Brooms and Brushes

SIC 3991

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing household, industrial, and street sweeping brooms; and brushes, such as paintbrushes, toothbrushes, toilet brushes, and household and industrial brushes.

This industry is divided into three main categories: brooms, mops, and dusters, which accounted for 31 percent of sales in 2009; paint and varnish brushes, and paint holders, pads, roller frames, and rollers including replacement rollers, which was responsible for 17 percent of revenues; and other brushes, including toothbrushes, hairbrushes, shaving brushes, industrial brushes, and artists' brushes, among others, which together accounted for 52 percent of sales. Total value of shipments reached $1.9 billion in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The majority of the 212 companies in the industry in the early 2010s were small and privately owned, and only about 17 percent employed more than 100 workers in 2009. Industry-wide employment totaled approximately 9,080 in 2009, down significantly from 11,172 workers in 2007. The industry was most heavily concentrated in the Midwest.

Manufacturers range from small, family-owned businesses to large corporations for whom broom or brush manufacture is one of many interests. The 1980s and early 1990s were characterized by a series of acquisitions of small firms by large corporations. For example, Empire Brush Co. of Greenville, North Carolina, acquired six companies during that time and reported a 100 percent increase in sales. Two of the largest makers of "stick goods," O-Cedar and Vining Industries, merged in 1993. This proved to be a profitable merger as the Ohio-based company boosted its home state as the leading brush and broom producer in the United States by 1997.

Until the mid-twentieth century, brushes were made of natural materials, such as hog bristles, horsehairs, and Tampico fibers. Brooms were made of birch and willow twigs until the early 1800s, when they were replaced by broomcorn straw (actually a type of sorghum). In 1906 the entire brush industry generated $19 million in sales. The innovative sales techniques of the Fuller Brush Co. helped to revitalize the industry, and when founder Alfred Fuller turned operations over to his son Howard in 1946, Fuller Brush alone earned $41 million. The importance of Fuller Brush, a division of Sara Lee Corp., as an industry leader diminished in the 1970s and 1980s.

The replacement of original materials with longer-lasting synthetic fibers and metal alloys caused a major change in the industry. Combined with advances in mass production techniques following World War II, this decreased production costs and resulted in increased profit margins. Broom making also was affected by mass production. Plastic brooms became more common, although the majority of all brooms continued to be made of broomcorn.

The industry continued to grow slightly but steadily in the 1980s. Profit margins in the early 1990s were above average compared to other manufacturing industries, largely due to increased sales caused by new designs. In the first decade of the 2000s, the American Brush Manufacturers Association (ABMA) was working to create labeling standards so consumers could compare product quality more easily. In 2006 ABMA produced brochures for member companies to use in detailing these guidelines.

Broom manufacturers in particular became concerned with the potential threat caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Before NAFTA, the U.S. industry was protected by a 32 percent tariff on imports, which was scheduled to be phased out over an 11-year period. Although some were concerned that Mexico, already the largest supplier of brooms, would benefit the most from the elimination of tariffs, the U.S. brush and broom industry actually reported a 65 percent increase in sales between 1995 and 1997. Shipment values were relatively stable through the late 1990s and into the early years of the first decade of the 2000s as totals grew from $2.1 billion to $2.2 billion from 1997 to 2001 and to $2.4 million in 2008. However, the figures for 2009 dropped to $1.9 billion, due in part to the effects of the economic recession at the end of the first decade of the 2000s. Employment totals, did not remain stable during those years, falling from 17,280 workers in 1997 to 15,250 in 2001, then dropping to 11,172 in 2007 and to 9,080 in 2009.

Industry leaders in the early 2010s included Gillette Co. of Boston, Massachusetts, which had total 2010 sales of $2.6 billion; Church & Dwight Co. Inc. of Princeton, New Jersey, which merged with Orange Glo International in 2006 and by 2010 had 3,600 employees and revenues of $2.5 billion; and Katy Industries of Bridgeton, Missouri, which had 2010 sales of $141 million. The Continental Commercial Products subsidiary of Katy Industries operated numerous divisions, including the Wilen Companies.

In the early 2010s, the broom, brush, and mop manufacturing industry was one of many in the United States that imported more products than it exported. In 2010, for example, imports were valued at $1.2 billion, whereas exports were worth only $338 million.

Leading industry publications included Brushware, published by 12Twelve Media; Brossa Press, a trade publication and database of related addresses; Brush Expert, an online magazine; and Broom, Brush & Mop, published by Rankin Publishing. The ABMA, based out of Aurora, Illinois, is a membership trade organization representing broom, brush, and mop manufacturers. According to ABMA, most industry statistics, including the data collected by the association, are closely guarded.

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