Lord of the Rings
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Years ago when Matt’s uncle Stanley R. Bevin was still head of the company, he was faced with a similar situation. Sales had started to slip, but instead of turning to outside manufacturers, he thought of a new way to reinvent an old product. He began customizing them.
“How do you make bells relevant?” asks Matt. “You customize and personalize them. You imprint them with a logo or artwork.”
Custom imprinting now constitutes 90 percent of Bevin Brothers’ business. They get orders from a variety of organizations, businesses, schools and clubs that use their bells for fundraising and promotion, and to commemorate a special date or event.
Bob Bell, president of the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat in Essex, began purchasing Bevin bells four years ago after finding them on the Internet. Now he buys 15,000 ornamental bells annually, each inscribed with his company’s logo, to give away as souvenirs. Even though Bevin bells cost more than imported bells would, he prefers working with another Connecticut company.
“They’re great people, they make a great product. They’re in Bell Town. Of course, I’m a little partial to the name Bell,” he laughs. “It’s heartwarming to hear the bells ringing throughout the train cars. The kids really get into it. It’s not an iPod, it’s not a game. It’s very basic, but there is something magical about it.”
Cheryl Pedersen, founder of Poochie-Bells in Simsbury, typically purchases about 100,000 custom sleigh bells a year for her canine training business. The dogs are taught to ring the bells to let their owners know when nature is calling.
“We used to buy outside the U.S. but logistically it was very difficult,” says Pederson. “We like Bevin Brothers better because they can accommodate our custom needs. The bells are made with small openings so claws don’t get stuck in them, and they are embossed with a little paw print. We are very proud to offer our customers a product that is made in the U.S.”
As to how the bells are made, the process at Bevin Brothers has changed a bit in the past hundred years. Due to stringent environmental regulations, for example, bells are no longer cast from molten metals. Instead, they are crafted via a stamping process from large coils of copper, brass or steel that are fed through a press. A die is used to cut out the bell shape.
Once the bells are formed, they are cleaned with mineral spirits and dried by hand (instead of by machine) in a rolling barrel filled with corn dust to prevent scratching. Next, the bottoms are trimmed and rounded to eliminate sharp edges. The finish is dictated by the type of bell—hand bells are buffed, ice cream bells are lacquered, ornamental bells are plated, and some bells are powder-coated in a specific color. Once the finish has been added, small dangling clappers are inserted, and wood handles or plastic straps are attached.
Like his forebears, Matt feels a deep responsibility to leave his family’s legacy on solid ground for the next generation, which is challenging since he manufactures a product that few people actually need.
Yet, “There is something universal about the sound of a bell—it conjures up memories that connect us to humanity,” Matt says. “Even though you could recreate that sound electronically with your iPhone, it’s not the same. It doesn’t have the tangibility, the movement of the clapper, the feeling, the ringing. You can’t put a price on that. For those reasons I think bells have endured and will continue to endure.”