Sherrill Manufacturing Co-Founders Step Up As Co-Leaders During Pandemic

Greg Owens and Matt Roberts aim to keep America’s flatware company open while also helping the upstate New York community.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the co-founders of Sherrill Manufacturing are trying to exemplify the sort of calm and determination that helped them make a success of the company in the first place – and that employees and their community are counting on to guide the company through the ongoing global crisis.

CEO Greg Owens and President Matt Roberts and their 56 employees are continuing to produce the only stainless-steel flatware made in America at their plant in Sherrill, New York, which includes the company’s own Liberty Tabletop line sold via e-commerce as well as products for the U.S. military and other government customers and for Cutco cutlery.

“We’re at the beginning of this,” Owens told Chief Executive. “Is it the bubonic plague? I don’t think so. But it’s serious. We need to be prepared but not scared.”

To that end, Owens and Roberts determined to help employees “stay healthy” while they “run the facility at a conservative pace,” Roberts told the magazine. “We expect to see a little bit of a swoon.”

But overall, Owens said, “Unless [the government] forces us to shut down production for more than 30 days, we’ll get through this and come out stronger on the other end.”

Communicating with employees has been a huge part of their efforts. That has included Facebook posts as well as a physical all-hands meeting during which Owens and Roberts handed out information about coronavirus-health protocols and assured them of their determination to handle the crisis as “a family.”

“We wanted to ensure that all employees are healthy and come out of this on the other side unscathed,” as Owens put it. “We want to make sure you’ve got a job and continue the trajectory we’ve had recently. While this may be a blip, we’ve been through tougher things than this.”

The “tougher things” include a company history that began when the two founded Sherrill Manufacturing in 2005 by purchasing substantially all of the manufacturing assets of Oneida Ltd. at the flatware company’s one-million-square-foot complex in Sherrill, near Oneida, New York. They fought through 15 years of circumstances including a 2010 bankruptcy filing, two years with no production, creation of the only made-in-America flatware brand and establishment of an e-commerce platform that not only helped revive Sherrill Manufacturing but has provided robust double-digit growth in annual revenues for the last decade.

Sherrill’s business model, based on high levels of factory automation, strength in the upscale segment of the market and elimination of legacy flatware middlemen – such as department stores – has allowed the company to compete with traditional American flatware brands that now all get their goods from low-cost factories in China.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, Owens said in a press release, “We have seen a lot of hoarding, price gouging and some grandstanding [by other flatware brands] out there as a result of this situation. We felt the best thing to do would be to help our economy, our customers and our employees by doing the opposite. So we put all of our flatware on sale at our best price of the year to help ease the burden on consumers.”

He opined that “whatever is lost to the company in terms of general consumer purchasing” through the crisis “will be made up for with the renewed resurgence of ‘made in America’” afterward, as consumers and businesses further distance themselves from Chinese-made goods. “There will be countervailing pressures that will be a net positive for the company.”

Owens and Roberts also have stepped up as leaders in the small community of Sherrill, whose population is about 3,000 and which is located about 27 miles east of Syracuse. For example, Owens is in leadership at the local Oneida Community Golf Club restaurant and has nudged the outfit to launch meal delivery and curbside service for the duration of the national lockdown on dining in at restaurants.

“We had just rejuvenated the restaurant, but I walked in there and everyone was depressed,” Owens said. “Then I said, ‘We need to look at this in a different light and as an opportunity to do something for the community while continuing our business. Delivery and walkup are going to be as much in demand, if not more, now. We need to switch gears.’ So we created a menu. We start on Thursday. We will have volunteers delivering the stuff and we’ll give tips to the staff we had who are laid off because they can’t serve food.”

Meanwhile, Roberts has been serving as a Madison County supervisor who is working on the economic revitalization of Central New York, boosting business-expansion efforts and trying to bring a new companies in. Sherrill Manufacturing’s success is a shining example of what can still happen for manufacturers in the Empire State, he said.