WARWICK – Representative and Rhode Island House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi and Walmart officials took a tour of the Kenney Manufacturing warehouse this week to get a better idea of how the company is doing its part to promote U.S. made products at the local level.
Located on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick, Kenney Manufacturing has been a hardware supplier to Walmart since the early 1980s, with more than 60 percent of their Walmart U.S. retail sales being made or assembled right in their Warwick factory. The over 100-year-old family-owned company has become a leading provider of window and bath hardware and storage products, and most of the window and bath hardware you see in Walmart stores was made right here in Rhode Island at their more than 200,000 square foot manufacturing facility which Shekarchi and others paid a visit to Wednesday morning.
Kenney produces more than 28 million curtain rods and shower bars every year right in Warwick.
The company was created in 1914 by Charles D. Kenney and now employs more than 300 people. Over 100 years later the company is still a privately, family owned business. Today, his grandson, Leslie Kenney, is serving as the President and CEO. Much like his own family, generations of their staff and employees have also worked at the facility over the years.
“My grandfather and his three brothers guided this company through the Great Depression and two world wars,” said Kenney. “My father transformed our company from a small regional manufacturer to an international corporation.”
He also recognized the company’s long-standing partnership with Walmart, referencing a letter written to his father in 1985 from Walmart founder Sam Walton in which both organizations committed to buying and producing as much as possible in the U.S. It was part of Walton’s “Buy American” plan.
“Our products are featured in every Walmart store that carries the category throughout North America and Central America,” he said. “Most of the products we sell to Walmart are made or assembled right here in Rhode Island.”
In his letter, Walton offered assistance to Kenney Manufacturing in return for their commitment to manufacture products out of a new Arkansas facility in exchange for a larger number of Walmart stores being assigned to Kenney for doing so. Today Kenney also operates a plant in Jonesboro, Arkansas that covers over 300,000 square feet and employs more than 50 people.
“Sam wrote about the country’s growing trade deficit, and affirmed his commitment to buy everything possible from U.S. manufacturers,” said Kenney. “So, you see, Walmart’s efforts to buy American-made goods stretch way back in their history.”
According to Walmart’s Director of Public Affairs, Chris Buchanan, in 2013 the company committed to buying an additional $250 billion in American-made products by 2023.
“When it comes to creating jobs, Walmart’s putting our money where our mouth is,” said Buchanan. “That’s something we’re very, very proud of.”
The case for purchasing American-made goods is stronger than it’s been in decades, he said. International shipping costs are rising along with labor costs, and sourcing goods closer to the point of consumption, he said, creates a natural business efficiency.
In feedback through surveys, some 85 percent of Walmart customers said it was important to them that the products they purchase are made or assembled in the U.S. Buchanan said about two-thirds of what Walmart buys to sell is sourced, grown or made in the U.S.
“USA matters to our customers,” he said. “It matters to us.”
Shekarchi celebrated Kenney and their partnership with Walmart, recognizing the local company as one who “got RI manufacturing right.”
“Kenney Manufacturing is a great Rhode Island manufacturing success story: a company that has made strategic investments in technology to stay on top of its market, provide outstanding products that people want and establish and maintain a valuable workforce that manufactures those products right here in our state,” he said. “We are extremely proud that Kenney’s roots have been in Rhode Island for more than a century, and that its leaders work hard to ensure it will remain successful here well into the future.”
There are more than 1,600 manufacturers in Rhode Island, he noted, and Walmart spent $744.5 million with Rhode Island Suppliers in 2018.
“Kenney is the type of leader we want to hold up as a shining example for others to follow,” said Shekarchi. “Rhode Island’s economy is strengthening thanks in large part to companies like it.”
Kenney Manufacturing owns patents for over 200 products and designs, according to Kenney’s Vice President of Marketing, Sally Voas.
“Throughout history we have worked tirelessly to innovate our product and our packaging,” said Voas. “We’re always looking for ways to improve our products.”
Recently, Kenney staff took a common problem and decided to come up with a solution, thus creating the world’s easiest to install curtain rod known as Fast Fit. In their product feedback customers were complaining that rods are difficult to install, so employees brainstormed solutions and came up with a way to perform the installation quicker than ever before.
“We’ve made this one complicated experience much easier for the consumer,” said Voas. “The Fast Fit curtain rod is as easy as hanging a picture frame.”
The brackets leave behind only small pinholes and do not require anchors like some traditional rods.
“Products like Fast Fit are what keep Kenney in front of the competition,” she added.
Kenney officials also hinted a new “top secret” product they’re working on releasing to the marketplace later this year, but declined to provide any further details on the project.
Officials ended the event with a tour of the facility and a first hand look at the hundreds of employees manning assembly lines and operating heavy equipment who keep the business running smoothly. From hardware products to making their own packaging and labeling, Kenney is blazing an innovative trail of producing American-made products right in Rhode Island.
Follow Kendra Port on Twitter @kendrarport