×

A marriage of paint and paper: Chartpak buys West Springfield’s W.G. Fry

  • Prody Sanchez operates a paper cutter at W.G. Fry Corporation in West Springfield on Tuesday, October 17, 2017.

  • Saul Kuhr of Northampton holds a 4" x 8" reporter's notebook he still makes for his first customer, The Philadelphia Inquirer, on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. W.G. Fry Corporation also makes notebooks for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, seen in action at upper right.

  • Longtime W.G. Fry Corporation employee Lucy Rubino.

  • Richard Weymer operates machinery at W.G. Fry Corporation in West Springfield on Tuesday. Northampton-based Chartpak Inc. purchased W.G. Fry last month and is moving its operations to its Leeds facility next month. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Wire spiral art paper books with removable and replaceable "in & out pages" manufactured by W.G. Fry Corporation.

  • Saul Kuhr of Northampton talks on Tuesday, October 17, 2017, in West Springfield about selling and moving his business, W.G. Fry Corporation, to Chartpak Inc., in Leeds.

  • Richard Weymer operates machinery at W.G. Fry Corporation in West Springfield, now part of Chartpak Inc., on Tuesday, October 17, 2017.

  • On Tuesday,, W.G. Fry Corporation was in the process of moving equipment and operations from its longtime home in West Springfield (shown) to its new home with Chartpak Inc. in Leeds. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • On Tuesday, October 17, 2017, W.G. Fry Corporation was in the process of moving equipment and operations from its longtime home in West Springfield (shown) to its new home with Chartpak Inc. in Leeds.

  • Saul Kuhr of Northampton talks on Tuesday, October 17, 2017, in West Springfield about selling and moving his business, W.G. Fry Corporation, to Chartpak Inc., in Leeds.

  • Saul Kuhr of Northampton talks on the shop floor of W.G. Fry Corporation in West Springfield on Tuesday, October 17, 2017, about selling and moving his business to Chartpak Inc. in Leeds.

  • Saul Kuhr demonstrates a wire spiral art paper book with removable and replaceable "in & out pages" at W.G. Fry Corporation which he has sold to Chartpak Inc. in Leeds.



@BeraDunau
Sunday, October 22, 2017

WEST SPRINGFIELD — For more than 60 years, W.G. Fry was an independent company making paper products in western Massachusetts. But on Sept. 25, all of that changed.

Except, instead of moving from its current location in West Springfield to another state or another country, the W.G. Fry Corporation is relocating its operation north to Leeds, in a move triggered by its purchase by Chartpak, a Leeds-based manufacturer and distributor of art, hobby, craft and office supplies.

“It’s two success stories,” said Saul Kuhr, the former owner of W.G. Fry, who now works for Chartpak as a consultant.

Kuhr, 63, who lives in Northampton and is a graduate of Hampshire College who earned his Master of Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, bought W.G. Fry in 1990, when its operations were based in Holyoke.

Kuhr did so after becoming dissatisfied with his career in finance, and being advised by a career counselor that he would be happiest working for himself and owning a small manufacturing company.

Prior to making the purchase, Kuhr worked on the factory floor running machines and getting a sense of the business. A bachelor at the time, Kuhr said that the company became like a family to him, although he is now married to his wife Karen, with whom he has two children, Jordan, 18, and David, 19.

A rich history

W.G. Fry manufactures a number of different notebooks and paper products, including the reporters notebooks used by The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Indeed, the Gazette and the Philadelphia Inquirer are the only two newspapers to which W.G. Fry sells reporters notebooks directly, as the vast majority are sold through distributors that W.G. Fry makes the books for.

“That’s because they would not leave us,” said Kuhr, on why he still sells directly to the Gazette and the Inquirer.

W.G. Fry products have appeared in a number of different movies and television shows, including “Law and Order” and Tim Burton’s “Batman,” and Kuhr noted seeing one of his company’s notebooks when he saw “20th Century Women” at Amherst Cinema with his wife.

Kuhr said that W.G. Fry continued to grow through the 1990s and 2000s, with the company relocating from Holyoke to West Springfield in 2001. At the same time, Kuhr noted that many other small-scale paper converters have gone out of business, as changes in technology have reduced the demand for paper products.

W.G. Fry has stayed ahead of the curve in part thanks to a decision Kuhr made 15 to 20 years ago. That’s when he determined that the fine arts presented a stable market for the company, as artists like to draw on and work with nice paper. As such, he began orienting the company to meet this demand.

Another way that W.G. Fry has been able to compete is its use of semi-automatic production lines. These lines have a number of different components that can be arranged to do jobs of different sizes, as opposed to automatic production lines that are set in place and cannot be converted. As such, W.G. Fry can do smaller jobs that larger companies are not able to take. At the same time, when given larger jobs, Kuhr said the company can arrange its semi-automatic lines to handle them.

