Berwick Offray, LLC History

Address:
9th and Bomboy Lane
Berwick, Pennsylvania 18603
U.S.A.

Telephone: (570) 752-5934
Toll Free: (570) 752-6531
Fax: (570) 752-6531

Website:
Wholly Owned Subsidiary of CSS Industries, Inc.
Founded: 1945
Employees: 1,600
Sales: $230 million (2003)
NAIC: 336360 Motor Vehicle Seating and Interior Trim Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

As a leader in providing superior service, value, and quality, Berwick Offray is proud of its reputation for setting the standard for excellence and creativity in the ribbon and bow industry.

Key Dates:

1876:
C.M. Offray and Son is founded.
1922:
Offray opens a plant in Hagerstown, Maryland.
1945:
Berwick Industries is founded.
1989:
Offray acquires Lion Ribbon Co.
1993:
CSS Industries acquires Berwick.
1999:
Berwick acquires bow assets from 3M and Affinity Diversified Industries.
2002:
Berwick acquires Offray.

Company History:

A subsidiary of CSS Industries, Inc., Berwick Offray, LLC, is the world's largest manufacturer and distributor of decorative ribbons and bows produced by both woven and non-woven methods. The business of the Berwick, Pennsylvania-based company is divided among seven divisions. The Christmas Retail division offers a wide variety of bows and ribbons for wrapping Christmas presents. The Trim Time Retail division is devoted to home décor, tree, and wreath decorating. Berwick's Everyday Retail division produces gift packaging and party decorations for non-Christmas holidays such as Valentine's Day and Easter, as well as birthdays and other gift-giving occasions. The Floral Wholesale division produces decorative ribbon used by florists in creating bouquets. The company also offers a variety of ribbons and bows through its Craft Retail division suitable for craft projects. Berwick's Packaging Wholesale division sells bulk orders of bows, ribbons, and accessories and primarily serves customers such as department stores that offer gift-wrapping services. Finally, Berwick has a Custom division, producing customized ribbons and bows on request. The Berwick Offray name is the result of a 2002 acquisition that brought together the rival firms of Berwick Industries and C.M. Offray and Son, Inc.

American Ribbon Industry Dates to the Early 1800s

Popular in Europe for many years, decorative ribbons were not commonplace in colonial America because of their association with the hated nobility, for whom the wearing of ribbons among both men and women indicated social rank. In England, Parliament actually passed a law that limited the wearing of ribbons to members of the aristocracy. As the United States grew older, the stigma attached to ribbons diminished and a small cottage industry emerged. Around 1815, ribbon making entered a new era with the introduction of the jacquard loom, which allowed the incorporation of floral designs and pictures in ribbons and increasingly spurred the use and popularity of ribbons in America.

C.M Offray and Son was the older of the two companies that would one day combine to create Berwick Offray. The company was founded in 1876 in the New York City area by a 17-year-old French fabric designer dispatched to the United States to serve as a representative of a French textile and fancy ribbon company. He stayed and launched his business by importing ribbons from France to New Jersey. Offray created his own ribbon designs, some of which continue to inspire the designers of today's firm. The company established a mill in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1900. A second generation also joined the company when the founder's son, Claude V. Offray, eventually took over the helm. In 1922, the company moved its plant to Hagerstown, Maryland, and it was here that Offray was completely renovated for war production during World War II, when the plant produced parachute tapes and webbings. With it new technical capabilities, Offray was able after the war to make important advances in the production of ribbons using manmade fabrics. It became the first U.S. manufacturer to produce wire-edge ribbon, as well as the first company to meet government standards for flame retardancy without the use of chemicals.

Claude V. Offray, Jr. succeeded his father as president of the family company in 1962. Under his leadership, Offray became more vertically integrated in its marketing approach, expanding into a wide range of industries that used ribbon. The company made a misstep in the late 1980s, however, when it acquired the tape and braid division of Talon, America. The business never fit in, and after just a year the assets were sold to Coats & Clark, Inc. A few months later, in 1989, Offray made a more appropriate acquisition, paying $38 million for Lion Ribbon Co., a ribbon manufacturer based in Chester, New Jersey. The extra production capacity would soon be put to good use, as the demand for ribbon, in particular yellow ribbon, soared in 1990 and 1991, a ten-fold increase over the previous year, due to the Persian Gulf War and people wearing and displaying yellow ribbons in support of the troops. To keep up with demand, Offray plants were operated 24 hours a day, six days a week.

