The Departure from Coils
Over time, unions started organizing in Paris and filling the heads of Clippard employees with false dreams of higher wages and more benefits comparable to nearby automotive plants. This was not, however, the reality of the situation. Because of huge overseas competition and increasing obsolescence of coils, Clippard couldn't afford all the unions were promising employees, and unfortunately, management couldn't tell them this. Strict labor laws were in place that prohibited employers from speaking against unions to their own employees.
With union organizations planting these ideas into employees' minds without balanced information, the Paris plant workers voted Pro-Union and after the vote was announced, Leonard announced the plant was closing immediately. Realizing what they done, the employees, in a last ditch effort, asked for their jobs back without the union vote but it was too late.
By this time, word had spread about Clippard's up and coming revolutionary miniature pneumatic line. Realizing he could no longer compete strictly in the coil business, the Paris plant was closed and Leonard shifted his focus strictly to pneumatics. Prior to this, Leonard bought LEPCO (Leonard Electric Products Company) in Brooklyn, New York, and moved it to Matamoros Mexico. A new plant was built as part of the Maquiladora Border Industrialization Program, which was sold to Ralph Smith in 1971 when Clippard got completely out of coil production. Clippard Instrument, Inc. (a Tennessee corporation) was dissolved and Leonard was ready to devote his full attention to the pneumatic line.
The Next Level of Innovation
Clippard had already done an excellent job of establishing themselves as the pioneers of pneumatic technology, but the product lines introduced in the 1970s significantly increased the company's sales and reputation as leaders in the coming electronic era.
The first of these products, debuting in 1973, was the electronic valve, otherwise known as the "EV." The idea behind the creation of the EV was that Leonard wanted to build a valve that would turn on with a very small amount of power. Typical valves of the time took 6 to 7 watts to operate, but Leonard wanted one that operated on only about half of a watt. No one else had ever made a low-power valve, and Clippard needed a product that would transition the company into the electronic market. This product revolutionized the industry and set new standards that would last for the next 40 years. It was the final large product launch of Leonard's career, and is still one of Clippard's most popular and well-known products.
Another revolutionary product launched at this time was the modular valve, which had a full line of all-pneumatic controls. This line was unique—then and now—for being the most complete, versatile line of pneumatic logic components. The modular valve was developed by Leonard's son, Bill Clippard, in the early 1970s and made Clippard a leader throughout the world in pneumatic logic controls. To this day, it is difficult to find a machine or fixture within the Clippard plants that does not utilize one of these devices.
Until 1976, Clippard only produced brass and aluminum cylinders. Stainless steel cylinders were introduced and became the third major product line success of the 1970s. Although Clippard was releasing products each year to further complement the large variety of brass control valves, these three particular product lines took Clippard into new areas and markets that would continue to propel the company's growth for the next several decades.
1975 Plant Expansion
With sales driving production beyond capacity, an expansion took place in 1975 that more than doubled the facility's capacity. In addition, the office space was greatly expanded to accommodate the growing need for support and the main lobby was constructed for welcoming distributors, vendors and customers.
The First Sales Meeting
With the launch of these new products, particularly the popularity of the EV, competitors began surfacing. Manufacturers began creating smaller pneumatic devices because of the market Clippard had created. Yet this didn't effect Leonard's team. Their sales efforts had succeeded; word was spreading quickly about Clippard's revolutionary products as well as the great Clippard team. In 1974 Jim Crain, Len Barrett, and other members of Clippard's sales department worked together to conduct the first national sales presentation for Clippard. Meeting at a hotel in downtown Cincinnati, over 100 distributor personnel were in attendance. Follow-up sales meetings were then conducted at the Colerain facility, including plant tours and presentations of the various departments. Here distributors were shown how Clippard products were made, showcasing the talent and care Clippard employees had in creating solutions and producing quality products for any type of client.
A year later in 1975 these sales meetings sparked the idea for a distributor plant training school distributors could come into the Colerain plant and learn about the products from the Clippard employees who produce them. The program was quite basic—participants were taught how to hook up circuits, engaged in discussion over the different applications for products, and were shown how products were made and used in the shop. One of the attendees to the training school was Ken Lappin, who was participating with his employer Keystone Components. Ken joined the Clippard sales staff a year later.
