and an industry leader in badge manufacturing.

Following the war, word had spread about the different products that Blackinton had been producing. But as happened during the war, industry and consumer needs had changed, causing the business to shift in order to adapt to post-war society. Military insignia would remain a part of its offerings, but there would be a greater need that would come to define the business.

All over the United States after WWI, different types of organizations, from police departments needing new types of identification to fraternal order societies who desired a symbol of their inclusion, had a need for high-quality badges. Previously, many of the materials used to create these pieces were required for other means, especially during the war, but now was the time to utilize the exacting standards and expert craftsmanship that came to be synonymous with the Blackinton name. Before long, Blackinton insignia and badges were seen everywhere, including at parades and other events, first all over the East Coast and eventually all across the country.
The surge in demand for products like these, as well as the increasing desire to have the highest-quality items available, provided Blackinton with additional opportunities. Soon after, it again expanded its business into other areas, such as trophies and medals that were hugely popular in the 1950s. This allowed the company to significantly extend its reach within the public safety arena to supply police, military, fire and security as well as the federal government and into the international marketplace.

Currently, Blackinton is headquartered in Attleboro Falls, Mass., where it has remained since its inception. Once part of a booming industrial area known for its jewelry manufacturing, it is one of the last manufacturers still remaining in the region. This loyalty to its roots, as well as the local community, is a true testament to the company’s ownership. Blackinton is a family run organization that takes a great deal of pride in its core values and the longevity of its staff.

“Blackinton has always been a family owned and operated American manufacturer for all of its 160 years, and we fully intend to continue this for many decades,” says Peter Roque, president and chief executive officer. “It makes me proud that my father, Mario Roque, started working at Blackinton in 1947, purchased it in 1974, and today still remains chairman of the board. Both of my sons, Andrew and Matthew, are also involved with the business.”

While the number of employees has increased over the years – the company currently has a staff of around 180 individuals with approximately 70 percent in manufacturing and 30 percent on the office/sales side – the Attleboro Falls location remains the sole office and manufacturing plant. Additionally, Blackinton’s dealer network consists of around 900 dealers throughout the U.S.

When the company built its new one-level, 60,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility in 1982, it installed a wastewater treatment plant. Today, the company proudly reports that it recycles 100 percent of the facility’s wastewater, which is done directly at the factory. Management’s commitment to the environment and its employees is evident in its safety record. Blackinton received the OSHA Sharp Safety Award in 2001, making the company exempt from regularly scheduled OSHA inspections.

The company primarily manufactures badges and insignia, which account for the majority of its sales. Other products include regalia, medals and awards. Municipal and federal agencies comprise the company’s major markets. Blackinton has experienced some growth in international business due to specific security needs in different overseas markets.

Regardless of the specific product requested, Blackinton’s extensive experience and expertise allow the company to handle any size order request, which range from a couple of pieces all the way up to orders in the hundreds and thousands. On a daily basis, they receive an average of 700 orders, most of which are custom products that are hand processed and require unique personalization such as name, title, department, seal and inscription.

While all of the different types of badges account for around 80 percent of the business, they are roughly divided between three product lines. The most common is a Standard Blackinton “Catalog” Badge, which account for hundreds of different badge styles. These are popular among different services, such as police, firefighters and security companies.

The Custom Badge line is a more unique item that is common among the federal government as well as internationally. Custom badges are also very popular when creating a commemorative badge to celebrate a major milestone like an anniversary or when used as part of a fundraising event to raise awareness for different causes, such as badges with a pink finish for breast cancer awareness.

The third line, Security Badges, has grown in demand over the years, especially internationally, in South America and other countries with increasing criminal attempts at police impersonation. These products have different types of security imbedded into the badge to validate the user’s identity. There are two types: SecureShift Badges, which contain enamel that shifts in color when slightly turned, and SmartShield, which is a traditional metal badge with an embedded radio-frequency identification chip. This high-security U.S.-patented badge solution stores the officer’s identity and other valuable details. Blackinton remains the only manufacturer that can sell SmartShield and SecureShift Badges worldwide.

Popular insignia products include commendation bars, lapel pins and other items. These come in various styles and colors as well as nearly endless customization options. Over the years, Blackinton has also increased the types of medals it produces, which now include honors such as Purple Hearts, awards and jewelry gifts. The regalia unit also has seen a steady increase in demand over the years.

