The third entry in our Legacy Series features SPESA Board Member Bert Feinberg, Vice President of Frontier Distributors/Phillocraft, and his father, Lewis (Lew) Feinberg, who serves as the company’s President and General Manager. The series revolves around conversations with families who have multi-generational ties to the industry.
Getting to know Lew
How were you introduced to this industry?
LF: My Father owned a menswear manufacturing plant in New York City. I worked at the plant during summers while in high school. I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology, then, after graduation in 1960 I went to work for Levi Straus.
How did the industry change during the span of your career?
LF: There were sewing plants throughout the country in 1960. Starting in 1970, I saw many plants closing and production moving offshore. When I started Frontier in 1984, I had 12 competitors. In 2020 I have 4. The Industry is slowly moving to more computerization and automation. However, there is still a high dependency on people skills due to the labor-intensive work required.
Why do you think this industry lends itself well to family-run businesses?
LF: Most of the companies in this industry have long histories. They are well-run organizations that have grown and survived the offshoring by exceeding the needs of their customer base. Looking at the industry, many of these companies have passed through two or three generations because the offspring have grown up in the business.
Did you think your child would follow in your footsteps? If so, why was that important for you?
LF: No. In the beginning, while building a business, it can struggle in the early years. It often takes a successful company to show the offspring that they can have a successful future.
What is one piece of advice you’d give yourself as a newcomer to the industry?
LF: Study the market to determine the customer product requirements. Always work to exceed the customer product expectations using innovation on the products and the manufacturing processes.
Bert Carrying the Legacy
What made you want to follow in your parent’s footsteps? And do you hope your children will do the same?
BF: Watching my Dad growing up I knew at a young age I wanted to be an engineer. As I grew, I found my passion was electrical and electronic development not manufacturing. I was hired out of college by Trane Air Conditioning. A manufacturing company to develop electronic controls for the products. After five years of doing that I was promoted into the development of the equipment and manufacturing. During this time, I learned the art of manufacturing. During the last 15 years at Trane, I would take vacations and come work for Dad. He taught me a lot about the industry and business. I made the decision to come work with him based on my Dad’s health. He was 77 years old and working 12 hours a day. In 2015, I hired my brother. He is working in the Phillocraft plant.
I have four daughters. I would be surprised if any of them would be interested in joining the family business. My youngest daughter would be the best hope. However, my Dad never pressured me to join the family business and I would never pressure them. If they decided that would be great.
Now that you’ve talked to your dad, is there anything new that you learned that you didn’t already know?
BF: Not really. Since he still works four days a week, I have plenty of time to have discussions with him and I am continuing to learn from him. Every day it seems I learn something new from his vast knowledge of the industry and business. One of the best decisions I ever made was to join the family business.
What part of your business’s legacy are you determined to maintain?
BF: Trust and Value — the best quality product in the shortest period of time at a competitive price.
Frontier Distributors has made quality sewing machine tables since 1984. The company transformed into a manufacturing/distribution operation under the leadership of Lewis Feinberg. Today, Bert Feinberg seeks to maintain the company’s established reputation for quality products and services, while at the same time modernizing and optimizing its operations as the workstation industry prepares for the future of manufacturing. In 2004, Frontier acquired Phillocraft, Inc., a leading American manufacturer of industrial tables, workstations, and workbenches and a distributor of ergonomic seating. Phillocraft has provided quality design, trustworthy craftsmanship, and responsive service for nearly 100 years!
Check out previous posts in the series: