Investing In Ceramics: Continuing a Colorful Family Tradition
All in the FamilyMason Color Works was originally founded as Bleak Place Color Works by James Mason in 1842 in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England. James and his wife, Mary Skerratt, a well-known color chemist, operated the plant until James’ death in 1865. At that point, their only child, Augustus Frederick Mason, with his wife Keziah Jones, took ownership and continued producing colors at Bleak Place.
In 1902, Augustus’ son, Fortunatus Quartus Mason, who had obtained degrees in both inorganic chemistry and analysis from the Wedgwood Institute, moved to the U.S. and opened the first Mason Color Works plant in East Liverpool, Ohio. “F. Q.,” as he was widely known, passed the company on to his son, Ron Mason, in 1961. Ron became highly respected in the ceramic industry for his knowledge of ceramic colors and applications. Under his leadership, the company experienced tremendous growth in both the markets served and the amount of product used by the industry.
When Ron died in 1991, his son, David Mason, became president of the company, and his two daughters, Ann and Carol, became vice presidents. After David’s untimely death in July 2000, a new board of directors was formed to assist in the development of the company, with ownership still residing with the family. During this entire period the company experienced ongoing expansion, continuously reaching out to new markets and investing in research and development efforts to create new products.
“We’ve been through some trials, but the company is probably stronger now than it’s ever been,” says George Vardy, executive vice president.
Building on SuccessesToday, Mason Color Works is still owned and operated by the Mason family, and the company now ships its products to many countries throughout the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, France, Germany and the Philippines. But while the company has grown, it has maintained its personalized, small-business mentality. Customer service remains a key priority with three main goals: 1) to provide the highest possible quality, 2) to charge as little as possible, and 3) to ship orders as quickly as possible.
“Lot-to-lot, pigments must exhibit extreme quality and consistency. For that reason, we continue to ensure that our staff includes a number of dedicated, qualified technical personnel,” Vardy says.
Additionally, low pricing has always been an important part of Mason’s history. “I once approached David Mason and suggested that we could probably get a couple more dollars per pound for a certain product because we were charging really low rates compared to other suppliers, and he said, ‘No, we don’t do that.’ Very few businessmen are going to say that. That’s just an indication of the commitment he had, and that’s one of the things that the company remains committed to,” Vardy adds.
The company also maintains high inventory levels on every product to ensure that it can ship products to customers as quickly as possible. “We ship almost overnight on everything, which is something a lot of other companies don’t do,” Vardy says. “It’s expensive, but we think it’s important to continue doing it because that’s what our customers need.”
While many larger companies have limited orders to 50- or 100-lb minimums, Mason Color continues to ship as little as 10 lbs of its products to some of its smallest customers. “Of course it’s more cost-effective for us to ship larger quantities, but we’re determined to continue to service the small guy—including studio potters and artists,” Vardy says. “Our goal is to serve all of our customers in the best way possible.”
To ensure that this high level of service continues well into the future, Mason Color recently completed an addition to its facility that includes expanded inventory and shipping areas, installation of a new high-tech kiln, a new research laboratory and a new office block, as well as increased manufacturing equipment where needed. To improve its technical research and quality control capabilities, the company has also hired new qualified personnel. “These new developments will ensure Mason’s ability to continue to support and supply its many customers, increase efficiency, maintain inventory for speedy shipping, and improve and monitor its superb color quality,” Vardy says.
Future developments will include some new pigments and expansion into completely new areas of business. According to Vardy, these changes will be achieved without compromising the price and quality of existing products or the company’s philosophy of free technical support to any customer, large or small, which have been the tenets of Mason Color since its inception.