Southwest of Travelers Rest’s rejuvenated Main Street, past the Swamp Rabbit Trail and wedged between rows of tidy houses and an industrial building or two, sits a global company that – admittedly by chance – chose to call the small Upstate town home before TR was cool.
“It was strictly the toss of the coin,” said Claude Theisen, CEO of 68-year-old T&S Brass and Bronze Works, which relocated to Travelers Rest from New York in 1978. “It literally could have been anywhere.”
Back in the 1970s, the family-operated company manufactured plumbing and food service parts primarily for the domestic market, said Eva-Marie Fox, vice president of marketing. Today, the company employs about 350 people around the world – including manufacturing facilities in Travelers Rest and Shanghai – and serves customers on nearly every continent. At headquarters, a 15-foot ceiling-high case holds dozens of accolades for honors like “Best Plant in North America 2015,” and company employees have an average tenure of around 14 years.
All of this while sticking to an “all for one” mentality that kept its entire trained staff on the payroll and working during the economic downturn, said Vice President of Human Resources Mary Alice Bowers.
“We made the decision to cut pay across the board. Executive down, we took a percentage pay cut and retained our people,” said Bowers, who has been with the company for 24 years. “And I think because we were able to keep our trained workers, we were poised to get right back in … I didn’t have to retrain our work staff. We were able to go right back to business as usual.”
Keeping workers on not only gave the company a good track record that boosted loyalty among employees, but gave them an edge when recruiting more talent, especially when paired with the city’s recent rejuvenation, she said.
“Years ago we made sure we’d bring them somewhere in Greenville to showcase what a beautiful area it is, but now Travelers Rest has come into its own,” said Bowers, who noted many T&S employees would actually prefer avoiding Greenville due to the longer commute. “It definitely helps with recruiting.”
Even when manufacturing began shifting overseas, Fox said the company never once considered relocating from the Upstate, choosing instead to cut down on inefficiencies with lean manufacturing methods. T&S expanded with them via global sourcing, lightning-fast shipping methods and a facility in Shanghai.
“If the Marriots and the McDonalds and the Burger Kings go global, then we go global with them,” said Fox. “ It’s being proactive and understanding what our customers need. … As their needs change, we try to get ahead of that.”