The Colerain Plant Opens
Just as before, the business began to outgrow its location. As Leonard began searching for another place to house Clippard Instrument Laboratory, he happened upon a cornfield along a two-lane road in Cincinnati. Leonard resolved that Clippard was no longer going to modify existing spaces for their headquarters, he would build his own customized plant. With just enough money to purchase five acres of the 300-plus-acre field, Leonard contracted his brother Sam to design the facility. Once the designs were in place, they broke ground and in 1952, Clippard Instrument Laboratory became a permanent landmark along Colerain Avenue.
The building of the Colerain plant was a significant point in Clippard's history because it established the company as part of the local community—an aspect that would grow to become a large part of the company's culture. Throughout the years, the two-lane road has widened to five lanes and a multitude of businesses popped up along its stretch. As the business grew, their connection to the community grew as well. Clippard engaged with the local schools and became involved with a large variety of local philanthropic efforts.
Though he wished he was able to buy more in 1950, the few acres Leonard bought allotted the company enough space to expand the facility three times. The first of these expansions was in 1966 when Clippard needed to add factory space to the back of the building to accommodate new machining equipment. In 1975, an office wing was added along with 27,500 square feet to the basement and manufacturing floor. In 1989, another office wing, meeting room, lunch room, and shipping area were added as part of the location's final expansion.
Not only had the business grown, but so had the Clippard family with the birth of Bill in November, 1941 and Bob in April, 1945. This motivated Leonard even more to make the business a success, in order to provide for his family of six. With the amount of incoming orders increasing steadily, Leonard was able to scrape together enough finances to move their growing family into a house in Mt. Airy, a suburb of Cincinnati.
Minimatics For Sale
For years Clippard manufactured tiny pneumatic cylinders and valves for internal use, enhancing their own machines with the miniature devices. They were simply a resolution to issues within the production process—it wasn't until around 1953 that the idea of the selling the cylinders surfaced. If the miniature pneumatic cylinders and valves had resolved a problem within Clippard's production process, could they possibly solve an issue in another company's production process? This was the kind of thinking Buck contributed when he joined the family business full time after returning home from college. Seeing the potential to expand in this new market, the oldest Clippard son convinced his father to pursue the opportunity.
Selling pneumatics was a difficult challenge. The first hurdle to overcome was the product itself, or rather the perception of the product's size to outside manufacturers. People looked upon the miniature pneumatics as toys—cute and powerless models of the larger components that already existed. They didn't see how anything so small could be of any use to them. Clippard was ahead of its time in the eventual trend towards miniaturization in virtually every industry.
Originally brought into the family business as a coil salesman, Buck grew increasingly interested in pneumatics and spent a great deal of time on that front trying to get the new product off the ground, first by showcasing the powerful performance of these small devices. Under Buck's lead, Clippard advertised in six magazines—Applied Mechanics, Automation, Machine Design, Design News, Applied Pneumatics, and Equipment Digest.
With the ads in place, Clippard's miniature pneumatics starting getting attention from potential customers, which created their next hurdle—the product line. Because it had been developed to solve an internal issue, Clippard hadn't produced an entire line of pneumatic devices. All they had at the time was a cylinder, a valve, and a few fittings they'd used for their own purposes. Early dealers were uninterested, saying they'd reconsider when the company developed a complete line of cylinders, valves, and fittings that all went together. So the Clippard team began designing new products that they could add to what would become the first full line of Clippard miniatures.
Through his interest in transportation, Buck designed what is now known as the MAV-4, a 4-Way valve that he modeled after valves used for steam engine trains. The MAV-4 worked well with another new product, the double-acting cylinder, and is still sold today. Buck was instrumental in the development of many of Clippard's early valves, such as needle and shuttle valves, the latter being another product he modeled after valves used for brake systems of Air Force planes.
To enhance Clippard's advertising reach, Buck partnered with a small advertising agency run by Tom Burch, who helped design the company's brochures. A tiny miniaturized catalog was handed out at trade shows along with a small plastic magnifying glass—it was an instant hit. Leonard was still unsure about the viability of pneumatics and was not in favor of spending Clippard's coil profits on the brass hardware. He wanted Buck to focus on making sales calls to coil customers, telling him that if they focused on coils "they would go somewhere." But Buck saw the long-term profitability for pneumatics and began traveling to establish relationships with distributors.
The Decline of Coils
During the late 1950s, a major change started rattling the manufacturing industry in the U.S. Many of the manufacturers who had once made their products on American soil began moving their production overseas, shifting the market for Clippard and everyone involved in the electronics business. By moving overseas, many companies became harder to compete with, as they could make and ship coils to the U.S. much cheaper than Clippard, one of the last coil producers left in America. The coil business had become strictly feast or famine. Electronics such as television and radio were still mainly seasonal products, meaning Clippard could only mass produce so many and could not stock them on the shelves—a practice that usually lost money, as the coils needed to be made to the specifications of certain products and couldn't be stocked. Advancements in technology such as transistors began emerging, slowly making the need for vacuum tubes, and therefore coils, obsolete. The shifting market and decreasing marginal profits made Clippard's founder question whether he should continue in the coil business, but not until after union trouble caused the Colerain Plant to suspend production and seek production facilities elsewhere.
Paris, Tennessee Plant Opens
In 1955 Leonard moved the facility from Sturgis, Kentucky to Paris, Tennessee. Leasing a 30,000 square foot facility for nearly 100 employees, this plant was very attractive to new employees as a state-of-the-art, semi-automated assembly plant for radio and television components.
