The Civil War-era building in the heart of downtown Keene belies the lean, green, sophisticated 21st century manufacturing operation inside the brick walls, with its state-of-the-art computer numerical controlled machinery operated by 43 skilled workers.
Whitney Brothers makes superior quality wood furniture, storage, display and educational play products for children. Their products can be found in schools, childcare centers, libraries and churches around the world.
Today, the plant hums at near capacity as it works to fulfill the largest single contract in its history and it’s an unlikely one: An order from the US Army.
It’s for a total of 3,614 cribs needed to upgrade its child development centers, located on military bases around the world. The order is a 3-year-contract, with two, one-year renewable options. The first year totals $866,000.
“Our company believes that childcare and early learning in a child’s first five years are critical to develop into productive citizens and we applaud the US Army for its support of those same values,” said David Stabler, president of Whitney Brothers. “We appreciate that the army recognized our American-made products represent better quality, safety and overall value vs. low-cost imports.”
Winning the contract took patience and perseverance and required meticulous preparation. It began in 2003, when Stabler met with Martha Keene of NH-PTAP, a program of the Division of Economic Development that helps New Hampshire companies sell their products and services to federal, state and local governments. He evaluated the government market, performed the necessary registrations and developed a strategy to generate government sales through the company’s existing network of distributors versus selling directly to the federal government.
The pivotal event in the process would not happen for another eight years. In 2011, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission enacted standards that necessitated the replacement of older cribs in public and private childcare centers with newer, safety-compliant units by the end of 2012. This included childcare facilities sponsored by the government, such as the US Army worldwide Childcare Development Centers. Whitney Brothers had prepared diligently for this opportunity, resulting in the US Army contract award in May 2012.
“We acknowledge the vital role that the NHPTAP and (the Department of Resources and Economic Development) played in helping us win this important contract,” said Brian Vaillancourt, director of sales and marketing. “These publicly funded organizations and the programs, training and assistance they provide helped us gain full visibility in front of the federal government customer and acquire this order. We advocate the current federal administration continue to support these invaluable resources.”
To fulfill the contract, Whitney Brothers hired 13 new employees – a 32 percent increase to its existing workforce.
Dave Pease, CCAS
NH Procurement Technical Assistance Program