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Tradition Meets Innovation In West Virginia

Man creates a piece of hand-blown glass.

From hand-crafted glass at The Blenko Glass Company and Paul Wissmach Glass, to hand-forged tools at Warwood Tool, West Virginian artisans at these companies have been manufacturing quality products collectively for more than 400 years. What makes these manufacturers even more special is how they maintain a delicate balance between respecting their company’s history, maintaining their product’s quality, and moving the company forward with new technologies and processes.

Blenko Glass Company, Milton, WV

The Blenko Glass Company has been a family owned and operated company since 1893 and have been in Milton, WV since 1921. Exquisite color, skilled craftsmen, and imaginative designs have made Blenko famous in the time-honored craft of hand-blown glass. In a world of ever-increasing automation, Blenko prides itself in paying particular attention to the forms and designs of their handmade products. But recently, Blenko Glass invested heavily in a digital marketing campaign and the return on investment has been incredible.

Beginning in 2017, the team shifted the company’s sales model; choosing to focus heavily on e-commerce. Blenko has doubled its annual online gross revenues year-over- year, broken holiday sales records for the company three years running, and showed a 30% revenue increase across the board during that time. Although those numbers are astonishing, the process itself began with a simple website upgrade. After the launch of the new website, an aggressive social media and social marketing program aimed at introducing and reintroducing customers to the Blenko brand and to the company’s iconic products was launched. (Source: HADCO)
The WVUIE recently hosted a live virtual tour of The Blenko Glass Co.  Watch it here!

Warwood Tool, Warwood, WV

From coal mining tools that helped fuel the Industrial Revolution to railroad and other tools used to build the US transportation infrastructure, to their famous entrenching mattock used extensively in World Wars I and II for digging fox holes and trenches, Warwood Tool has been trusted by generations of hard-working Americans. Their employees are highly skilled and experienced at their craft. Warwood Tool’s new management team understands the need to maintain and strengthen the principles that have been the backbone of the company since its founding in 1854, but have also embraced technology, and like Blenko, a quick visit to their website and/or social media channels will show how they are sharing their rich history, connecting with their customers, and, thus, selling products.

Moving the company forward isn’t always about implementing high-tech solutions. This was demonstrated when Warwood Tool installed a spray paint booth to replace the historically used paint dipping process. The change reduced the amount of paint used and saved time and money. The finished product’s quality remained the same.

Watch a video about Warwood Tool here.

Paul Wissmach Glass Company, Paden City, WV

The Paul Wissmach Glass Company, Inc. in Paden City, West Virginia has been manufacturing opalescent and cathedral sheet glass for more than 117 years. Many of the color batches used by Wissmach at the turn of the century are still used today, and new glasses are continually added. Challenging the, “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality is never easy. The new leadership at the Paul Wissmach Glass Company is up for the challenge. 

They have recently engaged in a WVU graduate student project that automates electronic orders and invoicing. This would be a difficult task for most organizations, but Paul Wissmach Glass has the added challenge of starting with a completely paper-based system. The change won’t have an impact on the quality of the glass but should have a substantial impact on the efficiency of the company and their bottom line.

Watch a video about Wissmach Glass here.

Age isn’t the only thing all three companies have in common. They also share large energy bills and a strong desire for continuous improvement. Continuous improvement starts by evaluating where you are. All three companies have engaged the WVU Industrial Assessment Center to conduct an energy assessment. The results of the assessment serve as a “before” picture of their energy usage. By implementing the suggestions in the assessment, they will get incrementally closer to the “after” picture of increased savings.

We applaud these manufacturers, and others like them, as they embrace innovation along with their rich traditions and processes they have maintained for years.

This blog was written for the WV Business Link.