Worthington's Bedford Industries marks milestone anniversary
WORTHINGTON -- It's hard to imagine a world without twist ties. We use them everyday to seal our bread bags, bundle our kale and fold our bags of coffee beans closed.
WORTHINGTON -- It’s hard to imagine a world without twist ties. We use them everyday to seal our bread bags, bundle our kale and fold our bags of coffee beans closed.
Back in 1966, on the other hand, twist ties were almost unheard of. Robert Ludlow changed all that when he created Bedford Industries.
Bob and Patricia Ludlow saw their first twist tie while in an ice fishing house out on Lake Okabena. It was the inspiration Bob had been looking for. Bob looked at that twist tie -- made of paper, and asphalt, and wire -- and knew that he could do it better.
With $13,000 to invest in his idea and a small garage in which to work, Bob changed the face of packaging. Now, 50 years later, Bedford Industries is the largest twist-tie manufacturer in the world.
Bedford Industries celebrated its 50th anniversary on July 30 with a gala event at the Worthington Event Center. More than 500 past and present employees, friends and supporters were present. Guests were treated to an array of appetizers and a catered meal from Chef Dominique’s out of Sioux Falls, S.D.
Eliza (Milbrandt) Raum and Marty Rickers acted as co-Masters of Ceremonies, showing several videos honoring Bob and Pat, which were made specifically for the event. Trivia questions, featuring facts about Bedford, resulted in prizes for the winners and Information Services Manager Bill Shoup entertained the crowd with two original Bedford-themed songs. Swag bags containing Bedford customers’ products and sporting Bedford tags and ties were given to all.
With about current 300 employees, Bedford Industries is one of the largest employers in Worthington. Featuring engineers ranging from chemical to mechanical to industrial, graphic artists, maintenance staff, production workers, salespeople, product development, designers, accountants, technicians, production workers, office staff and marketing, all of Bedford’s workforce takes credit in the concept and creation of each and every product.
“Everything at Bedford is geared to get people together to create our products,” revealed Kim Milbrandt, president. “Everybody here is respected. Everybody is needed. Everyone has equal standing and input. We get ideas from people all over the building”
In an effort to foster this atmosphere of collaboration even further, Bedford has created a new Innovation Center. Housing Production Planning, Design, Marketing and Engineering all in one state-of-the-art area, the Innovation Center will allow easy interaction between various departments. Given the vast size of Bedford’s campus, having these vital creative forces all together in one area will make many peoples’ lives easier.
“We are building the center to build our collaborative team to allow for more synergy and teamwork in our facility,” Milbrandt explained.
Creative /Marketing Manager Deb Houseman is excited to be a part of the new facility.
“From day one, Bob has inspired innovation,” she said. “Now, living in this area specifically meant to bring people together, that will only increase.”
“People drive by and have no idea what we do here,” Houseman added. “A lot of things we make are everyday things, but they’re not easy things to make.”
Between the creative team -- consisting of the marketing and graphic design departments -- on the lookout for new ideas, and a sales force trained to listen closely to customers’ -- and potential customers’ -- ideas and desires, Bedford is constantly investigating new ways of improving on its classic products.
“Our salespeople are constantly listening to customers when they say, ‘I can’t get this to happen. How can Bedford help with that?’” Milbrandt said.
“Speed to shelf is vital,” agreed Houseman. “When we’re given a new idea, we will come up with a prototype and do a test run on the floor the next day. We have a fast turnaround with our laser cutting equipment.”
Bedford is known as a leader in creating brand-new packaging innovations. Twelve years ago, when Bedford created the ElastiTag, such a thing hadn’t been seen in the packaging world before. Now ElastiTags are found on everything from health and beauty products to produce, beverages, automotive supplies, hunting and outdoor merchandise, hardware and even housewares.
The ElastiTag family of products consists of the highest quality possible in printed tags, combined with an elastomer loop, which attaches to the neck of a bottle or even the branch of a Christmas tree. Laser cutting allows for an infinite number of shapes and tactical options.
“Our tags stay on and they tell a story,” Milbrandt stated. “Our customers love them. Bedford tries not to chase commodity products. There has to be a purpose and a value as well as sustainability and recyclability.
The sustainability of a new line of products -- it’s long-term life as a sellable product -- is something which, again, demands input and must be determined by many different departments within Bedford.
Mike Schultz, head of production manager, emphasized this point.
“Every department at Bedford works together in the making of a new product to see if it’s sustainable,” he said. ”It takes a concerted effort to take what starts as an idea and a prototype, to a finished product that can be profitably manufactured by the millions.”
“Everyone is invested in our products,” Jay Milbrandt, assistant general manager, added. “The people working on the lines are just as invested as we are.
“The reason we want to come to work here -- the reason we exist -- is because we have interesting problems to solve. Every product creates a whole world of complexity. How well does it twist together? Does it hang right? We find these problems really interesting. There are really captivating challenges to be chased. There is cutting-edge stuff to be done.”
“Our goal is to be the place people want to work in the region,” Kim Milbrandt said. “Most of our senior management team have MBAs. We want to attract the talent and use the very best technology and the best materials we can find.”
“We source the world over for our materials,” Jay agreed. “Brazil, Mexico, Germany, China, France, the USA.”
“We’re working with the local college to create programs and our internship opportunities are fantastic,” Houseman added.
“I love to see people’s faces light up when I tell them that they are making stuff that no one else in the world can,” Kim said. “We all work to solve the packaging problems that everyone faces on a daily basis.”
“We just celebrated 50 years and we are not done yet,” Houseman said with a smile.