Categorized | Business

Rallying Behind the Flag Industry

Posted on 28 July 2009

“As a general rule, the flag industry is a quiet, routine business that chugs along every year,” says Tibor Egervary, director of sales and marketing for Valley Forge Flag Company in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania. “But that completely changed. And after September 11, you could feel the extra little edge about getting everything just right.”

Literally five minutes after there were reports that a plane had hit the Pentagon, “the phones no longer responded once the calls were 20 times our normal volume,” says Egervary, noting that in an average year, consumers purchase about 2 million house flags. On this one day, 25 to 30 million people wanted house flags instantly.

At Annin & Co.’s main offices in Roseland, New Jersey, about 25 miles from where the Twin Towers used to stand, “we noticed the increase right away,” says Randy Beard, the company’s vice president of corporate sales. “That day, a lot of employees left. We did have management get together and strategize how we were going to handle [the demand], but we were more concerned about people we knew in New York. It was very scary.”

“We were shocked and devastated about the tragedy, but as the shock wore off and noncustomers were calling with orders for a million flags, we knew the country was going to rally around the flag like they did during the Persian Gulf War,” explains Beard.

Meeting the Demand

The flag industry’s busy season is typically April through July. So by the time September comes around, nothing is on the shelves and seasonal workers are elsewhere.

“The entire industry scrambled to meet demand,” says Egervary. Both Valley Forge and Annin streamlined the manufacturing process and hired temp workers.

“Core consumer flag users in the US have always been tied to a single event that gave them the emotional connection to the flag, like fighting in World War II,” explains Beard. “But overnight, everyone at once felt that connection. We focused on the 3-by-5-foot flags for many months; everyone was looking for them.”

Valley Forge took the same approach. “When you reduce the number of items you produce, you produce more efficiently,” says Egervary. “You had to see through the fog and tears and see what was happening. Customers would buy anything they could get their hands on. Not having experience with that was difficult for everyone in the company.”

“I’m most proud of being able to impose order on a chaotic situation,” Egervary continues. “It wasn’t a matter of making more money, because we didn’t raise the prices. That wouldn’t have been right and Americans wouldn’t have stood for it. Sales went up, and so did [our] costs because we had to hire temps.”

Annin hired 100 temps for its Ohio factory alone, some of whom are now permanent employees. Unlike during the Persian Gulf War, when the demand for flags lasted about a month, consumers’ request for flags just started to plateau in mid-July. Annin plans to keep its temp workers until things quiet down, and Valley Forge intends to employ its temporary workforce through the next season.

Patriotic Workers

The bittersweet surge in business brought new meaning to many employees’ jobs. “We have a number of different nationalities in the production area,” says Beard. “They’re all Americans and proud to be making the American flag. They worked as a team.”

Egervary explains how for some, manufacturing the American flag has helped them through the experience: “Not everyone could go to Ground Zero. Every worker here, from the oldest [who had worked with the company since the bombing of Pearl Harbor] to the newest [a temp worker hired to help with the extra work] employee, saw the job as a way to do something personally.”

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