Stars and Stripes Forever
Transporting precious cargo from Annin Flagmakers
By LaNeta Crighton
No matter what its color at arrival, when a truck rolls out of the Annin Flagmakers’ Coshocton, Ohio, facility, it’s pure red, white and blue. As the oldest and largest producer of American flags in the country, the manufacturing plant and distribution center in east central Ohio hits peak season during the eight weeks between mid-March and mid-May. Trucks flood in and out of the facility at a rate that has employees scrambling to keep up.
“During the last two weeks of April this year, we had 108 truckloads scheduled,” says distribution manager, Rick Payne. That’s in stark contrast to the off-peak period from August to December when Payne says they average 350-400 orders each month, the equivalent of only 20-25 truckloads. “LTL shipments and small package volume increases during our non-peak periods as order size decreases,” he says.
Stitching a place in history
Annin has been in the flag-making business since the company was founded by brothers Benjamin and Edward Annin in 1847. Still family-owned and operated, Annin is headquartered in New Jersey and has plants in that state, as well as Virginia and Ohio. Its flags have flown at Iwo Jima, the North and South Poles, and even the moon — Neil Armstrong placed an Annin flag on its surface in 1969 while much of America looked on. In addition to American flags, it also manufactures 10,000 varieties of flags including state, religious, military and historical, as well as banners and pennants. Payne notes that the company is especially proud to make the flags that drape the coffins of our fallen soldiers.
Throughout the years, Annin has seen the demand for its products ebb and flow with U.S. patriotism. Events like the Civil War, the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to the Union and the 1976 bicentennial celebration were times that bolstered American pride and increased flag sales along with it. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, demand dropped sharply as a result of the widespread anti-Vietnam War sentiment.
Rising to the need
After the 9/11 tragedy rocked the nation, a flood of patriotism ripped through the country again. Annin began scrambling to meet its sharpest increase in demand for American flag products ever.
Some of the changes included upgrades to buildings and equipment, such as fork trucks, docks and warehouse racking. The factory also made substantial investments in machinery to make and package products, and new warehouse management software (WMS) was added. As the distribution manager, Payne worked with trucking companies to set up a new storage and retrieval system. The warehouse was expanded and an off-site warehouse for seasonal storage was added. The warehouse is now system-driven, and the WMS is used to direct product put-away, retrieval, inventory cycle-counts and other functions aimed at controlling the movement and storage of merchandise and materials.
Because the Coshocton facility services mostly large retail establishments, including a number of big box stores, Payne says, “An order doesn’t really get my attention until we’re talking truckloads.” Although Annin has no full-time drivers, several warehouse and maintenance employees have CDLs, and the company owns both a straight truck and tractor-trailer. The two are used for plant-to-plant transfers and local vendor pick-ups, but the company doesn’t deliver directly to any customers. Instead, customers typically line up their preferred carriers. The seasonal nature of the products means shipments often have tight windows for arrival dates, and the company uses electronic data exchange for communication and data synchronization.
Since products vary in size, load quantities have a tremendous range. A truckload of the best-selling 3-by-5 foot, full-size flags contains approximately 16,000 individual flags. That’s compared to 311,000 of the smaller 4-by-6 inch or 8-by-12 inch stick flags packed in the same size trailer.
“We’ve had a heavier than normal seasonal push,” says Payne. “And we’ve developed two tribute flags.”
The Flag of Honor lists the names of each of the 9/11 victims including those on the planes that crashed in Shanksville, Pa., the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The second flag, known as the Flag of Heroes, pays tribute to the Emergency Services personnel who perished on that day. It includes the names of members of the Fire Department of New York, Port Authority Police Department, New York Police Department and Court Officers. Proceeds from the sale of the flags have been designated for charity.
Annin is also part of an effort to repair the giant flag that survived the World Trade Center attack. Tattered and burned, the flag remained at the site for the first month of cleanup as a symbol of our country’s resilience and determination. Some of the most experienced seamstresses at the Annin facility in Verona, N.J., are currently patching the flag with pieces of flags connected to other watershed moments in American history. Parts of flags from the U.S.S. Missouri at Pearl Harbor and pieces of bunting that hung at Ford Theatre the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination are just two of the famous flags that will be used in the repairs.
Made with pride
Today, Annin produces millions of flags each year, and although the production process has become more modernized there’s one thing that hasn’t changed. Each and every American flag the company rolls out is 100 percent American-made. Annin provides jobs for more than 500 American workers, and director of operations, Rick Merrell, says the employees take their work seriously.
“We at Annin try every day to make the best American flag possible,” he says. “Our employees are very proud to be making a product that is wanted by people all over the world.”
He also believes citizens expect their American flag to be made by Americans, from American materials.
“We never forget what that flag means to Americans, and we take pride in every one we make,” he says.