The Plane Accident
Clippard Instrument Laboratory has a long-standing history with aviation that began with Leonard earning his pilot's license and buying his very first plane, a Cessna 170. Years later, on September 6, 1956, Leonard was involved in a serious plane accident with his son, Bill, and his son's friend, Richard, as his passengers. The plane was a Cessna 182 Leonard had bought a few months earlier. With Bill, 15 at the time, in the front passenger seat and Bill's friend, who was an airplane rookie, in the backseat, Leonard eased the plane off the ground. As the plane ascended, a key that held the propeller blades in place broke, sending one of the blades completely out of pitch. Unable to climb, the aircraft descended into a wooded area and when the wing tip clipped a tree, the plane cartwheeled to the ground.
The plane was completely demolished. Leonard, Bill, and Bill's friend Richard were rushed to the hospital to be treated. When they arrived, the triage nurses rolled Leonard's stretcher to the side while they worked on Bill and his friend, under the impression that Leonard wouldn't survive even if they did treat him immediately. Bill's friend received the least of the injuries, staying only four days in the hospital for observation due to a burnt ear from where the plane caught fire. Bill was in the hospital for a month with a broken jaw and fractured skull. Once the nurses realized he would survive, they began treating Leonard's extensive injuries caused by the plane's engine being driven into him upon impact. His right elbow and ankle were crushed, his left hand bent over backward, his left leg was broken in several places, and he had multiple facial injuries, including almost every bone broken in his face, a fractured skull, and his right eye had been torn from the socket. It took close to a week for the nurses to confirm that Leonard was going to leave the hospital alive, and he remained there in recovery for another three months.
Existing health insurance only covered 90 days in the hospital, so Harriet set up a hospital bed in the living room and nursed him to health at home after he was released from the hospital. Over the course of the next two years, Leonard was in and out of the hospital for operations as insurance would allow. Despite all he had endured, Leonard was determined to be back at work and made arrangements with a few Clippard employees to be back in the office much sooner than expected. On their way to work, a few men would back their truck up to the Clippard house, roll Leonard's wheelchair over planks into the truck bed, and take him to the Colerain facility each morning. While Leonard had hired capable employees who could keep the business going in his absence, he was still involved in every aspect and needed to return to the business.
Leonard never fully recovered from the accident—his elbow didn't heal properly, and he lost his right eye. Luckily, the eye he lost was his blind one, which allowed him to keep his sight. Surprisingly, the accident didn't deter any involved from flying again. Bill later went on to get his pilot's license at age 17, and his friend Richard eventually went into the Air Force. During his recovery in the hospital, Leonard even made it priority to replace the Cessna 182 with a used 170. Though the accident could have been a major obstacle in the growth of the business, the Clippard family and management team persevered and continued to expand the new industry they had created.
A critical step in increasing miniature pneumatic sales was to grow the reach of the business. With an aggressive advertising program, the Clippard Minimatic® brand was becoming widely known in fluid power circles. In order to reach more customers, Clippard established distributor networks. While the sales team in Cincinnati was working hard to get the products out to the public, they were limited in numbers. Having a dedicated team of distributors selling products would not only increase the number of people promoting the Clippard brand, but it would also allow the company more time to focus on product development. A 1958 list of distributors for air cylinders tallies a total of 33 companies that represented Clippard products, and confirms the company's understanding, even in the early stages, of the importance of these relationships. Of these listed, seven still continue to sell Clippard air cylinders today.
Part of the reason for the long tenure of these distributors is Clippard's reputation for quality—not just quality products, but quality people. As a distributor-oriented company, maintaining relationships with these partners is important, and Clippard does so by treating them like they do their own employees—with respect and compassion. One way Clippard ensures distributors remain satisfied is through face-to-face interactions. Thanks to the company's involvement in aviation, employees, particularly sales team members, freely fly to distributor locations to discuss new products, resolve issues, and even simply check in. Over the years, these personal interactions have demonstrated to those who sell Clippard products that, though they may sell other products from other manufacturers, they are a valued part of the Clippard family.
Another reason for Clippard's long history with many of their distributors is because they grew together over the years. As the Clippard brand grew and became more popular, the distributors selling Clippard products also benefited. When two entities grow and develop together, the relationship is strengthened, and the two stay together. A mutual trust is formed, that is able to endure even as the world's markets change and evolve. This has been the case with many of Clippard's distributors.
Clippard's relationship with distributors goes deeper than mere sales. Distributor networks and the clients they attract have been vital contributors to product development over the years. Responsible for promoting the application of the products, those selling the products became very familiar with them, and discovered alternative applications that Clippard had yet to consider or perfect. This collaboration led to the modification and enhancement of many standard Clippard products, thus expanding the company's offering. The development of products in response to customer needs—solving problems customers are facing by modifying standard products or developing custom products—continues to be an important part of Clippard's business today.
A number of Clippard employees have come from distributors as well. Max Comes, the first employee for Clippard Europe, first started selling Clippard products through Rocke International, one of the company's dealers. Recently retired Regional Sales Manager, Dick DeStaffany originally encountered Clippard products while working for Barker. Ken Lappin, another retired Regional Sales Manager, originally worked for Keystone Components in Cleveland. Hoang Do, present day Regional Sales Manager covering the west coast, worked for Bay Advanced Technologies in San Francisco before joining Clippard. These team members who joined Clippard after working for Clippard distributors have been able to, in turn, provide excellent service back to Clippard distributors due to their firsthand knowledge and experience.
Today Clippard has one of the world's best distributor networks. With over 120 distributors, the company is supported by key partners operating in all 50 states as well as in over 40 countries across the globe. Even those who have left the Clippard family for one reason or another, such as John S. Tipler Company, or Roger Howell Company—both distributors for over 50 years—are still part of the company's rich history. Each of Clippard's distributors have played an important role in making Clippard the dynamic, successful company it is today and continue to play an important role in its future growth and development.