Monday, February 4, 2013

We used to make things in this country. #42: Beach Industries, Smiths Falls, Ontario





In 1949, Russ Beach started a company in Smiths Falls, Ontario making metal toolboxes.  He began with only 12 employees but by the 1980's Beach Industries Limited  had become Canada's largest metal box manufacturer, with 200 employees and sales of over $20 million.  Beach toolboxes found their way into the catalogues of Canadian Tire, Sears and Eaton's and from there into workshops all over the country.  The company made more than toolboxes:  their offerings included various kinds of metal boxes, such as the money box below:




They also made workbenches.  I got the one below free at the end of a driveway last spring.  It was cosmetically challenged, so I painted it with some silver paint I had laying around, and had to have keys made for the locks.  It would originally have had drawers on the left-hand side, but these were unfortunately missing so I've just put shelves in instead.






Russ Beach himself was a remarkable philanthropist, gifting over $1 million to the local hospital over the years and then leaving them his 3,000 square foot luxury condo after he passed away in 1995.

He was also an avid flyer.  He continued to fly his own Cessna Citation jet after he turned 80, making him the country's oldest active jet pilot.  He was the president of Canada's largest member national aviation association, the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA).  The local airport is named after him, and is the home of Classic Wings, a private collection of fully-operational vintage aircraft.

In 1987, Mr. Beach turned 77 and sold his company to Stanley Tools, the Connecticut tool giant, which lost no time in taking down the Beach Industries Sign which had stood at the plant entrance for almost 40 years.  In 2008, while enjoying $4.5 billion dollars in sales, Stanley announced that the Smiths Falls plant would be closed, ostensibly the result of a change in corporate strategy, high steel prices and a decline in the American dollar.  They further explained that they were leaving the $25 million annual consumer tool box business to focus on "higher growth, higher return markets."  The closure of the Smiths Falls plant was announced on Canada Day, when most of the employees were off work enjoying the national holiday.  About 175 jobs were lost, and production of tool boxes was slated to move to an Ohio plant.  As one Ottawa commentator remarked, "Think global, die local."  "Uncle Buck," the site owner of the Garage Gazette, later had this to say:  "Stanley, Black and Decker, and Irwin. The grim reapers of the tool world. As soon as those names enter the picture you just know what follows will not be pretty!"

To have a look at what Beach Industries used to offer, someone has thoughtfully posted a 1971 catalogue in pdf at Mediafire.com.


1971 Catalogue




Sadly, a visitor has reported that the recent attempt to revive the company failed.  In fact, G.H. Metals closed down in late October 2015.  In a press release they stated:

Closing the plant was not a conscious decision by the management staff, but rather a necessary reality. We fought against the closure for as long as we could. The widespread collapse of the manufacturing sector over the past decade, both in Smiths Falls and in Canada, is a shame, and has been detrimental to the community and families across the country. 
We are tremendously saddened at the loss of 23 jobs in the community. As a company, we have continually strived to support our employees, as well as local and Canadian businesses, because we see first-hand how important they are to the community and to families.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great souvenir. I still have a Beach toolbox, which saw me through 25-years of keeping my cars on the road. It is now my secondary box, after a larger Craftsman box fell into my hands, but the Beach will never leave me.

Citroen Bob.

Anonymous said...

When I was a young girl growing up in Smiths Falls, Mr. Beach's grandaughter was a classmate and neighbour to me. Although I moved away years ago I sometimes wonderred what became of that family and Beach Industries. Thankyou for this article.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm just different to most people. I bought my Beach tool boxes when I was 12 years old in 1986 at Canadian Tire. I saved up my money I earned cutting grass and birthdays etc. It is still my tool box and will one day be my sons. I know this because it was built in Canada with good quality materials engineered in a way that lasts. Back then I was told not to buy tools from Taiwan because they will break so I made sure to buy tools made in North America. I still use these same tools for work and home. I cant teach these values to my son. All too often its not politically correct to make statments like don't buy from Taiwan(now China)or new PRC (peoples republic of China) You cant find it with out upsetting people anymore. How can our younger generations express their natural ingenuity when our society is oppressed by excessive greed. Compitition can make great things happen and has. But we are no longer competing with each other. To many people its only tools boxes who cares and its only 200 jobs lost. But to me it was upsetting the day back in the 80's when I could no longer buy that last piece of my tool box because Beach Died. Then grow up watching this same proccess happen to so many other great companys and the people that took pride in making them work.

Anonymous said...

I knew someone who worked at Gray-Bonney Tools (later Gray Tools) for 48 years and Beach supplied all the toolboxes for that company. They we're always made of thick grade steel and beautifully finished. It's a shame to see the corporate giants buy out the "small guys" often to eliminate competition. If you happen to own one of these vintage Beach boxes treasure it!

Anonymous said...

I had a great day on July 09 1978. That's when I met Russ Beach for the first time. It was the Orrilia Airshow and Russ Beach had just landed in his Piper Cheyenne and was backing into his parking spot. At the right place at the right time... I walked his wing and held up my thumb to help guide him back.
He got out and thanked me with a hand shake and asked if I was in aviation, having walked his wing tip. I told him I was a freshly minted private pilot out of Toronto Island Airport, flew up in a Cessna 150. I also told him I had just started my AME apprenticeship from Centennial College and just landed my second job at Markham Flying Club, having been at Island Aviation, Hgr 4.
He said he had a tool box company and had just introduced a new line of roll cabs that were wider than tall. There was one particular roll cab that would suit me, being only 5'4" tall with lots of drawers for future new tools.
He asked me to write down my address in Brampton and guess what? He sent me one to my front door. I still have it in my garage in very good condition. I used my old toolbox until I got my first job in 1980 at Pearson Airport on corporate jets, then took this roll cab out of it's packaging and used it until 2005 when I got a huge Snap-On roll cab. I agree with above comments... thick grade steel and beautifully finished. Thank You Russell.
As an aside to this, I also that day won a raffle for a ride in the replica of The Spirit of St Louis flown by Verne Jobst.

