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Anchor Industries: everything from teepees to tote bags.

Anchor Industries Inc., one of Evansville's oldest but least-known firms, is in the celebration business. Anchor is the world's largest manufacturer of custom party tents, circus big tops and fabric structures, and its customers come from around the world to join in the fun.

Another form of the company's handiwork will be showcased this month on Flag Day when its most famous product, the world's largest American flag, goes on display near the Washington Monument in the nation's capital. The Great American Flag, completed in 1980, is more than 200 feet wide and 400 feet long. It was presented to President Reagan in 1983 and flown on Flag Day.

This year, the flag has been cleaned and prepared for a Flag Day celebration to honor the troops that are returning from the Persian Gulf. Hundreds of Evansville volunteers will be in Washington June 14 to help unfurl Old Glory. The 7-ton, 2-acre flag was a one-time labor of love for the Evansville work force. "We only made one flag, and we're very pleased with it," says Pete Mogavero, vice president and national sales manager for Anchor, "but it's not what we do."

What Anchor does, and does better than anyone else, is manufacture fabric products for outdoor use. That can be anything from a beach tote bag to a huge tent at Disneyland. Give Anchor the plan, and it'll make one or 1 million of them. The key to Anchor's long life, and its $30 million-plus in annual sales, is its wide range of products.

Through various divisions, the company has made bags for Lands' End, command tents for the U.S. Army in Operation Desert Storm, picnic umbrellas, book bags, awnings, camera bags, tarpaulins for baseball diamonds, oneman forest fire shelteres for the U.S. Forest Service and tents for the Boy Scouts.

The white tent on the White House lawn is an Anchor product, as is the big top at the Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey Circus. There are literally thousands of other products. "We make everything from teepees to tote bags," says Mogavero. "We're basically in the celebration, we want to be part of it. It's a fun business to be in."

The greatest growth in recent years has come from specialized tents and outdoor structures sold mainly to rental outlets. Those outlets, in turn, rent the huge structures for parties and other gatherings. Some tents are designed to withstand tremendous winds and can have screens, windows and air-conditioning systems installed.

"Our customers are some of the greatest partiers in the world," Mogavero says. "They put on great parties. And we want to be on the leading edge of that business."

Anchor stays at the leading edge through innovation. For example, rental outlets for years had to purchase tents in all sorts of colors to satisfy customers who wanted them to harmonize with corporate logos or wedding color schemes. But Anchor now offers an all-white tent with colorful, interchangeable stripes. Buying the stripes is easier and more economical than buying lots of tents. The product, dubbed the New Century tent in honor of the company's upcoming centennial, has been a hit with rental outlets seeking to reduce their inventories and costs.

Band shells, big tops, festival tents and other party structures are big business, even in hard times. During a recession, a company may not hold the annual outing at a fancy restaurant; it may instead opt for a huge picnic out back under an Anchor tent. And affluent hosts wanting to make the right statement don't spare the expense when looking for a colorful shelter or tent.

The company has survived for almost 100 years by changing with the marketplace. The Daus family of Evansville launched the company on the city's downtown riverfront in 1982. Anchor Supply Co., as it was called then, served the riverboat traffic on the Ohio River. Today the company remains in the hands of the Dauts family. John J. Daus Jr., grandson of the founder, has been at the helm for the past 41 years. He remains president and CEO.

The company moved from downtown in 1969 when an urban renewal project was undertaken. It now operates two adjacent 150,000-square-foot manufacturing plants near the Evansville Regional Airport. The company employs 350 workers in Evansville, many of whom have worked for the company for decades. It also owns a 50,000-square-foot plant in Bradenton, Fla., the wintering area for the circus industry. Another 50 work there.

Each division of the company targets a special niche. The company's custom division specializes in awnings, canopies and high-tech fitted swimming-pool covers. "We've had spectacular success with the safety pool cover," Mogavero says, noting that the cover is strong enough for an adult to walk on.

"We're mainly custom manufacturers. We don't have a line of product that comes off a shelf. I consider ourselves the Federal Express of the fabric industry. They made their mark on rapid delivery. We made ours on rapid response. If the customer needs it, we can make it."

Markets overscas, especially Japan, have been gobbling up Anchor products. "It's been a pleasure to satisfy not only American customers but clients in Europe and Japan as well," Mogavero says.

In an industry known for shuttering workers in low-wage sweatshops, Anchor workers create products in airy facilities with a family atmosphere. In 1988, the U.S. Small business Administration awarded Anchor its Prime Contractor of the Year award, giving the company perfect marks in all categories, including working conditions and wages. The honor meant it was the government's top supplier in a six-state region.

The greening of America also has meant good news for Anchor. The reusable grocery bag, a cloth version that customers bring back to reuse, is becoming a popular Anchor staple. "I think it's a win-win situation for everybody," Mogavero says. "It's catching on across the country but especially on the West Coast."

The outbreak of war in the Persian Gulf also meant a boost in business for Anchor. Between conventional military tents, tank covers and huge headquarters tents, the company was busy with orders for covers to keep sand out of the equipment and for tents to keep the sun off the generals.

And now that the war is over? Anchor is getting ready for the welcome home parties and huge Independence Day celebrations. The employees of Anchor Industries are getting ready to stitch up a storm of party tents. Concludes Mogavero, "We think it's going to be a great year for celebrations."
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Derk, James S.
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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