Legendary Carris Reels gears up for post-pandemic growth

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Employee-owned Carris Reels has grown into one of North America's largest producers of industrial reels, with 19 plants in Mexico and Canada and across the United States and a total of some 820 employees.

Photos courtesy Carris Reels.

by C.B. Hall, Vermont Business Magazine Established in 1951 with a few dozen employees in a plant in Center Rutland, employee-owned Carris Reels has grown into one of North America's largest producers of industrial reels, with 19 plants in Mexico and Canada and across the United States and a total of some 820 employees, expressed as full-time equivalents. In the Green Mountain State, the company's payroll totals 135 FTEsat five Rutland-area locations.

In addition to the big wooden reels that the company's name brings to mind, Carris also manufactures reels made from plastic, metal and plastic-metal hybrids. Wire ties, barrels and other accessories round out the product line. Sales in 2023 totaled an estimated $174 million, down from $222 million in 2022.

Asked in a December interview to explain 2023's drop-off in sales, the company's media representative, Jacob Covell said, "We experienced a bit of an industry slowdown with wire and cable. The majority of our customers didn't have the same output as in prior years...This was a bit of fallout still from what happened in the pandemic."

In 2024, he said, "We're expecting things to pick back up a bit."

The company's employees own the enterprise under an employee stock option plan. Covell described the Carris ESOP as "essentially a retirement plan... Everyone who's worked for the company at least one year becomes a company owner, and they're allocated shares of stock at no cost to them."

The ESOP structure got its start in 1995, when president and CEO Bill Carris "was looking to sell the company," he continued. Carris, the son of founder Henry Carris, "was looking for a way to reward the employees for the work they'd done." 

By 2008 the employees owned all the company's stock.

Vermont Plastics facility in Center Rutland.

The product line includes recycled reels. In the spirit of the times, Covell said, "We made a big push towards our recycled products this year. We talk to a customer and try to come to some sort of agreement to pick up the reels that they're not using. If it's recyclable, we will clean it up, re-nail it, give it a paint job and sell it back to the market. It's really a win-win for both parties involved. It reduces waste."

The environmental push also encompasses production of the plastic reels, most of which are made from recycled polymers, he noted.

Asked about the labor force issue that has bedeviled so many employers in recent years, he said, "It varies. We're located throughout North America, so in certain areas it may be more difficult than others - although right now we haven't had too many issues."

As of February 29, the company's website advertising for 13 positions, only six of them in Vermont.

While 2023 witnessed a dip in sales, Carris has gotten bigger steadily over the longer term. Within four years of its founding, the company produced its one-millionth reel. Growth was such that Henry Carris built a new plant in Indiana in 1970, and what the company website terms "aggressive growth" began after Bill Carris took the reins in 1980. 

A new plant opened that year in North Carolina, and in 1986 the company made its first corporate acquisition, Connecticut-based Bridge Manufacturing. Production of plastic reels began in 2018, in Carris' McKinney, Texas, plant. 

Today the corporate footprint stretches from Vermont to California and from Alberta, Canada, to Texas and Monterrey, Mexico.

In Vermont the employee-owned company operates out of five addresses, all in the Rutland area. Out-of-state locations include one in Connecticut, two in North Carolina, two in Texas, one in Arkansas, two in California, one in Indiana, two in Canada and one in Mexico.