COVENTRY — The coronavirus pandemic has claimed yet another business — in this case, one with a rich history in the community and a reputation for high quality.
“We had to make a tough decision,” Richard Becker, owner of Garland Writing Instruments, said Tuesday, shortly after announcing that the 93-year-old pen manufacturer would be closing its doors for good. “Business is just way down because of the COVID crisis."
Based in Coventry, the pen maker sells much of its product through distributors into the promotional products industry. But since March, distributors have been largely unable to meet with clients, Becker said, and the trade fairs they typically attend have been postponed or canceled.
That's made things tough, he said.
Founded in 1927 as Lew Manufacturing Co., Garland Writing Instruments actually began by producing small presses, which led to the development of the internal pen mechanism later used by many major pen and pencil manufacturers. In the 1960s the company became Garland Industries, began producing complete pens and pencils and moved its headquarters to South Main Street in Coventry, where it’s lived ever since.
Becker purchased Garland Writing Instruments in 2013. The business had been floundering, Becker said, and he was determined to turn it around.
After examining trends in USA-made products, researching the reputation of the Garland brand, and identifying the problems that had led the business into near failure, Becker made the decision to purchase the company.
“We were making great progress,” he said. “Every year we would trim some of the spending down and grow the revenue.”
Becker and his team have worked hard to build a high-quality, lifetime guarantee-backed product that they can be proud of, he said. They’ve focused over the years on delivering great customer service, always striving to ensure their customers are satisfied.
“And I think we’ve accomplished that,” he added.
Garland sells its products to distributors across the nation and beyond, including to a number of government agencies in Washington D.C. In fact, the company made headlines earlier this year when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi used a Garland pen to sign the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
Garland has also streamlined many of its design and assembly processes over recent years.
The process of manufacturing its “Photo Top Pens,” which the company developed in 1969 to be used as promotion tools, has gotten much simpler, for example.
Initially, the pens were made with an epoxy top that acted to magnify a tiny photograph beneath it.
“For 30, 40 years that was done with old-school photography,” Becker said.
The images would need to be developed, and then multiple prints would be made and covered with the epoxy. The process was messy and time-consuming, Becker said, and a lot of the film-developing materials and chemicals were becoming increasingly difficult to find.
The process has been re-engineered to a digital format, and instead of using epoxy, newer pens are made with Lexan lenses that snap easily into place.
“Not only did it simplify things, but it made it a lot faster,” Becker said, “so if somebody wanted a sample with a custom logo, we could actually produce it the same day that they called up.”
The once-struggling business was continually improving, Becker said.
“And then COVID hit,” he added, “and that just sort of derailed everything.”
Garland closed for a couple of months when COVID-19 first hit. When it reopened in May, the manufacturer began producing face shields in an attempt to offset some of the financial woes caused by the pandemic.
“We had some limited success with that,” Becker said, “but it wasn’t enough to make up the difference.”
Garland Writing Instruments will remain open through the end of October to allow its customers time to get in last orders and its employees time to make plans.
Around 12 remaining employees will lose their jobs.
Ideally, Becker said, he’d like to sell the product line to someone local who would employ people in the area and keep the Garland name. He said he’s already heard from a number of potential buyers.
“It would be great if we could keep the brand alive, because you hate to see something just die,” Becker said. “I’m feeling good that there is a lot of interest. It just has to be the right buyer.”
Those who’d like to get their hands on a Garland Writing Instrument before the business closes its doors at the end of this month can stop into the shop at 1 South Main St., Coventry.
“I’d just like to thank anybody that helped us along the way,” Becker said, “and to our customers — we’ve appreciated your business.”