Athol’s Whipps opens 2nd building in Orange
Susannah Whipps Lee and her father and founder of Whipps, George Whipps, after a group picture at the opening of their new building in the Randall Pond Industrial Park in Orange.
(Recorder/Paul Franz) Purchase photo reprints »
Employees of Whipps, Inc. goof around as they gather for a group photo at their new building in the Randall Pond Industrial Park in Orange. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
ORANGE — Just “down the road” from its older, larger competitor, Whipps Inc. on Wednesday dedicated an additional 32,000 square feet of manufacturing space in the Randall Pond Industrial Park.
With most of its current 67 employees on hand wearing green company T-shirts, the 37-year-old maker of flood-control gates moved into leased space where it expects to employ up to 80 full-time workers in place by year’s end. The metal building, which housed the former paper manufacturer E-Rolls Inc., will be leased as a “temporary fix” to augment Whipps’ 32,000-square-foot factory on South Athol Road in Athol.
Six years ago, the company — founded in 1978 by former Rodney Hunt Co. engineer George Whipps and his wife, Pauline — had 28 employees working in an Athol factory half its current size. Selling primarily to wastewater treatment plants, larger drinking water plants and flood control facilities throughout this country, Canada and around the world, it’s more than doubled in sales from about $8 million in sales six or seven years ago, competing directly with 174-year-old, homegrown Rodney Hunt.
The market, said Whipps, who remains the company’s acting chief executive officer “hasn’t changed significantly. It tends to be rather steady. I do think we’ve found ways to become somewhat more competitive, so I think we’re getting a somewhat larger share of the market that’s there.”
But Whipps, making custom-designed, mostly fabricated stainless-steel equipment for municipal and industrial facilities including the Montague Wastewater Treatment Plant, has also been building more of an international reputation over the past half-dozen years, he said. With gates ranging from 6 square inches to 15 square feet in size, but typically 2 to 5 feet, Whipps has customers in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Guam and most recently Peru.
Markets have also opened up in recent years in Canada, said marketing manager Susannah Whipps Lee, one of three second-generation co-owners. There are three third-generation family members now in the business as well. But international sales accounts for only about 15 percent of the company’s business.
She said the expansion also reflects the company’s growing ability to do more of its work in-house, using new water-jet cutting and shearing equipment, to be in closer control of quality and component timing. That’s translated into a need for more space as well as more workers, some of whom are laid-off Rodney Hunt employees.
With a payroll that now totals about $75,000 a week, Whipps is growing at a time when Rodney Hunt — which merged in 1995 with GA Industries and was bought in 2008 by Wisconsin-based Rexnord and became Rodney Hunt Fontaine the following year — has been downsizing, said North Quabbin Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mark Wright.
Whipps, which also has converted a house abutting its Athol plant into an engineering space with 10 offices, plans to use the Orange factory for more of its quick-turnaround work, especially aluminum equipment not requiring heavy-manufacturing cranes, said Lee.
On the Web: www.whipps,com
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