For 56 years, Kent International Inc. has designed and produced bicycles. And for the majority of those years, the manufacturing has taken place in China and Taiwan.
But in 2008, CEO Arnold Kamler found his family-owned company at a point that called for shifting gears.
“It was a perfect storm. You had steel, aluminum, oil, plastics, ocean freight, currency – everything at one time going up,” Arnold said. “I spent about six weeks traveling all over Asia, asking myself, ‘If not China, then where?’ The answer seemed to be nowhere for bicycles. The idea in the back of my mind was that maybe one day we could do it here in the U.S. Then, last year, we got serious.”
In March 2013, Arnold met South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at Walmart’s Year Beginning Meeting, an annual gathering of Walmart managers and suppliers. The two began discussing the possibility of Kent opening a factory in South Carolina, and since then, the company has invested $4.3 million in a new assembly facility in the small town of Manning. By the end of this year, Arnold says the factory will have produced 50,000 bikes for distribution to Walmart stores across America. By the end of 2016, he says that Kent will produce 500,000 bicycles. And another great number? Arnold estimates that the factory will bring 175 jobs to the area over the next three years. They are also in discussion to grow their U.S. production even further.
Yesterday, I was pleased to join Arnold and his team as they celebrated the grand opening of the factory, along with Gov. Haley and a few other Walmart associates. The bikes they make will be the first U.S.-assembled bicycles sold at Walmart in more than a decade. They will be branded BCA – Bicycle Corporation of America – a name that was previously retired by another company years ago that Arnold has always loved.
Kent has sold bikes to Walmart since 1997, and we’re proud to support them in this new endeavor. While both of us are excited to bring these bikes to our customers, we all agree that in the end, the numbers must also make sense. With Arnold’s entire career spent in the bicycle business, he has the experience to make a confident decision in this area.
“I think all things being equal, people would prefer a product to be
made here,” Arnold said. “But the decision to do this wasn’t made on charity.
After we started taking a hard look at all the factors that could make this
work long-term … we strongly feel we can be very competitive.”