Offray Closes Plants in the Late 1990s

Offray again tried to branch out from ribbons in 1992 when it formed a new division, Fototextiles, to do full-color photographic transfers to fabrics. Other diversification efforts, which took advantage of the company's manufacturing expertise, included the introduction of webbing used by firefighters and a woven tube for vein replacement. Nevertheless, Offray's core business remained decorative ribbon. It declined to participate in the bow business, which was highly competitive and price sensitive because of large offshore bow manufacturers. By the end of the 1990s, Offray manufactured its ribbon in the United States in plants located in Hagerstown, Maryland; Danville, Virginia; Anniston, Alabama; Leesville, South Carolina; and Watsontown, Pennsylvania. One plant was also located in Ireland, two in Argentina, and contract work performed in Mexico. At the close of the decade, Offray shut down the plants in Ireland and Virginia as part of an effort to re-engineer its workflow process and achieve greater efficiencies and improved turnaround time.

Offray was hit with another surge in demand following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Within a day, all of the available stock of red, white, and blue ribbon were sold, and the company was swamped with back orders, forcing management to convene constant strategy meetings to determine how to meet the needs of regular customers and their non-patriotic uses of ribbons with the new patriotic needs. The manufacturing plants, which normally operated two shifts, five days a week, now ran around the clock, seven days a week. Management was further distracted because the company was in the process of being sold. In February 2002, an agreement was reached to sell Offray to rival Berwick Industries, a CSS Industries subsidiary, for $45 million.

Berwick Industries was founded in 1945 in the central Pennsylvania town of Berwick. Unlike Offray, which produced woven ribbon, Berwick used a non-woven method to make its ribbons and bows. The company's first manufactured ribbon was called Satinette, followed later by a plastic ribbon, Splendorette. In short, the ribbons started out as small polypropylene balls, melted and dyed, then cooled, pressed into a 16-inch-wide sheet, and rolled onto large spools. Slitting machines unwound the spools and cut the ribbon into a variety of widths. Some of the ribbon was rolled onto smaller spools for sale, and some was processed into printed ribbons or loaded onto bow-making machines and converted into bows in a variety of shapes and sizes. Berwick was sold to CSS in 1993 for $35 million, a year after the ribbon and bow manufacturer had been forced to restructure its operations, eliminating two unprofitable divisions and initiating other cost-saving measures. At this point, Berwick was generating close to $60 million a year in annual revenues.

CSS was no stranger to reorganization, having recently transformed itself following bankruptcy. The company started out in 1923 as City Stores Company, a department store holding company for three department stores located in Memphis, New Orleans, and Birmingham, Alabama. Other stores soon became part of this ownership group, which allowed individual stores to operate separately while enjoying the benefits of group buying power. The company first went bankrupt during the Great Depression but emerged reorganized in 1934. After the economy rebounded with the advent of World War II, City Stores resumed expansion mode in the postwar years, acquiring department stores in Memphis, Miami, New York City, Hartford, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C., while opening new stores in other urban locations.

The 1970s saw many of City Stores' markets become the victims of urban decay, resulting in a steady erosion in department store sales and the forced closure of many CSS operations. By 1979, the company was again forced into bankruptcy and filed for Chapter 11 protection. During the reorganization process, City Stores was gutted. Some retail operations were discontinued, some stores consolidated, and an assortment of real estate and other assets unloaded for cash. A private investment company, Philadelphia Industries Inc., acquired a controlling interest and its president, Jack Farber, installed himself as City Stores chief executive officer in 1980. He continued to reshape the company, hacking off unprofitable operations, and returned CSS to profitability through the resulting cost savings and the continued divestiture of assets. In 1985, Faber changed the name from City Stores to CSS Industries and began to pursue an acquisition strategy that completely transformed the nature of the company. The first major acquisition came in 1985 with the purchase of Rapidforms, a maker of business forms, followed by Ellisco Co., a metal container manufacturer. In 1988, CSS moved into the gift wrap sector by acquiring Paper Magic Group for $38 million. Among the many products Paper Magic produced were ribbons and bows. In 1991, Paper Magic expanded by acquiring Spearhead Industries, which produced Halloween masks, costumes, and holiday novelties.