“Saul’s manufacturing capabilities are very unique and very nimble,” said Steven Roth, the owner of Chartpak.

Business partnership

Kuhr said that he’s known Roth for years, but until recently Chartpak had never been a customer.

“We always just agreed on everything,” said Roth, who noted that he and Kuhr were always on the same page when it came to business.

In 2016, Chartpak contracted W.G. Fry to manufacture an extensive line of notebooks it had designed. Some of the notebooks have pages that can be taken out and then placed back into their wire bindings. Roth refers to this as “dome lock technology,” a feature unique to Chartpak.

“It’s like a Rolodex card,” said Kuhr.

Indeed, many of the notebooks that W.G. Fry produced for Chartpak have papers in them that were selected to work best with different Chartpak products, such as Koh-I-Noor pencils and Grumbacher paints, and are marketed as such.

These products were a major hit at this year’s International Art Materials Association convention in Salt Lake City.

“Immediately, the buying started,” said Kuhr, who noted that one of the buyers was Hobby Lobby.

It was also at the convention that Roth began seriously discussing acquiring W.G. Fry from Kuhr.

Prior to the sale, W.G. Fry employed 30 full-time employees and six temporary employees. All W.G. Fry employees were offered jobs at Chartpak’s Leeds facility — the company also has a plant in Florence — at their same pay or higher. Some would be employed on a nominally temporary basis until it was demonstrated that the new facility could support their jobs. Ultimately, 20 of the full-time employees decided to make the transition, along with several temps.

Between its Florence and Leeds facilities, Roth estimated that Chartpak had 100 employees prior to the W.G. Fry acquisition. W.G. Fry is currently in the process of moving to Leeds, while still fulfilling orders in West Springfield, and Kuhr estimated that the move would be complete in November, with folks reporting to work in Leeds no later than Thanksgiving.

Kuhr said that he expects that W.G. Fry will continue to grow, and he predicted that it would have more employees than it had before it was sold by this time next year.

Kuhr declined to disclose the purchase price of the sale, which was finalized on Sept. 25. That was also the last day of work for those who chose not to move up to Leeds.

Longtime employees

W.G. Fry has employees that have been with the company for decades, the longest-serving of which is Adrian Roberts, 68, of Belchertown, who began working at the company in 1969.

“I like it fine,” said Roberts, who runs an auto punch.

Roberts, who will be working in Leeds, says he plans to stay at W.G. Fry at least until he is 70.

“I guess my raises,” he said, when asked what his best memory with the company is.

Lucy Rubino, meanwhile, has been with the company since 1995. The 57-year-old machine operator acknowledged being excited about the move, while also praising her longtime boss.

“I love working for Saul,” she said. “He’s the best.”

One element of working at W.G. Fry that Kuhr noted is that he allows most of his employees to take unlimited overtime, which makes it so he doesn’t have to hire a second shift. Kuhr said he does this both as a benefit to his employees, and because he trusts their skills, noting that W.G. Fry works with expensive materials, which can make mistakes costly.

While Roth said he expects W.G. Fry will be bringing on a second shift, he also said that he had no intentions of interfering with the overtime policy.

As a consultant for Chartpak, Kuhr said that he would be continuing to run and grow W.G. Fry, doing much of the same work he did when he owned the company, while also spending more time on marketing and developing new products.

Roth said that having W.G. Fry at the Leeds facility will aid in the development of new products for Chartpak.

“It empowers us to come out with any product that we want to come out with in paper,” said Roth.

He also noted the creative effect it will have on the company. “Magic happens,” Roth said. “We can constantly play a lot.”

This acquisition will greatly expand Chartpak’s paper business, which prior to working with W.G. Fry was mostly centered around its Clearprint brand of art and engineering paper, the management of which W.G. Fry will be taking over.

Kuhr said that he expects W.G. Fry to move towards more automatic production lines in Leeds, although he said that the semi-automatic capability to take smaller orders would still be retained.

Under Roth, Chartpak has purchased a number of other companies, including the art materials company Grumbacher and the drawing products company Koh-I-Noor. Roth noted that while Chartpak does import products and have distribution deals with companies overseas, his preference is to create jobs in the United States and to move production to the Northampton facilities.

“We want to keep creating jobs for that community,” said Roth.

“My first preference is to manufacture in the United States,” he said, later on. “We want to save the U.S. manufacturing base.”

Kuhr expressed a similar passion for manufacturing in America, and said that he felt that not enough has been done for it on a national policy level.

While W.G. Fry’s bindery service business for commercial printing companies is going to be discontinued, it will still make products for both Chartpak and for other customers as a private label manufacturer. It will also continue to supply reporters notebooks to the Gazette, just a little closer to home.