Seymour ironing board maker reopens

“All right, let’s go make ironing boards.”

That was Tom Day’s message early Tuesday morning before employees of Seymour Home Products were dismissed to their areas to produce the first ironing boards since the closure of Home Products International on May 27.

People who had worked for HPI were excited to recently receive a call from Day asking if they wanted to come back since the company had been purchased and taken on a new name.

“I’m just in awe that we are here to make ironing boards again,” said Day, whose title went from director of operations for HPI to chief operating officer for Seymour Home Products.

“It has been a great, great thing,” he said. “A lot of answered prayers. A lot of people wanted to come back and make ironing boards, and we’re here. It’s great to have every one of you here. It’s a wonderful time for us. … We’re just so appreciative of everyone that is in this room and the thoughts of coming back and making ironing boards. It’s a great day in Seymour.”

As employees enjoyed doughnuts, coffee, water and orange juice, Day welcomed them back and shared the goals for opening day.

One was being safe by wearing safety glasses, gloves and other personal protective equipment, and another was to try to go for 5,300 ironing boards. To the latter, an employee said, “6,000.”

For now, though, it’s all about getting the equipment back up and running after not being in operation since the closure.

“We have orders, roughly 4,000 to 4,500, on the books,” Day said. “A lot of people are inquiring, wanting to know what we can give them, how quickly we can give them to them. Right now, to be honest, we could get them put in the warehouse and get them shipped, we could sell about everything we could make. That’s a good thing.”

The company, officially known as Seymour MFG.LLC, will continue to take steps to get ironing boards back in the major retailers, and Day also said they are working to secure health insurance and 401K for employees.

“We’re here for you guys. We’re here and want to support you and want to make sure we all have a safe and profitable day today,” he said. “We want to go home feeling maybe even better than we feel right now if that’s possible.”

HDS Trading Corp. of New Jersey was the buyer of HPI in Seymour. Ownership changed Aug. 2.

Chief Operating Officer David Gindi said HDS partnered with Liberty Distributors Inc. of New York on the purchase.

Once they learned HPI was up for sale, he said they immediately looked into it.

“We wanted to get into domestic manufacturing because HDS is an importer by trade, and being the last year or so was really, really difficult with the supply chain and freight rates going through the absolute roof on ocean freight, we said, ‘You know what? We want to be the masters of our own destiny,’” he said. “When this came up and we looked at it, we said, ‘All right, this is something that we want to get into.’”

A big draw was the niche market as the only ironing board manufacturer in the United States.

“You look at it from a different perspective that the potential here is great, not just within the ironing boards but within other products and to grow with doing stuff here,” Gindi said.

He said he was very excited to be in Seymour for opening day.

“Every company, I think that they go in and they purchase something for the product,” he said. “For me personally, it changed right away to a great story in terms of firing back up and American, made-in-the-USA factory. … It’s a good time. We’re excited, really excited.”

The nearly 50 people who worked Tuesday previously were employed by HPI.

That includes Jan Engel, a 41-year employee who started as a file clerk in sales and now is a senior material manager.

While she said she was extremely disappointed earlier this year after hearing the news of the closure, recently receiving the call from Day turned her thoughts around. Day said Engel was the first person he called.

“He said, ‘When can you be here?’ and I said, ‘I’ll be there in half an hour,’” Engel said, smiling.

When she started hearing talk about a potential buyer for HPI, Engel’s hopes of returning became more real.

“I was very hopeful because we are a good business here in Seymour,” she said. “We know what we’re doing, we have good employees and I knew we’re a viable business, so I was hopeful that somebody would buy us. We’re a good company. We have good people. Our biggest asset is our people.”

Engel got to help call former employees and ask them about coming back to work.

“That was extremely exciting for me because almost all of them were excited about coming back,” she said. “I heard, ‘I can’t wait to come home.’ They were ready to come home. They missed this place.”

When she arrived a little after 5 a.m. Tuesday, Engel said some employees were sitting in the parking lot waiting for their shift to start, which wasn’t until an hour later.

“It was cool,” she said. “I’m thrilled to be back. I hope that we’re able to continue to bring people back. We still have a lot of office people that aren’t back yet. We would love to be able to pull them back in at some point, and we want to get all of our factory people back working.”

The company traces its roots to 1942 when Seymour Tool and Engineering was established. In 1966, it was renamed Seymour Industries and began making ironing boards, other housewares and Beauti-Glide metal bed frames.

Two years later, Chemical Ventures Partners of New York bought the company from Lear Siegler in 1968 and renamed it Seymour Housewares Corp. Then in 1986, Seymour Housewares started making ironing board covers.

In 1998, Home Products International paid $100.6 million, and the ironing boards made here became part of HPI’s full line of laundry, storage and bath products.

In March of this year, Home Products International-North America Inc. announced it intended to pursue an exit of its Seymour-based garment care and home organization businesses to focus on its core plastics business.

Chief Executive Officer George Hamilton said market conditions over the past two years driven largely by the COVID-19 pandemic combined with unprecedented inflation in steel costs and global supply chain challenges made it impossible for HPI to continue to operate profitably.

At the time of the closure in May, HPI employed approximately 130 people in Seymour. The company worked closely with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and local government officials to help its employees with re-employment assistance.

Different companies looked at the facility, but nothing came of that, so HPI filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, disconnected the machines and planned to have an auction.

At the last moment, though, a buyer swooped in and bought the building, land and assets.

Seymour Home Products plans to have eight to 10 office jobs in the administration area at 885 N. Chestnut St. and 45 to 55 factory jobs at 110 W. Ninth St. at the start, while the plant at 201 S. Jackson Park Drive will have limited operations making tubes and some other items, Day said.

The facility at 400 S. Airport Road is basically a warehouse and will remain as such, he added.

The main product will be ironing boards with a number of other products to be added as the opportunity and market demand.