If you’ve worn a lacrosse helmet, it’s likely that its metal face mask was made in Mystic. If you’re a firefighter and you’ve worn a Scott brand breathing pack, it’s likely the metal support holding your tank was made in Mystic.
But you won’t find the name Acme Wire Products Co. on those products. The small Mystic manufacturer tucked just south of the railroad tracks along Broadway Extension in Mystic is a specialty metals fabricator, making a diverse array of metal racks, baskets, carriers and components, which in turn are used by other manufacturers and large and small businesses. It also has the distinction of being this country’s largest domestic fabricator of lacrosse face masks.
The second-generation metals company remains a family owned enterprise. It traces its metals history back to the 1930s when the grandfather of the firm’s current management team started in the business with a firm called Artistic Wire Products. Today, Acme Wire is run by a sister-and-brothers team overseeing a manufacturing enterprise that employs 64.
Mary Planeta Fitzgerald is the firm’s president, while her brother Edward serves as its sales manager and her brother Michael is vice president of operations. The father, Edward J. Planeta, founded the firm in 1970 in Norwich, and it later moved to its present headquarters in Mystic.
Fitzgerald and her brothers vow that their manufacturing success stems, in large part, from their pride in their company and the flexibility of family ownership.
“We’re 100 percent family owned,” says Fitzgerald, who holds both a liberal arts degree as well as a master’s in business administration. “We purchased this business from our father. We did not inherit it,” she adds proudly.
At Acme, Fitzgerald shares a collegial relationship with her brothers and the firm’s work force. As she and her brothers walk across its large manufacturing floor, they wave to workers, addressing most by their first names.
They still consult regularly with their father, and they’ve succeeded as niche manufacturers in a state that has seen a steady erosion of its manufacturing base.
Acme Wire instituted a profit-sharing plan in 2003 and also offers a 401(k) savings plan, which is gaining employee acceptance among the plant’s workers.
The profit-sharing plan is administered quarterly. Last year, its workers earned more than three weeks of pay and during the first quarter of this year, the firm distributed nine days’ worth of pay to its work force – its biggest quarterly payout since the program began several years ago.
As Acme profits increase, workers share in the gain. It’s a strong incentive to develop a loyal, dedicated work force, Fitzgerald and her brothers say.
Acme also has instituted an independent board of advisors to work with the firm, offering advice on corporate strategies, succession plans and the purchase of equipment.
“Initially, it was really scary,” says Fitzgerald of the four-person advisory board established in 1999. “You’re laying it all out to people who you have no history with. It’s like going to a counselor,” she jokes.
But the advisors – all experienced executives in manufacturing – have been supportive, understanding of the firm’s proprietary concerns and have proved to be an objective resource for charting the firm’s future.
“We chose individuals and told them where we want to take this company, and they’ve all been through it. It gave us an opportunity to get outside Acme Wire and get a fresh perspective,” says Edward Planeta.