Leonard was a big fan of children's sports programs. He religiously attended multiple games every Saturday morning during the season. Many of these sponsored teams would carry the Clippard name. The Clippard Red Sox, White Sox, Clippard Comets, the mini-Comets, Clippard Eagles, Clippard Cardinals, Raiders, Cosmos and of course, the Clippard Sockettes to just name a few. Many local families would stop in the lobby of Clippard in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to see the pictures and trophies of the many Clippard teams.
Merger of Northeast Fluidics
In the 1970s Clippard became the largest customer of a small manufacture of unique valves for ultra-low pressure. Northeast Fluidics was located in New England and was merged into the Colerain facility in 1977. Many of the products were redesigned for its manufacturability.
Merger of Image Control
Again, Clippard became the largest customer of the small family company in Madison, Indiana which produced acrylic manifolds. In 1984 Clippard acquired the company as it was a great fit for Clippard's modular valve line. Paired together, the products were a clean, leak free solution for packaging typical pneumatic logic circuits. Kathy Ayers, daughter of the founder, stayed on with Clippard and ran the facility until her retirement in 2006 when the company was merged into the Colerain Facility.
The launch of Clippard Europe started with Max Comes in the 1970s. Max sold fluid power products in some European countries through Rocke International, an export company in New York who was a Clippard distributor. While Rocke sold many different fluid power products, Max was extremely interested in Clippard's because of their innovation and quality. After some time with the distributor, Max began working more closely with Clippard, organizing exhibitions and training seminars of the products in different countries for international distributors. Once Rocke's partnership with Clippard was dissolved, Max and Bob Clippard started discussing the possibility of opening an office for the company in Europe as a way of controlling international distribution and sales. To show their commitment to the project and discuss details with the Clippard staff in person, Max and his wife Doris travelled to the U.S. in September, 1975, warmly welcomed in Ohio. Leonard Clippard was very impressed with them and directed that Clippard Europe be established. Bob travelled to Belgium (on a PanAm plane flown by Buck), and he and Max finalized the plans that following spring. On April 1, 1976, the first European office for Clippard opened in Wavre near Brussels.
Running business out of a small rented house, Max and Doris began supplying orders to customers by June 1st of that year. Because of the many different languages spoken across the continent, Doris was a large asset to the success of Clippard Europe due to her multi-lingual and organizational abilities. Upon opening, Clippard Europe established a bonded warehouse, allowing it to receive and inventory products shipped from the U.S. Once the paperwork was complete and administrative work had been handled, the location was up and running.
Much like the beginning of Clippard in America, the business eventually outgrew their small rented facility and needed a bigger location for employees and products. Bill, Bob, and Leonard all worked together to begin planning for the construction of a new Clippard location in the same area. In 1985, Bob and an architect flew to Belgium to scope out potential building sites chosen by Max. Within the next two years, construction for the facility was complete and Clippard's brand new European office opened in the Scientific Park of the University of Louvain-la-Neuve July, 1987.
Clippard Europe in Belgium was the springboard for the company's international presence. The staff in Belgium, though small, services many different countries and cultures from the industrial countries of France, Holland, and Germany, to Eastern Europe and the UK. As the face of Clippard Instrument Laboratory in Europe, all European sales go directly through the Belgium office. Though separated by the Atlantic, Clippard Europe upholds the same principles of quality and maintaining strong relationships as the U.S. offices, keeping strong ties with all of their distributors and customers throughout the continent.
The Retirement & Death of Leonard Clippard
Leonard continued to work in every aspect of the business and serve as President of Clippard until 1975. Aging and ready to slow down, Leonard transferred leadership of the company to his son Bill, yet remained involved for another couple of years. In 1977 Leonard retired from his day-to-day responsibilities and started spending a great deal of time in Arizona. The transition from Ohio to Arizona was slow—the Clippard founder gradually spent more and more time out west as he grew accustomed to the relaxing climate and days spent in his machine shop. Leonard passed away in 1983 at the age of 73. His wife, Harriet, died not long after him in 1984, leaving the Clippard legacy and future of the business completely in the hands of Bill, Bob, and the trusted team Leonard had helped build.