Mike Goepfert was 7 years old when his dad, Marcel, a son of German immigrants, resigned from his job at a nameplate company in Massachusetts, sold his house and car and launched Willington Nameplate Inc., a one-man start-up at a 3,000-square-foot facility in Willington.
Fifty years later, the company has a modern 40,000-square-foot plant at Stafford Springs, 85 employees with whom it shares its profits, five acquisitions under its belt, 1,500 active clients and revenue of $12 million.
In its anniversary year, the company has invested $1 million in capital equipment and is expanding capacity by 25 percent, while also committing an additional $500,000 to improve the etching of nameplates. There is also a new branding strategy that’s changing the way the company that makes labels, decals and metal nameplates.
Willington Nameplate’s products include simple paper printed labels that cost $1, as well as metal engraved nameplates used in extreme environments, such as on diesel engine blocks. It also makes identification nameplates to enable part traceability for its defense industry customers. The seat tags on the seats at Gillette Stadium were also made by Willington Nameplate.”We used to think of what we made as a nuisance commodity,” said Goepfert, the company president. “Customers come to us in the last minute for this nuisance item because they can’t ship their million-dollar item without this $1 tag.”
Willington Nameplate employee Adam Mesler works on an auto punch machine on Thursday morning. The 50-year-old company is in Stafford Springs. That perception changed when Goepfert hired Fathom LLC, a West Hartford-based brand strategy firm. “Now we look at ourselves as enabling essential communication,” said Goepfert. Employees began to see more value in their work — for example, warning labels such as “Electrical Danger” could save a life.
Brent Robertson, a partner at Fathom, said the rebranding would help Willington Nameplate relate better to the marketplace. “They’ve opened up their offering to a much bigger space with this change in perception,” he said.
The initiative was partly driven by the company’s efforts to expand market share in a highly loyal and fragmented industry. “It’s easy to hold on to your existing business but hard to acquire new business,” said Goepfert.
Today, Willington Nameplate competes with more than 100 leading manufacturers in the U.S., including Texas Nameplate Co., U.S. Nameplate Co., and Roemer Industries, as well as hundreds of small local companies and importers.
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