Walmart Initiative Prompts Garden Product Manufacturer to Reshore Blow Molded Owl
Dalen Products Inc., a supplier of gardening items for Walmart and other retailers, is reshoring some production from China to its Knoxville, Tenn., headquarters.
Perhaps as much as any company, Walmart and its “Always Low Prices” mantra bear some responsibility for the mass exodus of manufacturing from the U.S. during the aughts, as it pressured suppliers to lower costs and many in turn transplanted manufacturing offshore.
Fifteen years later, the retailer is exerting its formidable influence in a much different way. In 2013, Walmart announced a $50 billion Buy American campaign, specifically pledging to source and additional $50 billion in domestically manufactured goods over the next 10 years.
Dalen, which was founded 40 years ago by Neal Caldwell, began manufacturing its stationary Great Horned Owl scarecrow device in the U.S. in 1984. When the company launched a Rotating Head Owl in 1997, however, it determined that it couldn’t cost effectively fabricate the product locally due to greater labor input.
In 2014, as the product’s popularity rose along with a growing interest in non-chemical pest control and with support from Walmart to “increase the purchase commitment,” according to the company, Dalen reevaluated making the owl in China. Looking at shipping costs and after reengineering to enable more efficient assembly, Dalen reshored production.
The company utilizes a dual-head extrusion blow molding machine to mold the owl’s head and body, with a unique tool design allowing flexible production, according to Dalen sales and marketing manager, Nancy Taylor.
“Our molds provide flexibility in running heads and bodies in the volumes that we need to meet our customers’ demand,” Taylor told Plastics Technology. At this time, Dalen only operates one blow-molding line, but the Knoxville facility has the capability to run multiple shifts. Post molding, the owls are hand-painted with the beaks, eyes and plugs are installed via a worker-operated press.
According to Taylor, Walmart’s push to buy American played a big role in Dalen’s move to reshore production. “Walmart's commitment to buy U.S. goods was one of the driving forces behind Dalen bring the Rotating Head Owl back to the U.S.,” Taylor said, noting that the company had previously attempted to do so once before but found that at that time it still could not compete with the China cost. “When Walmart announced this initiative, we challenged our U.S. manufacturing team again, and they rose to the challenge,” Taylor said. “We are now producing the owl in Knoxville at a cost that competes with China.”
Going forward, Taylor said Dalen is always evaluating ways to produce domestically the products that it currently imports. Dalen is also investing in new product development in the U.S. to bring more domestically manufactured goods to market.
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