As time has gone by and marketplace trends have evolved, badges and other Blackinton products have become increasingly unique. There are now more pieces and customization options than ever before, and much more that can be done with individual items. There are new and different types of enamel colors being made all the time. Currently Blackinton boasts 50 “standard” colors as well as an array of other colors, which are good for commendation bars and other products that benefit from having more color intricacies.

The idea of applying center seals can personalize a badge in many different ways, providing different looks and lots of customization options. Bars on badges, particularly for police officers, firefighters and other public safety officials, allow for much diversity with all of the different enamel colors. Other custom products such as two-tone and tri-tone badges have become very popular for special occasions due to their unique, ornate look. These are popular as commemorative items to raise money for different events.

With the evolution of technology and the development of an online badge builder program, Blackinton has significantly enhanced the abilities of its sales approach. Through the dealer network, the focus is to work with individuals in an ongoing effort to improve the tools at their disposal for selling products. The process of ordering a custom badge online can be difficult due to the unique attributes of the product, so there is a growing spotlight on educating and training dealers on how to harness the online tools to sell badges and other products.

“As we surpass another company milestone in time, it is exciting to incorporate new technologies into our business that offer our customers better service and better products,” says David Long, chief operating officer. “The melding of new ideas and methods with old traditions and values, when done right, is a powerful combination for business success.”

The online badge builder has been incredibly helpful to Blackinton in a number of areas. It locates dealers in specific locations who can host different types of badges on their ecommerce website. If the dealer doesn’t have an ecommerce site, there is an option to generate automatic emails that send individual badge designs to the dealer so they can make a purchase. Along with the badge builder, Blackinton works with its dealers on the best ways to enhance their customers’ user experience through placing orders and continuing to increase the number and styles of badges available. They are also in the midst of rolling out a new online dealer ordering system that will allow customers to place orders more seamlessly.

While the current economic climate has had a negative impact on certain aspects of Blackinton’s business – municipalities, in particular – the majority of the areas which it serves have remained relatively stable. The Custom Badge business, for one, is still doing very well and actually seeing more of an uptick recently. The commemorative marketplace has continued to thrive, with Blackinton providing a myriad of products for different events. For example, it created a one-year anniversary badge to honor those who served the Nashville community in the wake of a devastating flood. And although some businesses are turning to overseas companies for their badge needs, these departments typically come back due to Blackinton’s unmatched quality.

Going forward, areas like the badge ordering system will take on an even greater role in the Blackinton dynamic as its web and mobile presence continue to increase. With these and other new technologies, building out and enhancing the internal dealer system is key in keeping everyone up-to-date on all the latest sales tools. This will inevitably increase product awareness, for both the dealers and their individual customers, who will have a growing universal place to house, buy, sell and customize different items.

Blackinton has demonstrated an ongoing effort to invest in research and development, staying up-to-date and at the forefront of the latest trends, technologies and software in the badge-building field. The SmartShield product line continues to grow and increase in demand. Departments who use it rave about its unbeatable inventory system and the ease with which a badge can be decommissioned if lost or stolen.

With all of the enhancements in technology and its ever-growing web presence, Blackinton continues to thrive in creating products that are in high demand, even those that are more difficult to manufacture. One of these is the Tri-Tone Badge, which typically consists of three different finishes on a one-piece item. Another is the aforementioned Custom Badges, in particular those made for fundraising events. Great strides have been made in increasing product offerings that accommodate different charitable needs.

As time goes on and its capabilities are enhanced further, Blackinton strives toward continuing to improve its internal processes so that it can make the best products possible and provide the best education and training to both employees and dealers in order to enhance company growth. The company invests heavily in its people, perhaps even more so than the products, in order to provide an at-home environment to those working in a family-run business. In fact, there is an annual event held to celebrate the anniversaries of the company’s longest-tenured employees, with some spanning almost half a century.

“Our employees are such an enormous factor in the success and longevity of the business,” adds Long. “We are so fortunate to have employees with 20, 30, even 40 years of experience. That institutional knowledge is irreplaceable.”

While much has changed in the world around Blackinton since it opened its doors in 1852, its business model, culture and even primary line of products have remained relatively the same. And the future looks bright as it continues to combine its old world craftsmanship with the latest in modern manufacturing technologies. It’s done an impeccable job of evolving with the times, while staying true to its principles and the core values that define the organization. Here’s to the next 160 years of more ongoing success!

 

V.H. Blackinton & Co., Inc.

221 John L. Dietsch Blvd.

P.O. Box 1300

Attleboro Falls, MA 02763

1-800-699-4436

www.blackinton.com