Imperial Brown celebrates first anniversary, doubled growth

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The company formed by the merger of a Salisbury commercial freezer and cooler manufacturer and a West Coast counterpart has doubled its workforce in the past year, and could do that again, a company official says.

Now called Imperial Brown, the company has seen employment grow to 77 and hopes to hire an additional 83 workers over the next two years.

President Rick Schermerhorn met with sales teams Tuesday at the Salisbury plant, located at 209 Long Meadow Dr., and told the crowd that such growth would not have been possible without the support of the community.

Last April, the century-old W.A. Brown & Son was bought by Imperial Manufacturing of Portland, Ore. Imperial and W.A. Brown merged to become Imperial Brown, a company now experiencing its first anniversary. In that time, the Salisbury plant has grown from 37 employees to 77.

Company president Rick Schermerhorn calls those original employees the heartbeat of the company.

“The story is the core group of people that were here when we started.” He said.

One of those workers, Andy Canup, has been with W.A. Brown for 12 years, and in the freezer manufacturing business for 45 years, and says he has never seen growth like this.

“This is phenomenal. This is such a success story,” he said.

Canup works in cut-outs, measuring out frames and dimensions, but he prefers to call himself a panel processing engineer. He says his job is a perfect combination of mathematics and muscle.

An Employee Stock Ownership Program company, Imperial Brown gives its employees stock in the company. This means that the employees are working for themselves, Schermerhorn says.

Canup enjoys the stock program and compared it a retirement plan. He said that currently, the employees work long, hard hours on their feet in the large ware-house.

Bombarded by noise of moving parts, drills, and saws that cut the metal sheets, employees are required to wear protective eye gear and gloves, and have to watch their step for sharp-cut metal corners or discarded bits of aluminum and foam. Many, like Canup, have to use a bit of muscle to lift, carry, cut, or free the aluminum pieces from their frames. But Canup said it’s worth it and that soon, they’ll have more workers and things will get easier.

Robert Van Geons, executive director of Rowan Works Economic Development, is not surprised by Imperial Brown’s growth. He says that it is a quality company with quality employees, and he’s excited by the prospects. He calls Imperial Brown a great story of a century-old family owned business that evolved into an employee-owned company.

Other local companies are also experiencing growth, Van Geons said. Henkel Company and Mueller Systems grew over the past year, and the county’s economic sector is growing as a whole. Gildan textiles is taking over the old PGT factory, and several new retailers are opening up in Salisbury, as well.

While Rowan has rebounded from the worst of the recession, Van Geons said, there is still a long way to go.

Rebecca Rider is a Catawba College senior and intern at the Salisbury Post.