Best Manufacturing Co. has remained true to its roots in the U.S.
The result: it's the largest and, as far as the company can determine, the only disposable nitrile glove maker left in the country.
Why did it remain in the U.S. while other glove makers fled offshore? Because it's an American company, first and foremost, and prefers to keep its headquarters and a good portion of its operation here, according to Tom Eggleston, director of sales and marketing.
Best, founded in 1951 by Neil Tillotson and Roy Mann Sr., has not only survived decades of change in the hand and arm protection industry but it's prospered because of its innovation, unique technology and manufacturing expertise, Eggleston said.
The Menlo-based company-a wholly owned subsidiary of Tillotson Corp., headquartered in Lexington, Mass.-operates plants in Fayette, Ala., and Menlo, he said, and has no intention of leaving the country as most other glove makers opted to do over the last two decades.
In fact, he pointed out, the company is constantly developing products that are made in Fayette or Menlo. The firm does have two plants in Guatemala and another in Canada that produce unsupported nitrile and supported rubber latex and neoprene products.
``We don't make household latex gloves anymore, although we do make some rubber latex gloves in Guatemala,'' Eggleston said.
Best is not involved with any joint ventures but it does have an alliance with a Japanese company that produces polyurethane products.
Holding the line
The company, which employs about 400, remains a fixture in the U.S. because ``we've held our own from a quality standpoint,'' he said. ``We hold patents on our gloves, we have a strong sales force and our service levels are more than 98 percent on completing orders on the same day.''
Best has a tough rating system for its service levels, he said. ``If we get five orders in a day but only get four of them out, we rate ourselves a zero that day. We rate ourselves on shipping and on the time it takes to ship.''
Best manages the entire production process, from research and development to manufacturing to marketing of its products. Its portfolio features more than 100 individual glove styles with more than 600 separate varieties.
The firm focuses on dynamic innovation, he said, and it constantly is working on new offerings at its research facility in Menlo, where 17 people work.
``In the glove business, you must be innovative all the time,'' he said. ``We continually look for innovation and new products. And we invest in research and development every year.''
Most recently, Best came out with additions to its NDex Nighthawk, DFlex, Zorb-It, Skinny Dip and Best Nitrile product lines.
``We have developed strong product families to meet the specific needs of industries ranging from automotive and roofing to health care and food service,'' Eggleston said. ``Our newest glove models are part of our goal of bringing specific features to proven gloves in order to meet the specific demands of particular applications.''
Making its mark
Privately held Best, which uses a global network of distributors that primarily sell to end users in the industrial and medical industries, has been adding products to its Zorb-It, NightHawk and cut-resistant lines at the rate of about two a year since 2004. About 75 percent of the new gloves are produced at the company's Fayette or Menlo plants, Eggleston said.
That's how Best has been able to grow and expand its base, he said.
In 1991, Best made its mark when it created a disposable nitrile glove, which was previously considered impossible. Since that introduction, the foundation for its popular NDex line, disposable nitrile gloves are the firm's biggest seller, Eggleston said, although its cut-resistant offerings in the hand and arm protection sector are doing well, too.
Earlier this year, the company became a licensed manufacturer of DuPont Co.'s Kevlar industrial gloves and apparel. The two companies signed an agreement ``to pair Best's coating technology with DuPont's cut-resistant Kevlar fiber technology for truly cut-resistant gloves and sleeves,'' Eggleston said. The firm now has more than 16 cut-resistant hand/arm protection products in its line.
Best also licenses some of its patented technology to other glove makers. And when it believes it has a problem with patent infringement, it will go after all companies it suspects are involved.
In late May, Best's parent, Tillotson, filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission, which then launched an investigation of 31 international nitrile glove manufacturers or suppliers for alleged patent infringement. The complaint named 17 foreign manufacturers and 14 U.S. importers of gloves.
Bill Alico, Best president and CEO, said no damages can be obtained as part of the complaint but the company is looking for the ITC to issue either exclusion orders or demand the firms stop producing the gloves.
Tillotson has reached settlement with more than 20 of the 31 companies thus far, a spokeswoman said, noting that the company did not know how long it would take for the ITC to rule on the infringement case.
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New offerings from Best
* NightHawk Defender-a thick black nitrile glove with extended coverage for added arm protection, which can be used for professions such as law enforcement, automotive and assembly.
* DFlex G4-contains a patent-pending composite cut-resistant yarn and is designed for both wet and cut applications often found in the bottling industry. The firm said it also works well for those in the metal stamping, appliance, assembly and roofing industries.
* Zorb-It Extra-a three-quarter sponge nitrile dipped glove with a tough shell that provides over-the-knuckle protection and delivers a sure grip for difficult oily and greasy jobs.
* Skinny Dip Select-featuring seamless knit liners and tough rubber coatings, the glove is aimed at the construction industry.
* Best Nitrile 8500 PF-twice as thick as its original Best Nitrile 7500 glove, the new offering is designed for tough jobs that require a disposable glove, such as automotive and maintenance applications, and is medically approved for basic applications in health care and dentistry.