Let’s get back to the hanger wire bending machine. After searching the internet for weeks, I finally found a local company that would take on the challenge. Tim and Leroy came to my plant to discuss the project. Most of their work was automation equipment for Window manufacturers. However, they loved the idea of bringing back jobs to the USA and were eager to make it happen. It took five weeks for us to work out the concept and another 10 weeks to build and tweak the equipment. Things were looking up!
Back to the hanger hooks. First of all, I wasn’t going to make just your ordinary hook. Ours were going to be THE new standard--20lbs minimum hanging strength or go home. We’re talking bigger, thicker, and better. And, that means they are harder to bend. MUCH harder to bend. Yep, we basically had to rebuild the entire machines after making about 20,000 hooks. They just couldn’t handle the stress. Springs broke, all the welds separated, and wheels and cams deformed--basically wore out. But, we figured it out. It was a frustrating yet satisfying experience.
While we were developing the bending machines, I had to figure out a way to get the hanger hooks plated in a shiny chrome or nickel. No problem, right? Nope. It turns out that making them is very labor intensive. In China, each one is hand loaded onto a rack one piece at a time. Those racks are then lowered into chemical baths that apply chrome and nickel metal to the surface. This is not a cheap process in the United States and that’s why all hanger hooks are made in China. I was on the search for a solution. Eventually, I found a family owned company in Michigan that plates metals for the automotive industry. They had a process that could plate our hooks in a different way. Although the final price was more expensive than China, I decided that it would work for us. So, I sent them 200,000 hooks to plate!
Now that I had the hanger shaped coated wire and the chrome plated wire hooks figured out, I had to figure out a way to combine them. Injection molding would be the solution. However, I had my reservations. Most plastic hangers break easily under load. Would it be possible to find a plastic that could withstand a constant stress without eventually breaking? Luckily, I was able to find another company in Michigan that had a unique polymer that would give me the structural integrity I was looking for along with the ability to bond to the coating on our hanger wire. The bonding is a very important part of the structural integrity of the hanger. Without it, the coated wire will turn inside the plastic. And, this means the coated plastic has to be bonded to the wire. Without these two features, the design will not work. Fortunately, we have a patent issued on one of these features and two other patents pending on the other features.
The next step was to make an injection mold and start making prototypes. This process went pretty smoothly. Once we had samples, we started to look for potential testing opportunities. One of our early testers was a wedding dress shop in Minnesota, Carrie Johnson Bridal. It turns out that they were constantly replacing their broken hangers every month because the dresses were too heavy. What a great opportunity! After using our hangers for a few months, not one hanger had broken! We also gave samples to friends and family. Similar feedback started coming in and everybody loved the hangers!!! Now it was time to figure out how to bring them to market.
Check back for the next chapter in the story.