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Behind the Scenes: Wahl Clipper Corporation


From trade to home, hair to fur, U.S. to worldwide, this manufacturer brings its visions to fruition.
By Jaime McLendon-Boyer

After increased sales worldwide in 2008—its most successful year ever—Wahl Clipper Corporation again has reason to celebrate. In October, the privately held company commemorated 90 years of professional and home grooming innovation. From the first electromagnetic hair clipper to a now diverse line of clippers, trimmers, shavers, hair styling products and massagers, Wahl has introduced product conveniences to a sundry of professionals, including barbers, hair stylists and pet groomers, as well as to self-reliant consumers. Its roots are in human hair but the company’s anniversary marks an important truth: Wahl has staying power, and its influence on the pet industry continues to grow.

The Pet-Pro Kit is one of several kits in Wahl’s product line for professional groomers and veterinarians.
Wahl was founded in 1919, but its history begins in 1911, when as an engineering student Leo J. Wahl designed a vibrating massager that his uncle began manufacturing in Sterling, Ill. To help the business, Leo sold the massager to barbershops, and was inspired to improve the barber tools that he saw there.

“Mechanical clippers were very crude in the early 1900s,” said Pat Anello, director of marketing for Wahl. “The barber held this big device in his hand and it was very cumbersome.”

That same year, Leo took over the massager manufacturing business when his uncle was drafted, and got to work on the design of an electric hair clipper that would be lightweight, hand-held and easy to maneuver. But Leo too was drafted, and after World War I, he stayed in Europe to complete his electric engineering degree before returning to the U.S. and applying for a patent on his clipper in October 1919. Back in business with his uncles, Wahl Manufacturing Company was born.

AT A GLANCE


Wahl Clipper Corporation

Location: World headquarters located in Sterling, Ill. Manufacturing, marketing and sales at Sterling facility as well as four other locations: Germany, Hungary, UK and China.

Owner: Privately held U.S. corporation by Wahl family members. Third generations of the founder now in leadership positions. Greg Wahl is president and CEO.

Employees: 2,000 worldwide in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, England, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Japan, South Africa, Spain and the United States.

Years in Business: 90

Areas of distribution: 165 countries

Annual Revenues: $100-$500 million

Company mission: To continue as worldwide leading manufacturer and distributor of professional, consumer and animal electric hair-cutting devices.

Sales Growth (year to year): 7%

Product categories: Electric clippers and trimmers for human and animal in both the professional and home markets

Product Lines: Wahl is the main brand, which includes electric hair clippers, trimmers, shavers, massagers, hair dryers and hair straighteners.

Website: www.wahl.com

From the start, Wahl was a hands-on business, family owned and entrepreneurial in nature. Sales were door to door, and product was made only after an order was placed. Success was almost immediate. By the end of 1920, Wahl had sold thousands of clippers to barbers, and the following year Leo purchased all the company stock and incorporated the business as Wahl Clipper Corporation.

With each decade, Wahl expanded its product line for barbers and beauty professionals in an effort to fulfill a growing demand. So rapid was Wahl’s growth that, in the early 1950s—in anticipation of product demand beyond U.S. borders—the company opened a manufacturing plant in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

In 1957, the year Leo passed away, Wahl moved about a mile north to a larger plant, which would later expand to more than 300,000 square feet. And in the mid to late 1960s, Wahl birthed a new animal clipper, the timing of which couldn’t have been better.

Referencing the era in which it became popular for men to grow their hair long (and unpopular to cut it short), Anello recalled an old cliché Wahl’s former president, John F. (Jack) Wahl, applied to the business.  

“He used to say, ‘When The Beatles came into [the U.S.], our business went to the dogs,’” he said. “We really started to gain a greater appreciation for the ability of our clippers to do well with home pets.”

Indeed, Wahl’s animal division helped fill a marketplace void of a demand for the “clean cut” look. And though the Professional Pet and Consumer Pet (aka Home Pet) divisions are still relatively new extensions to the company’s roots in personal care, according to Anello, the home use of clippers for pets is growing.

“People tend to wait longer between visits going to a professional and in the interim they’re using a clipper for trims and things,” he said. “It saves them money, but even in good times people can rationalize they can save time and take control of what they want to do and when.”

Wahl prides itself on continued research. It surveys consumers to find out exactly what they need in terms of pet grooming, and has an innovation center in which a grooming station allows Wahl personnel to observe how people groom their pets.

“We see what kind of things they do and where the pluses and minuses are, so to speak, and we can address those with new products,” Anello said.

A little more than a decade ago, Wahl implemented a computer-aided inventory control system, completed its plant expansion projects and acquired Germany-based Moser Elektrogerate GmbH, an international manufacturer of products similar to those of Wahl. The product lines, which include clippers, trimmers, kits and other grooming accessories, have been merged.

Wahl Clipper Corp. headquarters, Sterling, Ill.

Wahl’s staying power is not a surprise to Anello, who credits Wahl’s success to the family’s allegiance to integrity, family values and the company’s mission. He also credits their ability to look at everything long term.

“In 1919 or 1920, there was another student that had gone to the University of Illinois where Leo Wahl had attended and they developed a relationship,” Anello said. “He said, ‘Hey when you get your idea and you want me to market it in Canada, we’ll take it.’ And they shook hands on the deal.”

That handshake has stood the test of time. About five years ago, Wahl bought Swenson Canada, now known as Wahl Canada.

According to Anello, Wahl now employs more than 2,000, with 800 people in the Sterling plant. It has facilities not only in the United States and Canada, but also in Australia, China, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary and Japan, as well. The international presence allows Wahl to address multicultural issues, Anello said.

And on the horizon? According to Anello, more products and more online ventures.

“How-to videos on our website and social networking will be things we’ll be addressing.” <HOME>


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