Celebrating its 80th year in business, Bally Block is a long-surviving manufacturer of wood products, including butcher blocks, kitchen countertops, and gaming table and furniture tops.
What makes the Berks County firm unique is its ability to manufacture a variety of products from the same core framework, says President Jim Reichart. Although the company chiefly produces high-quality workbenches for customers in industry, education, and the government, the firm’s 75 employees work with seven varieties of wood—maple, oak, ash, walnut, cherry, teak, and lyptus—to also create island- and countertops for home use, as well as butcher blocks for food service use.
“We’re a niche supplier,” Reichart says.“I honestly believe that if you do a value-added, quality examination, you can’t beat us.”
Recently Bally Block extended its production to recreational items such as shuffleboards and high-quality end grain basswood dart boards. And, with the addition of new CNC equipment—the training for which was partially funded through a WEDnet grant administered by MRC—Bally Block proves that flexibility and creativity can lead to successful, and profitable, results.
“If you’d told us five years ago that we would be making shuffleboards, we would have said you’re out of your mind,” Reichart says. “They’re beautiful. Shuffleboards are a small niche, but we like it.”
After enjoying seemingly endless work in 2000, Bally Block struggled with a marketplace that changed radically after 9/11 as manufacturers sent work offshore, thus driving down demand for the company’s premium workbench products. With the one-two punch of rising healthcare costs and the weakening market, Reichart explains the company simply could not keep up. Bally Block sought guidance from MRC.
“They [MRC] held out an olive branch and said ‘we can help you,’ and when someone says that, we listen,” Reichart says. Heeding MRC’s advice, the firm adopted a fresh outlook, resolving not to limit product possibilities. MRC suggested offering more varieties of wood and encouraged Bally Block to work with the Lehigh University Integrated Product Development (IPD) team in an effort to expand the company’s products. The result, Emmet’s Elixir, is the only cutting board dressing on the market that is both antimicrobial and National Sanitation Foundation-approved, thanks in part to an MRC-aided NSF-approved project.
In addition to increasing product variety, Bally Block focused attention on the group that makes or breaks any business—the consumer. “It comes down to listening to the customer,” says Dave Ritter, Bally Block plant manager. “That’s how we build a lot of business—listening to what the market wants.”
Grateful for MRC’s guidance, Reichart says the most beneficial service provided from MRC is “the fact that whenever we have a real question on something, we feel we have a source to go to for answers.” Whether it’s time to tackle a thorny marketing issue or seek ISO implementation to fulfill a client requirement, “the first call,” Ritter says, “will be to MRC.”