Schenectady County Knitting Company Finds Global Market

ROTTERDAM – Some of South Korean knits are made in the capital region.

In a clearing off Curry Road is the Newberry Knitting Company. The company occupies two buildings: a larger manufacturing plant, which resonates with the sound of electric knitting machines, and a smaller, quieter store, its shelves filled with hats, gloves, mittens, scarves and leggings of all colors and of every imaginable pattern.

Owned and directed by Nancy Newberry, the company is almost 80 years old and was founded in 1946 by Newberry’s late father-in-law, James “Fred” Newberry. He was a friend of Newberry’s father, who owned a knitwear business in Johnstown. After a brief stint with the FBI in Washington, DC, Newberry married her husband, settling in the Schenectady area.

“I was married and stayed at home for a while,” she said. “I started coming here because I didn’t know anyone. I just did what someone wanted to do. I didn’t want to be so reliable because I had to go early for the kids. But I learned everything about the job.

After the death of her stepfather, Newberry’s husband, Arthur, took over the business. And once her kids grew up, she started working on it on her own. Now, 60 years later, with her husband deceased in 2013, Newberry owns and runs the business with the help of its CEO. It’s become a routine now, something she does out of habit.

“I don’t know, you just do what you have to do,” she said.

Newberry is not your average local business. This small Rotterdam facility sells to wholesale and retail markets around the world, from here in the United States to Japan and South Korea. They take pride in their products and the fact that they are all made in the USA, from the thread to the buckskin sewn onto their specialty gloves.

Much of the global customer credit the company has gained in recent years returns to the CEO of the company, Christian Egnor. Hailing from Schoharie, Egnor started out in Newberry by sweeping the floor and picking up the stray mittens.

“I was in construction before that, and I was just fed up with seasonal work,” Egnor said. “I’m a little busy, I have to keep working. I came here looking for a job. They weren’t hiring, but I stopped there and applied and got a phone call three days later.

Today, almost 30 years later, Egnor can take credit for setting up a website and social media presence for the business, learning on his own from website management to digital marketing. According to Newberry, Egnor is one of the best things that has happened to the company.

“They’ve had a website for probably 18 years now,” he said. “And of course things are progressing every year. You have search engine optimizations. You have to invest the time and research everyone else’s websites, phone them (and) call them. You find people who have comparable products and ask them how they do it. So yes, I invest a lot of time this way.

But, despite modernization, running a business is difficult. Although there is a great demand for their products, it is difficult to keep up with it. The process requires skilled workers, many of whom must form the company.

“We have a lady here who sews leather palms (on gloves and mittens),” he said. “I had to go through 12 people to find this person. It’s always difficult to find someone who has the skills and the discipline to sit there for eight hours.

Egnor added that the company accrued a loss of $ 9,000 to $ 10,000 over a year and a half in the hiring and training process. The pandemic, of course, has added to these unrest.

“Last year was a disaster,” said Newberry, who has always come to work to run the company even during the height of the containment. With meeting demand difficult at the best of times, the pandemic has almost crippled the business, she said.

Supply and demand was an issue that also affected the factories that made their yarn.

“Basically what happened was because the employees were getting so reimbursed for staying home that they didn’t want to go to work,” Egnor said. “So the spinning mills kept saying they didn’t have enough staff. Three or four of them have closed.

But the supply chain crisis has eerily had a silver lining, Egnor said.

“Ironically, the logistical issues that everyone is facing helps us in this regard, as they prevent imports from entering,” he said. “But the other thing is, we have a lot of niche products that no one else has. And that’s how we stay in the industry.

Over the past decade, with the growing popularity of products made in the United States, according to Egnor, the company has seen demand increase by 50 to 60 percent. They made changes, emphasizing the fashion side of the industry and taking military contracts – making inserts for gloves worn by soldiers.

The company benefited from being an American company, with 95 percent of its sales made outside of New York State. About 25 percent come from abroad, with less than a fraction of the income coming from the capital region.

Despite the challenges, Newberry sees the business as having a future as long as she and her children are alive.

“I think we’ll continue to make it work for quite a while, but we may not be doing some of the things we’re doing now.”

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