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For more than 80 years, through three generations, Wahl Clipper has epitomized the American family-run business.

The company was born in 1919 when Leo Wahl applied for a patent for a small hand clipper. Leo, who sold massagers for his uncle, Frank Wahl, noticed that his barber clientele used large, cumbersome clippers. It gave him an idea to make clippers that were smaller and easier to use.

The company employs over 1,600 people worldwide. Wahl family members hold key executive positions. Jack Wahl, Leo's son, is chairman and chief executive officer, while Greg Wahl, Jack's son, is the company president. Mark, Jack's younger son, is general manager of the animal clipper division. Three of Jack's nephews are also active in the family business: Leo, director of Asian exports; Jim, vice president, professional products; and David, material planner.

Leo Wahl was extremely work-oriented. Jack Wahl remembers going downstairs at 3 a.m. to find his father in the library going over blueprints of new products.

"He was a brilliant man whose family was very important to him," he said. Leo Wahl carried these family values into the business in the way he dealt with his employees, he added.

One of the biggest challenges facing the company today, Jack Wahl said, is the ability to stay competitive in price and technology while continuing to manufacture in the United States. Wahl Clipper has manufacturing plants located in China, England, Australia, Canada, Holland and Japan, as well as in the United States. Many of the products manufactured in these facilities are sold in their native country.

"If sales are off in China, they will be up in Germany," Jack Wahl said. "This will make everything even out in the end."

Wahl Clipper benefits from being a vertically integrated company. In each of the countries in which it manufactures, the company owns and operates everything from the plant to the warehouse where the finished products are stored before shipping.

Jack Wahl has worked for the company since he was in high school, starting as a part-time worker in the plant. During vacations from college, he would return to work in the plant. Upon graduation, he returned full-time, eventually taking over as CEO in 1974.

Since then, the company has enjoyed 25 years of continuous growth. The product line, along with the sales staff, has expanded. Meanwhile, Wahl has taken an active role in marketing its products. The company has successfully used well-known spokesmen Richard Karn of the TV show Home Improvement and longtime radio personality Paul Harvey to tout Wahl products.

Future growth will come through the international division, along with new products, Jack Wahl said. Jack Wahl, 72, is proud of his family's accomplishments and recognizes the uniqueness of the Sterling, Ill.-based company. "Every day there are setbacks in this competitive industry," he said. "If it were easy, everyone would be doing it."
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Author:Stewart, Aaron; Ratliff, Mentored by Duke
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 14, 1999

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