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More in Business
Mortons carry on, expand family sled business
FAMILY TRADITION — From left, Ted, Hank and Tom Morton hold up a wooden steel-runner Flexible Flyer® sled in their warehouse that once operated as Paris Manufacturing on Western Avenue in Paris. In the 19th century, it produced steel-runner sleds, skis and other wood products.
PARIS — In the heart of Oxford Hills, a wholesale sled business has been making a huge impression – but not just in the snow.
Selling more than 1,000,000 sleds per year, 21-year-old Paricon LLC, is now also a wholesaler for outdoor recreational games under The Driveway Games Company trademark, which much like its sleds, are "innovative, exciting and dynamic."
Founded in 1991, the business has since grown significantly, said founder and owner Hank Morton. He suspects that, as new products are introduced, it will only continue to grow.
Paricon has a long history in the sled-making business beginning with Paris Manufacturing, founded in 1861 by Hank's great grandfather Henry Morton.
Paris Manufacturing was one of the country's first sled companies, producing sleds that are cherished collector's items today.
It all began when Henry married his wife, Lucille Forbes – the young couple made sleds together in their home; Henry would construct them, then Lucille would hand-paint each one with motifs of horses, dogs, birds and flowers.
Though the sleds today are still, in a sense, "handmade," they are no longer produced here in South Paris, said Hank's son, Ted, who joined Paricon as a managing partner in 1994.
Instead, a majority are manufactured in the U.S., Taiwan and Canada then shipped to customers throughout the U.S., Canada and UK, with Target® as the principle retailer.
The sled line has evolved to include a wide assortment of products for winter use – sleds, including steel-runner and plastic models at various price points; snowboards; foam sliders; inflatable tubes; wooden toboggans and snow toys.
Paricon mostly sells the plastic saucers and sleds, but Ted says the old Flexible Flyer steel-runners with the iconic logo are still a niche product. Sometimes they are even purchased solely as decorative pieces.
During the early 1900s, the company employed nearly 300 workers – today, the company employs four, including Dennis Ames, warehouse manager, Hank's other son Tom, who joined the company in 1996, and his wife Amy, who joined in 2010.
Paris Manufacturing operated as a family business until it was sold to Gladding Corporation in 1970.
In 1978, Hank headed a group of investors that purchased the company back from Gladding. Since, the Mortons have carried on the family tradition.
"It's in our blood," says Ted.
According to Tom, up until 2003, Paricon worked for a Canadian manufacturer, strictly in sales and distribution, but eventually, Paricon decided it would start producing and selling its own product.
A few years later, Paricon acquired the Flexible Flyer® trademarks, which Hank said has enabled the company to expand.
"It was a very significant event," he said – for decades, the Mortons were actually competing against the Flexible Flyer brand with its made-in-Maine "Speedaway."
Last October, some of the sleds were being manufactured at National Wood Products in Oxford, says Ted, as an attempt to produce domestically – but to manufacture in the U.S. is far too big of a financial challenge.
"We'd love to have them made here in the state, especially here in Oxford Hills, but cost-wise, we aren't able to," says Ted.
Paricon's 52,000-square-foot warehouse, which was once the old Paris Manufacturing building, is located on Western Avenue in Paris.
"We could probably tell you who we don't sell [to] a lot faster than who we sell [to]," says Tom, when asked where products are distributed for sale.
Hardware stores, and sporting goods stores like Cabela's, Dick's Sporting Goods and L.L. Bean, sell Flexible Flyers. Products are also sold in catalogs and online at www.sledwarehouse.com or www.amazon.com.
This past February, Paricon also acquired The Driveway Games Company, which specializes in outdoor recreational products.
One thing that makes Paricon unique, says Ted, is that it's very dependent on the weather.
"What's unique about this business is that it's seasonal," he says.
"We've had a number of good years ... and last year, we had a poor snow season."
According to Ted, sleds only sell well five months out of the year, but during the other seven snowless months sales are "pretty stagnant."
Acquiring Driveway Games enables Paricon to ship product year-round, Ted says.
Plus, says Tom, driveway games, like bean bag toss, croquet or bocce ball, "are a lot of fun, whether you're barbecuing, at the beach or tailgating."
"Everyone enjoys playing with them," he says.
The Mortons especially like testing out the products for themselves.
"It's something we use a family," says Tom, who has both an 11- and 13-year-old. Ted also has three children, ages 17, 16 and 13. Rather than hiring out models, from time to time, pictures of their own children will appear on the packaging.
"Our kids have been the guinea pigs for all of our new products," says Tom.
There was one time the kids even dressed in winter gear on an 80-degree day in April just to model snow tubes on a small patch of snow, he explained.
But not only do the kids like the sleds – even adults enjoy them.
At trade shows, "everyone stops by to gawk at the sleds and [they] feel compelled to tell us a story of when they were young and what daredevil things they did," says Ted.
"It's fun stuff to sell."