After nearly 50 years, the Leominster, Mass.-made pink flamingo is on the endangered species list.
Union Products Inc., which makes the famous pink flamingo and other lawn-art figures, has ceased production. A seven-person skeleton crew of executives and a few shipping people is selling off inventory and resin, said Carla LaBossiere, operations manager.
Now they hope someone can save Union Products and keep the company in Leominster, where it was founded right after World War II. ``It could go either way,'' said LaBossiere.
The pink icon of cultural kitsch was hatched when the owners hired Don Featherstone in 1957, who sculpted the flamingo. The flamingo joined ducks, geese and other plastic lawn figures.
``The company is up for sale as a whole,'' LaBossiere said in a telephone interview Sept. 14. The manufacturing shop remains intact, with about 20 blow molding machines and five injection presses. Union still retains the molds - including a pair of two-cavity molds that turned out the flamingos, one with head up, the other with head down.
``No molds have been sold. No machines have been sold. No assets have been sold,'' she said.
The four-building complex is listed for sale at $2 million by Foster-Healey Real Estate Inc. of Fitchburg, Mass.
Union Products sold about a quarter of a million flamingos a year, with a retail price of about $10 for the two-pack. But production ended June 9, when a debtor pulled its asset-based lending, LaBossiere said. The company employed 50 full-time people and, during peak periods, about 100 temporary workers.
LaBossiere said some people, who she did not identify, have looked at buying the whole company, or the machinery and molds. ``It's generated interest,'' she said.
While Union Products is no longer a major employer in Leominster, its closing hurts because the pink flamingo has become a mascot for the city, said Scott Amos, who handles economic development for the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. The chamber sells flamingos in its locally made products shop at a rest stop off state Route 2. Flamingos also are a hot seller in Leominster at the National Plastics Center's gift shop.
``We definitely take some pride that the pink flamingo started in Leominster,'' Amos said.
LaBossiere said Union Products got hurt by higher resin prices, imported yard art - including Chinese-made pink flamingos - and a tough retail market. ``When you're producing for the Wal-Marts and Kmarts, you are not allowed to pass along the price increases,'' she said.
The growth of inflatable Santas, pumpkins and other blow-up yard pieces also hurt.
Amos said resistance to change may have hurt Union Products. ``They had evolved their basic product line, but had not evolved with the changing demographics of consumers,'' he said.
LaBossiere said the company did attempt to move into custom molding. She and Michael O'Grady, vice president of sales and marketing, joined Union Products after their company, Pioneer Plastics LLC, shut down in early 2004. Pioneer Plastics was a custom injection and blow molder in Greenville, N.H.
``We tried to transition over some of the custom molding to Union to help increase the declining sales,'' she said.
Amos said the plastics industry is still healthy in the Fitchburg-Leominster area, despite some plant closings.
``Plastics is not dead here by any stretch of the imagination,'' said Leominster Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella.
Even so, the mayor said it would hurt to lose Union Products. Mazzarella said he had friends from high school who had worked there for 30 years. Leominster is the birthplace of the modern plastics industry, and the flamingo is one of its most well-known products.
``I could write a book about the number of people who have asked me for a Leominster-made pink flamingo,'' Mazzarella said.