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Batavia-based Chapin Industries celebrates 125 years as family-owned business

By Howard B. Owens

More than 400 people showed up for a party on Saturday evening at 700 Ellicott St., world headquarters of Chapin International, a growing Batavia-based manufacturer that employs 175 people and has been run by the same family since its founding in Oakfield 125 years ago.

Now that's something to celebrate.

Chapin International is a rarity in the business world. It's been family owned through four generations (and heading toward a sixth), which puts it among 2 percent of all U.S.-based businesses. Plus, it's been located in Western New York 1884, which puts it among an elite 1 percent of businesses statewide.

"I’m sure that my father, grandfather and great-grandfather would be amazed at what we have here today,"  Chairwoman of the Board Andris Chapin told the crowd to open the party.

"They would be amazed that there would be a tent and music and beverages and ice sculptures and just all of the wonderful things that have been put together for us today to help us celebrate."

The party featured dignitaries such as Congressman Chris Lee, Assemblyman Steve Hawley and State Senator Mike Ranzenhofer, but more emphasis was put on the importance of Chapin employees. Lee and Hawley both noted that the company's survival is a testament to how well its employees are treated.

Hawley told a story of how he first met Andris's father, Ralph Chapin, who befriended him as a college student. Hawley described him as an intelligent, kind, caring man, and that's why so many people have stuck with the company for so long. Chapin has third-generation employees, and people who have worked for the company for 30, 35 and even 45 years.

"It’s impossible to thank the thousands of people that have gone through our doors as employees, to thank them enough, but all I can say is I speak with such joy and sincere gratitude to all those people that have worked for us over the years," Andris said during a short interview. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

In 1884, Ralph E. Chapin and his brother-in-law, Frank Harris, were selling kerosene at their hardware store in Oakfield, when Chapin noticed that the containers his customers used were not well made. They leaked. So Ralph started making his own cans in the back of the store and selling them to his customers. Soon, the cans were so popular, that Chapin sold the hardware store and opened up a factory in Batavia.

By the turn of the century, Chapin Industries was manufacturing air and hand sprayers for spraying a variety of liquids, from pesticides to cleaning solutions.

Chapin is still known best for its cans and sprayers, but CEO Jim Campell said in recent years the company has been growing by acquiring other firms, such as a company that makes bird feeders and bird-feeding supplies. That company, Campbell said, has doubled in size since Chapin bought it.

"It’s a great honor to be the person who is tending the business at this point, at 125 years," Campbell said. "I intend to leave it in better shape than when I got here."

He seems to have Chapin heading in a positive direction. Campbell, who became CEO in 2004, said the company has grown at a record pace each of the past five years.

And in an interview, when asked about what makes Batavia a good place for Chapin, he again talked about Chapin's workforce.

"Batavia is a great place to be," Campbell said. "Genesee County is still agriculturally based, and when you get people from agriculturally based communities, they come in with a really great work ethic. I’ve run businesses in very large cities and have actually been involved in manufacturing in China and Germany and the work force in Batavia is really second to none. People are extremely diligent. They show up for work, which is a big thing that you sometimes find is a problem, and they are very conscientious."

Andris Chapin said she's well aware of the pressure companies face when they stay in Western New York, but she said Chapin is committed to Batavia.

"My father and my aunts were all born here, in Batavia, and we have supported this community by providing employment for all this time and I just feel strongly that as long as it’s truly feasible we need to continue to support Batavia, Genesee County," Chapin said. "It works two ways. We have third-generation employees in the company. If we don’t take care of them, they can’t take care of us. We’re helping each other. Part of the viability of the company is just to hunker down, yes, and believe in Batavia, believe in Genesee County, believe in Western New York. If everybody went away, there would be nothing. So, so far we can do it, and that’s part of our resilience. But, yeah, it’s hard. New York State, Western New York, it’s tough."

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