The company was co-founded by Wright and Chris Watson 32 years ago. Wright pointed out that the sign in the entryway to the factory reads, “judge us by the company we keep.” Custom Clad's customer list includes well-known companies like General Motors and Ford as well as some that have come and gone.
“We’ve outlasted them,” Wright said.
Custom Clad provides quality coating of a variety of metal and wood products including light fixture housings, air conditioning housings, electric motor and water pump housings, automotive products such as Chrysler aerial fastenings and P-T Cruiser hub caps, industrial size vacuum cleaner tanks and many more. It is also a pioneer of the powder-coating process. Wright said when he and Watson first started the company in 1976, there were only four powder-coating companies on the East Coast. Now there are hundreds.
“I was working for Schenectady Chemical, now called Schenectady International, and [Watson] was in the lab formulating finishes there,” he said.
Wright said when the gas crisis hit and petrochemical stocks were in jeopardy, they started looking into powder coating as an alternative product finish. He said the dry coating system forms a chemical bond almost like iron filings line up on a magnet.
Wright listed some of the advantages of powder coating over liquid finish applications.
“There are no runs, drips or sags with powder coating,” Wright said. “It is eco-friendly and more functional than just decorative.”
Wright said the process originated in Europe in the early ’50s, then passed through Canada on its way to the U.S.
“I was given the area from Boston to Buffalo to sell this process,” he said. “We were offering this process as initial insulation coating for wire.”
With so few companies offering the process, Wright and Watson decided to start their own shop. The pair bought a former creamery along the Canajoharie Creek to house the business.
Today, Custom Clad employs 60 people with three shifts and boasts $3 million-plus sales yearly.
“We have two production shifts and one clean-up and set-up shift running,” Wright said. “Powder coating was 100 percent of our business until a few weeks ago when we picked up some liquid coating.”
Wright said his customers appreciate the fact his company is mature enough to finish a product that has gone through several companies before his powder coating was applied. Custom Clad is able to sell the product with one invoice and its trucks provide delivery to the final destination.
“We can take the financial lead and we are the last to handle the part after fabricators, machine houses and dye casters,” he said. “We work closely with the companies we deal with, and they know they can count on us for on-time delivery.”
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Wright said his customer base is within a 350-mile radius, but competition has taken from his customer base in recent years.
"At one time, 80 percent of U.S. manufacturing was within a 350-mile radius," Wright said. "It was fortuitous that we lived centrally and started the company here out of convenience."
Wright said his biggest challenge has been adapting to the changes in the market. The company has developed a way to coat products to look like wood, stone or other materials. He has contracts with a Florida-based company that is installing the products in golf carts.
Another powder coating plant is run by Wright's son in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Wright said most of the powder coating done in Canajoharie is for smaller parts with larger parts like auto chassis frames and trailer frames completed by his son. The two companies are run separately other than using the family name to save on materials purchase.
Chris Jennings of Vance Metal Fabrication in Geneva, Ontario County, said he had been doing business with WW Custom Clad for about 15 years.
"Any time we have a powder coating job they are our first choice," Jennings said. "They [powder coat] couplings for our Gould Pumps. They are always very responsive."
Jennings said he relied on Chris Watson for technical advice on finish coating.
"Watson is very technically astute," he said. "I certainly look to him and his advice."
Quality customer service and products were both key in Custom Clad winning this year’s Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce Edward L. Wilkinson Industry of the Year award. Chamber President Deborah Auspelmyer said she had had a tour of the factory and saw "first hand how they make their products."
"Their powder coating finish process has been used on products from Kodak, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Carrier Air Conditioning and even on NASCAR race car parts," Auspelmyer said. "It's wonderful when a business started as an idea has grown like they have."
With a lab for testing and high technical specifications available, Wright says they are able to provide the tolerances and high quality many smaller job shops can't. He said he is in charge of sales and marketing while Watson is in charge of internal production at the plant. After bringing some company representatives through the factory setting in downtown Canajoharie, Wright bought a second building on Route 5S which had been a dairy so he would have a nicer office setting and conference area with finished products on display.
As the motto displayed on the company trucks state, "The start of a perfect finish."
Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be contacted at email@example.com'>firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richard Nilsen/The Leader-Herald
WW Custom Clad co-founder Chuck Wright poses in front of one of his trailers in Canajoharie Wednesday. Samples of finished products hang at Custom Clad’s factory.