Locked in to Tulsa

Few realize as they drive by the nondescript office building nestled beside a cookie-cutter neighborhood and a convenience store on the corner of 81st Street and Memorial Drive that they are passing the remnants of a once nationally known company.
“Weslock was, at one time, the No. 1 lock manufacturer in the industry,” said Clint Brumble, president of Premiere Lock Co., Weslock’s Tulsa-based ownership group, who purchased the company in 1998.
“In the ’80s and early ’90s, Weslock did $50-55 million in sales annually,” he said. “By 1998, sales had dropped substantially and the company was in bankruptcy.”
The Weslock Co. was founded in California in 1932 and later merged with Western Lock Sales to form Weslock Lock Manufacturing. In 1960 the company was sold to Tool Research Engineering and entered what the company Web site describes as a “corporate owned phase.”
During that time, the company passed through the hands of manufacturing conglomerates such as Alcoa, Nalcor and Macklandburg-Duncan.
Firm Lost Sight of Focus
According to Brumble, the decline and fall of the Weslock empire stemmed from previous owners’ efforts to bring the product into the retail market and the lack of stability among controlling corporations.
“The change that really spelled the end of the profitable Weslock was that from being a ‘builder’s lock’ to focusing on the Home Depot and Wal-Mart retail markets,” he said, “Weslock lost focus of their own core market.”
“It also went through about 10 ownership changes in as many years,” he said. “And one can imagine what that did to the company.”
“Weslock was never a very profitable company. It was always a subsidiary of a larger company and was never managed properly. There was never new financing put into the company. For many of its owners, it was seen as the ‘loss company.’”
Tulsans Take a Chance
The arrival of Weslock in Tulsa was almost by chance, Brumble said.
“Banks were calling around to see if there was any interest in buying the company. They called Home Hardware here in Tulsa, who, at the time was Weslock’s biggest customer,” he said. “Home Hardware went to the larger developers here in Tulsa to see if anyone was interested. Had they not, Weslock might have become extinct.”
In stepped Clint’s father, Danny Brumble, along with Rick Dodson and Charlie Wollmershauser, local developers and entrepreneurs who recognized the reputation the Weslock brand carried.
“These developers, who had used Weslock on their houses for 25 years, looked at the company and knew the quality was there. So they went out, looked at the company and bought it.”
Although the company looked promising to the new owners, Brumble said the brand had almost fallen too far to see any chance at recovery.
“They didn’t do their due diligence,” he said. “Had they done it, they might not have bought the company.”
Brumble would not provide a purchase price for Weslock, but he admits that the new ownership was fortunate to have come upon the opportunity to purchase the company.
“When they finally negotiated it out of bankruptcy,” he said. “They paid a very, very good price for what this company used to be worth and what it could be worth.”
“We have a target goal to get Weslock back to being a $25-30 million company,” he said. “And we feel like we can be there in the next 5-10 years. At that point we will make the decision to either go public or sell.”
Back to the Basics
In an attempt to rebuild its reputation, the new ownership made changes to every facet of the company, said Brumble, who served as national sales manager before becoming president in 2004.
“We looked at the company and really decided to go back to the basics, to do what we were good at,” Brumble said. “That was our sales strategy.”
“When we bought the company, we had already been kicked out of most of the retail outlets, so the decision to go back to being a builder’s lock was made for us.”
Since the purchase, Weslock has changed manufacturing sites, ceasing operations in Mexico in 2001. The company now operates a manufacturing facility in Asia.
“Our manufacturing strategy took 3 or 4 years to evolve. We had to look at our facility and figure out how we could build a quality product at an affordable price,” he said. “We tried to make Mexico work and couldn’t do it, so we moved everything to China.
“We do not own the facility in China, but we are the only lock that they produce.”
Sales on the Rise
Since the move to Tulsa, Weslock has seen a strong growth spurt, reminiscent of its days as the industry leader.
“Our growth has been anywhere from 15-22 percent on an annual basis for the past four years,” said Brumble.
Brumble said the national sales numbers aren’t surprising as they follow the general residential building trends.
“Our greatest sales territory being here in the Midwest,” he said, “the Southeast and West Coast are also good regions for us. We are weakest in the East and Northeast.
“Consumer Reports named us the best lock for the money, but we don’t have the money available to market that fact to everyone in the country,” he said. “The marketing of our product spreads by word of mouth.”
“Right now, we are less than 1 percent of total lock sales in the world. We feel we have no way to go but up.”
Looking for Room to Grow
The future of Weslock in Tulsa appears solid, as the company is searching for a place to expand its footprint in Green Country.
Every aspect of Weslock, except manufacturing, is based in Tulsa.
“We can’t expand our manufacturing force in Tulsa because it will not allow us to stay competitive,” Brumble said. “But from an employee standpoint, we anticipate continued growth. Obviously, we grow by our sales force, so we will add sales force first.”
“We are trying to find a location to build about a 50,000 SF warehouse,” Brumble said.
Weslock currently operates out of a 12,000 SF warehouse directly behind the company’s corporate offices at 8301 E. 81st St.
“We have looked at 81st and Mingo, in the Jenks industrial park, out in Bixby,” he said.
“We need a visible location not because it affects sales so much on a local level, but because it will help the people of Tulsa see that there is an international company sitting right here,” he said. “I don’t think people realize that.” ?

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