Editor's note: This tour of small businesses across the country highlights the imagination, diversity, and resilience of American enterprise.
Not naming names here, but certain venues have been known to exaggerate the amount of confetti they drop on New Year's Eve. When some event coordinators claim thousands of pounds of paper will rain down on revelers, "I always get a chuckle," says Bill Loughran Jr. "I know where it is made. I know who makes it. I know who shipped the boxes out. No, your order is not that big."
Loughran Jr. owes that insider perspective to his role as vice president of operations at Shore Manufacturing Co., a 67-year-old maker of confetti, streamers, tinsel, and all things bright, light, and festive. His father, Bill Loughran Sr., founded Shore in the 1950s and still serves as its CEO. The company has offices in Sea Girt, New Jersey, and manufactures in Plymouth, Pennsylvania. Every day Loughran Sr. commutes six hours between the two sites. He is 89.
Recently, the six-employee company has been slammed, churning out big deliveries of confetti and serpentines (coiled streamers) for New Year's celebrations in Times Square and other cities. Nutcracker productions and department store windows around the country deploy Shore's snow confetti for a wintry mood. The company's patented short, crimped tinsel--designed for tossing in handfuls rather than draping strand by strand on a tree--is another popular item.
About half the company's sales come from confetti, some of which is custom-made. For the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Shore cuts confetti into patterns themed for the floats. For the Olympics in British Columbia in 2010, it fashioned tiny maple leaves. Museums exhibiting the work of Italian artist Lara Favaretto, who employs confetti in her sculptures and installations, order thousands of pounds in nontraditional colors like black and a shade that Loughran Jr. describes as "puke."
Shore Manufacturing's most unusual products are christening bottles, invented and patented by the elder Loughran more than 50 years ago. Each year, the company sells 500 or 600 of the quick-to-shatter champagne bottles for smashing against new boats, as well as cars, decks, planes, and even subway cars. "Last year, I found out that Jackie Kennedy had used one of my bottles to christen a submarine," says Loughran, who posted a New York Times photograph of the event on his website.
Lindy Bowman, who once partnered with Shore Manufacturing to introduce colored Mylar to the gift-packaging market, calls Loughran the most intense, energetic, inventive entrepreneur he knows. "Bill will work 100 hours in a row if it is necessary," says Bowman, who today is president of the Lindy Bowman Company, a Baltimore-based manufacturer of gift bags. "When he is enthusiastic about something, he is the most aggressive person you have ever seen about making it happen."
Boxes, bridges, and bottles
Loughran's father, an Army colonel, was often absent from the two-family home in New Jersey where Shore's founder grew up. In high school and college, Loughran worked a hodgepodge of jobs: photographer's assistant, florist's assistant, and as a model for clothing catalogs.
Soon after college, Loughran bid successfully for a U.S. Army contract to build large boxes for moving furniture to bases overseas. It was 1951, five years before the introduction of the modern shipping container. Loughran operated that first iteration of Shore Manufacturing out of his family's three-car garage. Four years later, Loughran moved to a plant in Manasquan, New Jersey, and began making redwood furniture. After his landlord sold the New York City building that housed the company's showroom, he opened Loughran Gardens in Brielle, New Jersey, selling flowers (he'd become a skilled arranger working for the florist in college) and lawnmowers alongside the furniture.
Brielle is located on the Manasquan River. A friend of Loughran's was a serial buyer of yachts. "When he christened them, he couldn't break the bottle," Loughran says. Loughran studied the physics and devised a way to make a champagne bottle brittle by scoring it with a glass cutter. When he received a patent in 1962, "it was written up in The Wall Street Journal," he says. "It was on TV. Everywhere."
A scrappy venture
In 1961, the state of New Jersey came for Loughran's land, to set it aside for recreation and conservation. The garden center was history. Then a friend offered Loughran a job buying paper scrap for recycling mills. While scavenging at Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, he began collecting defective diapers, which he sold to soft toy companies for stuffing. Soon he had a business brokering products damaged in manufacturing. He'd buy for $1 a pound and sell for $1.25.
One day, he bought a load of scrap Mylar--a kind of plastic film. He sent sample packages to a company where Bowman worked, which made boxes for in-store gift-wrapping. That gave Bowman the idea to manufacture sheets of Mylar as a substitute for tissue paper in gift boxes. Loughran agreed to become his supplier. He set up the Pennsylvania factory to make Mylar in colorful sheets and shreds, and also sold to companies like Hallmark and Estée Lauder.
Mylar confetti was the next obvious product. Years earlier, Loughran had packaged money shredded and sold by the U.S. Treasury as "Millionaire's Confetti." He had also collected the stiff paper dots excised from IBM punch cards and given them to Loughran Jr., then a high school student, to sell as a fundraiser--two handfuls for $1--during football games.
By the 1980s, those christening bottles and the company name were all that remained of Shore's earlier iteration. Now it was a plastic sheet-shred-and-confetti manufacturer. And then there was paper. In the mid-'90s, Loughran acquired Brooklyn Lace, a 140-year-old company that made paper confetti and the long streamers--called "ship-to-shores"--that ship passengers toss overboard when leaving port. The cruise lines became customers. When the cruise industry faced increased scrutiny of its environmental practices, Loughran won a patent for Green Magic confetti, which dissolves on contact with water with no harm to marine life.
Shore Manufacturing's third patent is on that toss-able tinsel, a crimped, six-inch version of the company's traditional tinsel that is thrown in handfuls at the tree, where it clings without clumping. Because the strands are so light, the barest breath of air makes them flutter. The crimped shape refracts the lights. "The whole tree sparkles because the tinsel is moving," Loughran says. "It is gorgeous."
A company for all seasons
Shore Manufacturing enjoys as many seasons as a greeting-card company. In addition to Christmas and New Year's, there is Mardi Gras and the Fourth of July. Sports teams, including the Boston Red Sox, New York Jets, and Philadelphia 76ers, buy its confetti, as do Las Vegas nightclubs and numerous film and TV productions. Gift stores and florist shops sell sheets and shreds of colored Mylar, which Shore manufactures under private label. That biodegradable confetti is popular at weddings.
But even with year-round markets, Shore's products are all niche offerings, Loughran Jr. points out. The company's insistence on U.S. manufacturing sometimes puts it at a disadvantage with offshore competitors. And because its products typically are used outside, it is vulnerable to extreme weather. "We do a lot of business in California, and the fall productions didn't happen this year because of the fires," Loughran Jr. says. "When the hurricanes hit Florida or Texas, people aren't going out and celebrating."
Those threats mean the company must continue to innovate. Father and son divide that labor according to their talents. Loughran dreams up new products. Loughran Jr. figures out how to produce them and designs the machines.
Fortunately for Shore, Loughran isn't looking to retire. But increasingly he applies his creative powers to philanthropic work. Not long ago, he conceived and executed a formal ball that raised more than $1 million for 200 families in his local parish. Among other things, the event auctioned off a Rolls-Royce.
And Loughran hasn't ruled out starting another business. "I have a flair," he says, "for looking at something and turning it into something new."