Proudly American Safety Apparel

NASCO Industries, Inc.
Written by Pauline Müller

Serving international names as big as Shell in countries as far as Singapore, NASCO Industries, Inc. keeps those who work in the utility, oil, and gas industries comfortable in hard-wearing, locally-manufactured safety apparel while they work out in the field, often on hazardous job sites.

This employee-owned, domestic manufacturer has been trusted by North Americans for its durable safety apparel for over forty years, and business is great. Based at a 50,000-square-foot facility from 1979 to present, this industry expert added an impressive 24,000-square-foot warehouse to its existing footprint and other significant improvements like more office space to support its increasing expansion.

Its people are as important as its clients, therefore, as with everything it does, safety plays a major role across its entire facility. “We make products that help workers make it home to their families safely. Our mission is to provide workers everywhere with outstanding safety products made in the USA, tested to high standards, made and sold by our employee-owners,” says Andrew Wirts, Director of Sales and Marketing.

Since its inception in 1979, the company has cultivated, with great care, a culture of excellence. Based on five clear guidelines, safety comes first, and all of its people are trained to understand and value working safely and smartly. Quality is another of its driving principles, followed by continuously improving productivity and skill through sustained effort. Reducing waste by developing and honing lean systems that work well adds foresight and economy to the system. Every effort is made to translate the benefits derived from these principles into the overall customer experience.

NASCO’s popularity appears to be soaring as it upholds the most stringent safety standards for protective apparel in a market well-stocked with cheap knock-offs. These standards include the American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM), National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), and International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA).

“NASCO is not only a member of these organizations, but we have a leadership role with the committees responsible for writing these standards. It is our responsibility to provide our expertise to potential customers to make sure they have the proper product to protect against their work hazards,” says Wirts.

Its most recent success is its introduction of a world-first product to serve the utilities and oil and gas industries. The fabric is “the thinnest, lightest protective rain gear possible today,” making it a global leader in worker comfort and safety in this apparel range. Both the ArcLite Air and PetroStorm ranges offer a lightweight, 5.5-ounce-per-square-yard product that protects the wearer from electric arc flashes, hydrocarbon flash fires, chemical splashes, and steam and hot liquids. Alongside this performance, the wearer’s safety is further enhanced by high roadside and night-time visibility.

To answer the growing demand for its products and make obtaining them as easy as possible for its clients and distributors, NASCO recently improved its e-commerce presence by introducing a new website. “The new site retained the resource-rich content but added new functionality to our distributors. Purchases can now be made directly from our site. Distributors can check inventory, confirm pricing, as well as gain access to all technical product information,” says Wirts.

The company is especially pleased by weathering the economic storm brought about by COVID-19 and thriving. “We needed to focus on communicating the best information we had as soon as possible. There was a lot of disinformation, even in the early moments of the pandemic. The human part of it was to ensure that everyone was safe and understood what was going on with this COVID issue,” says Todd Smith, President. When it came to business, the next step was to continue offering sufficient protection to the industries it serves.

NASCO was not led astray by the brief opportunity for short-term gains that was presented by demands for personal protective garments in the medical industry as this would ultimately have diluted its focus on its markets. Instead, the firm forged ahead, keeping its focus on its existing markets, a decision that is now producing great dividends.

“We chose to be the best company we could be for our customers who we knew would need us. We chose to communicate, to deal with the fear, and we tried to create a safe workplace, and we protected our core markets,” Smith adds.

It was during this time that the company’s leadership decided to consolidate all its smaller facilities into the one big footprint from which it works today. “There were a lot of difficulties but we did expand during COVID,” Smith says proudly.

Indeed, “NASCO has always believed in a strategy of leveraging technology to design, manufacture and market products. Early in the year 2000, NASCO became the first in our industry to launch a website,” Smith shares. “It was based on providing a digital platform to provide the market with relevant products, backed by rigorous testing and providing all that data to decision makers. In 2001, NASCO undertook the largest capital expenditure in the company’s history to install a new unit production system that allowed all cut pieces of a garment to travel together from one operator to the next. This increased capacity dramatically by allowing operators more time on task. Subsequently, after additional installations, all but one department utilizes this system,” he says.

“Furthermore, NASCO has had machines designed specifically for our manufacturing processes. Utilizing these customized machines allows one operator to do the work of what used to take three people to do.” Such improvements include a new digital cutter with integrated fabric spreading technology installed in the company’s cut, make, and sew department.

Furthermore, NASCO is employing business intelligence software that scans market trends to help it forecast the next big wave. “There is no such thing as crystal balls. We have to look for the best information [to] make decisions. So we are leveraging a type of artificial intelligence to begin that process,” Smith adds.

NASCO was founded on the bones of a well-known international tire fabricator that also manufactured rain gear. When that company left the facility where NASCO Industries, Inc. is now based, the rain gear equipment remained. “That rain gear goes back several decades. NASCO started, basically, on the ash heap of Uniroyal’s rain gear program. They were going to leave this facility and leave our small town,” says Wirts.

Instead, NASCO started manufacturing rain gear with a two-year exclusive contract committed to Uniroyal. When this contract ended, NASCO started evolving into what it is today by providing its markets with the apparel needed most.

NASCO has always been about people, becoming employee-owned in 1985. It has around one hundred dedicated team members upholding what the president calls consensus management, the antithesis of a hierarchical management system. “As employee-owners, we all share a common set of core values that makes our team special: honesty, respect, teamwork, and perseverance. Our value proposition is to reliably provide quality, safe, comfortable, and compliant protective products to our customers. We achieve this by leveraging the quality work of our employee-owners and proudly ‘Made in the USA,’” Smith says, pointing out that being on the same page makes it easier to move forward in business.

To ensure that everyone is indeed on the same proverbial page, the company regularly runs surveys to gauge the engagement levels of all working in the firm. A group of staff then works through the feedback to see whether and where change is necessary and how it can be implemented. This has proven to be a good way of gathering solid, honest information on how employees feel.

The results from embracing the feedback from these anonymous surveys are so positive that its management team sees the firm committing to this method long-term. “As an ESOP, we try to share how the company is doing at all times. We do have an annual shareholders’ meeting at the beginning of the year to recap how the prior year went and let them know what is coming in the future and what we are making. We try to keep the employees as up-to-date as possible with what is going on in the company, so there are no surprises,” says Jordan Sherman, Chief Financial Officer.

Caring also extends to its local communities as its contributions committee considers community requests for financial support. “We try to be good members of the community. So we set a budget and provide what we can when we can. When those requests come in, we see how they help the community,” says Sherman.

Looking at how the labor markets are changing and the company’s position within them, Smith cautions that the real long-term effects of COVID are yet to become evident, especially in terms of labor. He underlines NASCO’s continued commitment to employee wellbeing and job satisfaction. “We are all in competition for labor. I think the best companies will continue to survive. We consider ourselves one of the best companies. We do a lot. Our benefits to our employees are outstanding,” he says. With such unwavering commitment to everyone in its sphere, there is no doubt that NASCO Industries, Inc. remains on a winning streak.

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