After CSS acquired Berwick in 1993, the ribbon and bow manufacturer was originally integrated into Paper Magic, which was then supplemented by further acquisitions. Halloween product assets from Topstone Industries and Illusive Concepts expanded part of the business, while the Christmas business was beefed up with the 1995 acquisition of Cleo, Inc., a major manufacturer of Christmas wrapping paper and trim, as well as gift wrap for other occasions. At this point, CSS divided its assets into two divisions: Direct Mail Business Products Group and Consumer Products Group, the latter of which housed Berwick. During the second half of the 1990s, it was Consumer Products that became the main emphasis at CSS. Within that group, Berwick was allowed to operated as a standalone company.

Berwick Becomes Separate CSS Product Group in the Mid-1990s

In 1996, Berwick Industries completed an acquisition on its own, purchasing Ribbon Magic Inc., a Minneapolis-based maker of upscale ribbons and bows that specialized in foil hot-stamped items. A year later, CSS restructured its operations. Part of its plan called for the sharing of some administrative functions between Berwick and Paper Magic. The benefits failed to materialize, however, and CSS soon returned to its decentralized approach. By the end of the 1990s, CSS recast its two divisions as four product-oriented groups: The Paper Magic Group, Fall Spring--and Everyday Product Division; The Paper Magic Group--Winter Product Division; Cleo, Inc.; and Berwick Industries.

Before acquiring Offray, Berwick completed a pair of acquisitions in 1999. First, it bought the pull-bow assets of Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M), including butterfly and pom-pom pull bows sold under the Bow Magic label to the wholesale floral and retail packaging markets. Berwick then acquired Minnesota-based Affinity Diversified Industries Inc.'s Balloon-in-a-Bow product line, which was then expanded to offer new seasonal design and other designs and the use of licensed characters. However, both deals paled in comparison to the 2002 acquisition of Offray.

At the time of the purchase, Offray had annual sales approaching $100 million, and Berwick slightly more. The two companies appeared to be a good fit. Berwick concentrated on extruded polypropylene ribbon and Offray focused on woven ribbon. While they both sold to major retail chains, there was not much of an overlap. Berwick counted among its major customers big box discounters Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Target. Offray, on the other hand, did less business with Wal-Mart and did not sell at all to Target. Soon after the Offray acquisition, a restructuring plan was put into effect, and over the course of the next two years an Offray distribution facility in Quebec, Canada, and an associated warehouse in Antietam, Maryland, were closed, moves that resulted in the termination of about 125 employees.

Berwick Offray emerged as the world's largest maker of ribbons and bows, posting annual sales well above $225 million. Those numbers improved when the United States became involved in another war, this time in Iraq. Once more the display of yellow ribbon to show support for U.S. troops, and red, white, and blue ribbons to demonstrate patriotism, forced Berwick Offray factories to ramp up production to meet the demand. In general, the use of commemorative ribbons and decorative bows showed no indication of going out of favor, ensuring the company of steady business for many years to come.

Principal Divisions: Christmas Retail; Trim Time Retail; Everyday Retail; Floral Wholesale; Craft Retail; Packaging Wholesale; Custom.

Principal Competitors: Artistic Ribbon & Novelty Company Inc.; Fu Hua Industrial Co., Ltd.; M&J Trimming.

Further Reading:

  • "Berwick--50 Years in Ribbons," Gifts & Decorative Accessories, July 1995, p. 10.
  • Dishneau, David, "Ribbon Maker Goes Extra Mile to Meet Holiday Demand," Associated Press, December 2, 1999.
  • Heerwagen, Peter, "Maryland Ribbon Sold to Public Company," Quad-State Business Journal, March 2002, p. 22.
  • Lewerenz, Dan, "This Town Has Ties to Your Holiday Gifts," Associated Press, November 29, 2000.
  • Morley, Hugh R., "Not Enough Red, White, and Blue," Record (Bergen County, N.J.), September 26, 2001, p. B3.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 70. St. James Press, 2005.