With annual sales of $6.5 billion from more than 100 disparate brands, Jarden Corp. of Rye, N.Y., is what used to be known as a conglomerate. It makes, among other things, canning jars, matches, skis, toasters, rope, tents, apparel, fishing gear, sponges, baseball bats and football helmets--many of them under formerly distressed brands like Coleman, Rawlings and Sunbeam, which founder Martin Franklin and CEO James Lillie have bought and rehabbed.
It's also at the forefront of a trend, the rehab of American manufacturing. Wages in China, where many basic goods sold by companies like Jarden have been produced cheaply for decades, are rising rapidly. Meanwhile, prices for ocean containers and marine fuel have been volatile, swinging 40% for containers and up to 150% for fuel in some periods. The result is a new cost equation that is returning some manufacturing to the U.S. This year Jarden will "insource" $100 million worth of goods (in wholesale value)--about 4 million items--to the Americas, mostly from Asia, half of that to the U.S. That includes Worth carbon-fiber softball bats, now in full-swing production in Caledonia, Minn.; marine-antenna castings in Greenville, S.C.; Quickie mops and brooms that have swept into Lumberton, N.C.; and a new line of Rawlings footballs that will touch down in Springfield, Mo.
Because Jarden makes so many different things using so many different processes, the company is keenly attuned to sourcing: it buys certain kitchen appliances from Chinese manufacturers because it won't ever beat their prices in the U.S., but it makes canning jars in Daleville, Ind., because no one else can do it better for less. The calculation is ever changing, given variable costs like energy and considerations like speed to market. "We kept some facilities open and capacities available for when the cost started moving," says Lillie. So a match factory in Cloquet, Minn., that didn't get extinguished to save $1 million is operating profitably--even adding toothpicks.
This trend will likely grow. According to the Boston Consulting Group, wage and benefit costs will increase 15% to 20% annually in China as it becomes a consumer-oriented economy. Export costs will rise too as the country's manufacturing capacity tilts toward its domestic market. "At the end of the day," says Franklin, "keeping the factories open in the U.S. is an important hedge for what we think is an inevitable shift." So far, it's a slow one, involving just 1% of Jarden's workforce--a couple hundred jobs. "We're in front of the trend," says Lillie, who has the perspective of running 65 plants worldwide. "A lot of people are still focused on short-term margin enhancement." But for U.S. manufacturing, it's the direction that's important.