Comfort and Support, Made in the USA
Core Products International
Core Products International is a manufacturer of orthopedic supports, pillows, and soft braces for consumers who are looking to make their lives more comfortable and is proud to be to be a USA based manufacturer.
Core Products was established in 1988 when founder Philip Mattison was looking for a solution to a sore neck that had developed while working as a truck driver. In collaboration with his chiropractor, Mattison designed a special pillow that could help to correct the problem.
This product, known as the Tri-Core® Cervical Support Pillow was Core Products’ first innovation and is – to this day – one of the most popular cervical pillows, recommended by healthcare professionals including chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, and occupational therapists. The Tri-Core Pillow is used to help people who suffer from a sore neck as a result of an injury, poor posture, or other causes. Today, the company makes products for every part of the body from head to toe including: neck braces, back supports, and knee and ankle braces, used both to promote injury recovery and to help prevent an injury.
Core employs roughly 135 people at two Wisconsin factories – 25,000 square feet in Osceola and 43,000 square feet in Chetek – and a 10,000-square-foot factory in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The company’s most popular products are recommended for back, neck and extremity support. Through its Core Contract manufacturing division, Core offers manufacturing services that employ some of the most advanced cutting and sewing capacity available in the USA to other companies that may need anything, from sub assemblies to finish products, to complement their product production.
Core Products has grown throughout its existence both organically and through acquiring smaller companies operating in the healthcare marketplace. Two significant acquisitions were a competitor from Toronto called Therapeutica and an American company called Morfam. Therapeutica made an orthopedic pillow product from molded foam that served the same purpose as the Tri-Core Pillow. It was the company’s most significant competitor, so when an opportunity arose to buy it out, Core took it.
Morfam was a manufacturer of massage therapy products in Mishawaka, Indiana that had developed a popular well-known device called the Jeanie-Rub® Massager. This tool is used by professionals prior to treating injured patients to help soften the tissue surrounding the affected area. The Jeanie-Rub’s orbital massaging motion enhances circulation, helping deliver fresh blood and oxygen to the affected area, easing pain and making additional treatment easier on the patient. The massager is also frequently purchased by consumers to help relieve minor discomfort and soreness that can develop from daily work activities.
The Tri-Core and Therapeutica® Pillows were developed to help people who suffer neck pain as a result of loss of the natural curve in the neck. The spine is made up of three curves that make an S shape. The neck curves one way; the mid-back, called the thoracic area, curves the other way, and then the low back, the lumbar spine, curves back again. People who have poor posture, or who have suffered an injury that has caused stress to the neck often lose the normal neck or cervical curvature. The Tri-Core and Therapeutica Pillows help re-establish that curve. They are the most popular products of their kind in the chiropractic field and are often recommended by healthcare professionals who treat neck injuries. The majority of Core’s pillows are purchased by people who crave good neck support and a better night’s sleep.
The ability for Core’s products to be directly purchased by consumers represents one of the major milestones in the evolution of the company. The original business plan was to sell exclusively to healthcare distributors, but the market changed dramatically with the internet and particularly with Amazon’s retail platform. Core recognized the opportunity and now offers its products directly to consumers through its website and third party marketplaces, as well as to distributors.
Even though Core’s products are available to consumers, the company designs them for professionals. In order to appeal to healthcare providers, products need to be feature rich and meet a high standard of quality. Professionals are interested in products that are properly constructed by a company that understands injuries and treatment protocols rather than a company that just creates an inexpensive item for retail. Many competing products are made overseas, whereas Core is proud that most of its products are made in the United States, making for a significant improvement in quality while still being competitively priced.
Core Products leadership recognizes that loyalty results from a happy, empowered workforce. “One of our values is to create a best-place-to-work environment,” says Mattison. “We work very hard to make sure our employees feel that they’re treated well and that they make a difference.” The company believes that the best people suited to making a decision are the people closest to it, so the leadership empowers employees to find solutions to problems that arise. This autonomy helps to foster a workforce that is invested in the success of the company.
As part of this commitment to an empowered workforce, Core recently implemented an employee stock ownership program (ESOP). It has always had a program in place that pays employees a bonus based on net profit, and now employees will also have the opportunity to own portions of stock in the company. “We have a very strong ownership mentality,” says Mattison. “And the people closest to our business frequently compliment us on the quality of the culture we’ve created.”
Want a better culture, serve a hot lunch
Another interesting program that Core has applied to enhance its culture is the addition of a lunchroom with a cook. A menu is created at the start of each week that includes a breakfast and a hot lunch with a salad bar prepared each day, available to employees for less than five dollars. On Fridays, the most popular lunch day, leftovers from the week are served, which helps minimize waste and preparation costs. The benefits of this program are many. Employees stay on site during their lunch hour, they eat together and engage with each other. They laugh and talk about casual things that help to build relationships, and they also talk about work-related things that they would have needed to connect on at some point during the day. “The lunch program does better than break even,” says Mattison. “It pays enormous benefits in terms of culture because people who have lunch together get along better. You notice a real difference when the cook is away.”
Need labor? Look for home-based assembly workers
The biggest challenge for Core Products is finding quality labor, but Mattison believes that the best labor force in the world can be found in the small towns of the Midwest. An inventive way that Core Products has mitigated the labor shortage problem is through a home-based employee program.
A large contract job called for a high-volume production run of a particular product. It was a relatively simple assembly that could be accomplished with commercial sewing machines used in the home. The job required about thirty workers, so Core put out a call to its employees for referrals of people who would be interested in working from home.
The company received a large enough response to create a home-based workforce. Commercial sewing machines were provided in the homes of the workers, and a drop-off and pick-up station was built at the Core Products facility. Home-based employees would drive to the station once a week, swipe their employee card to get in, sign in their week’s work and exchange it for the materials required for the coming week.
The company found that there is an enormous workforce available in home-based employees. People who were looking for a second part-time job or are home with children, or retired seniors who would have trouble working outside of the home, get the flexibility of a job that can fit into their schedule. When the contract was finished, the equipment was collected and stored, and the employees can potentially be called upon the next time a similar contract arises. “At one point up to thirty percent of my workforce was home-based,” says Mattison. “We didn’t have to increase our fixed overhead in order to dramatically increase our production capacity.”
The company’s two Wisconsin plants are located in Osceola and Chetek, both towns of 2,500 people. “Small towns in the Midwest have the absolute best workforce in the world,” says Mattison.
“They’re the most highly educated. They all speak a common language. They share cultural values. They have friends in common. Core is one of the largest employers in both towns, and there’s a lot to be said about being a big fish in a small pond. Our employees share a baseline of values that are consistent, and it helps to create a good quality product. I’m a big believer in manufacturing products in the small towns of the United States.”