Hanna Lange-Chenier said...

Hi everyone,

My name is Hanna and I’m in charge of social media at a Smiths Falls-based company called G.H. Metals. I’m posting here because we’re happy to announce that we’re bringing back Beach toolboxes!

As this post mentions, the popular Beach brand toolboxes were also made here in Smiths Falls at Beach Industries before it was closed down under Stanley Tools. Now, we’re reviving the brand famous for quality and Canadian-made products here at our Smiths Falls plant under completely new ownership. We know from posts like this and your comments that many Beach boxes are still being used in the field, and have heard many lament the loss of the great Canadian-made products.

So, we're continuing that tradition of local manufacturing and jobs, and exceptional products.
You can learn more about the Beach line and find where to buy at www.beachtoolboxes.ca.

- Hanna
__________________________________

Hanna Lange-Chenier
Social Media Specialist
G.H. Metals
email: hlangechenier@ghmetals.com
office: (613) 284-2605
36 Lorne St. | Smiths Falls, ON | K7A 3K7

The Duke said...

That's very exciting news! We wish you much success in this endeavour.

Hanna Lange-Chenier said...

Thanks so much for the support! We're happy we can offer Canadian-made products and support local jobs. I love the photos of the classic boxes and catalogue - any idea where they came from?

- Hanna at Beach Toolbox
www.beachtoolboxes.ca

The Duke said...

The boxes are mine. Unfortunately, I don't know who uploaded the catalogue to MediaFire.

Anonymous said...

Just to let everyone know the BEACH TOOL BOX is back and kicking and made in SMITH FALLS ONTARIO

Ken Beach said...

Angela is a scientist living in California and she is married and her brother Jamie is a lawyer in Toronto and their parents Colin and Jill have passed away. I hope this helps.
Ken Beach.

Anonymous said...

The company is now closed

wheelman7 said...

Well bring it back and start producing tool chests. Most are pretty weak nowadays and they are imported sometimes so for those the fact holds true. No excuses just produce Beach boxes and don't stop.

Anonymous said...

I have one of the cash boxes like in the pictures shown here... still in good shape... anyone know what kind of price it goes for? email me at m_m_664@hotmail.com if you know... thanks

Romeo DeLucia said...

Just picked up a old red beach side sliding drawer tool box , I paid 100 dollars for it, love the look of it and I'm going to use it thick steel made great looks good . Romeo Delucia , Rochester NY

ray langlois said...

I am the proud owner of Beach cantilever tool box that I received as a christmast gift in the mid eighties. Sad to learned about the end of the company. I keep good memories of Smiths Falls as I often took motorcycle rides to the area from CFB Kingston when I was posted there from 92-97.
Ray Langlois. Quebec city.

Kevin Bell said...

I bought a Beach tool chest in the early eighties which is still serving me well today as when I first bought it from the Consolidated Bearing Company in Holden Hill Adelaide South Australia

Unknown said...

I just inherited my Grandfathers Beach tool boxes. Three of them were in pretty rough shape...well used and well loved as I am sure Mr. Beach intended. My Grandfather was a machinist for 45 yrs working in Orillia. I have recently restored one of the rolling boxes painting it to the orginal red. All I am missing is the Beach badge sticker. Does anyone know where you might find a vintage sticker or the rivet on plate?

Thanks

Mister G said...

It appears there might be several sizes and styles of badges. I hope someone has some in stock or is reproducing them!

Anonymous said...

I've just bought a stunning condition old top box and bottom box here in the UK, it's like new! We don't get many up for sale here, and this one is slightly different configuration as it's an export item, even came with a side shelf.
Always loved the look of them and got extremely lucky. I've been having a read at the companies history, so sad it went under shortly after starting up production again.
All the best from across the pond, Mark

Mister G said...

Thanks for your contribution, I did not know they sold in Europe. Smiths Falls could have used the industry for sure. That town is struggling.

Anonymous said...

Reading posts online, it looks like we had a couple of importers of beach tool boxes. UK versions had a slightly different draw configuration.

Anonymous said...

Another great Canadian company sold out to the USA and closed down. But Canadians are such "apathetic SOB's" as Kim Campbell said it's no surprise. Unfortunately the quality of the Beach boxes declined in later years - under the loving care of the "that New Britain, Connecticut manufacturer of garage door openers" as Patrick Leach describes them: thin, bendy sheet metal, open corner seams, flimsy joints, etc, etc. Even the labels got cheaped. I saw the difference between my dad's blue clamshell Beach tool box from the 50s and the ones I bought for myself.

It's not that there isn't a market for good tool boxes, but every year our business schools push out a new generation of eager beavers looking to boost their careers and incomes by "increasing profitability". Of course they want that money in their pockets no later than the next quarter so building profitability through gaining market share by quality, reputation, increased distribution etc. isn't for these guys! Oh no, cut the material costs, lay some people off, drop some products...that's how you "mine the product"!

Meanwhile we all buy from Japan, Germany and other countries where they're not that stupid, lazy or short-sighted.

Goodbye Beach!

notiddoxi said...

Proud I am to be the owner of one of these masterpieces a good looking red B27 , I think it is.
How it made its way to Israel , i'll never know...i'm just happy to own one and keep it safely here.