Walk into the lobby of the COAST Products Company on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon and two faces greet you. The man who founded the company in 1919, Henry W. Brands, and his son, who took over the company after coming back from World War II and drove it to great success--Henry Brands Jr.
Their pictures hang on the lobby wall. The same wall that David Brands sees every morning when he comes to work, and every night when he leaves.
He runs the company now.
Such is life in a family-owned and operated business, and David Brands wouldn't have it any other way. His grandfather made his mark in knives, the Coast Cutlery business. His dad expanded the business, gained greater distribution and increased revenues. And now David has seen the light. Literally. The flashlight.
What COAST does these days is make flashlights. A 900 million dollar business at retail domestically last year, over 470 million of that was in sales of LED flashlights, and it's a segment of the market that is growing by double digits yearly. And that's right where Brands has positioned his company. In fact, they're the leaders in the category, some would say started the whole thing.
LEDs are light emitting diodes. And while they've been around awhile, their major use to date has been in 'being seen'---illuminating stop lights and the like. The problem has been in creating a strong enough beam of light out of the LED source. COAST figured out how, and patented the reflecting device necessary to do it. Now an LED beam is as strong, or stronger, that the one put out by the familiar incandescent bulb. Plus, LED's use less energy and are more durable. Yes, they are more expensive for now, but as demand and usage goes up, and it will, the price will diminish. LED flashlights are already used by U.S. forces in Iraq, and police and fire departments around the country.
Brands is such a believer in LED technology that while COAST still makes knives and multipurpose tools, it's the flashlight business he began that more than doubles the revenue of those two categories combined. And there's more to come. Just in the last few months introducing a camping LED lantern and another version meant to be used in emergency, when you lose power at home.
Yes, everyday David Brands walks by pictures of his grandfather and father---I think I see them smiling.
I'll be in Wisconsin all week visiting a couple of more All-American businesses---this is the real U.S. economy folks, right here on Main Street. See you along the road.
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