Day 10-1/2: Morco and Perspective

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Marj and I are on our way to see the last factory on our Made In America factory tour.

We drive into the town of Cochranton, Pennsylvania, and pass through a neighborhood of small white painted homes and a commercial Main Street that lasts about three blocks.

Finally, we pull into a parking space at the sprawling factory building belonging to Morco.

We go in and meet Bill, our account manager, and David, the owner.

They tell us about their company. Morco has been in Cochranton since its founding in 1921. In the early days they made metal signs, possibly like the (now collectible) Coca Cola sign you’d see next to the ice box at the country store.

Then within a few years they began to focus on outdoor thermometers and rain gauges that could be customized with a logo and promotional message and sold through the advertising specialty market.

Eventually, the metal items became plastic molded and wood items and Morco began making other ad specialty items like clipboards, calendars and clips.

Like many of the factories we visit, the building is massive although much of it sits empty. It evokes a time when business was booming and these factory floors would be busy with people and presses.

We see the wood shop where nine-inch wooden panels are sanded and lacquered. Eventually this batch will be imprinted with an insurance agent’s logo and have an outdoor thermometer mounted into them.

finishing the wooden back for thermometer

We walk past the area where Morco makes its own thermometers. It’s not a simple process, but Morco has developed its own production so it wouldn’t have to rely on overseas suppliers.

Oh, and good news! The red stuff in Morco’s thermometers? It’s not mercury. It’s just colored alcohol.

We move on to the letterpress printing room. Other than retro craft printshops and formal invitation printers, you hardly see letterpress anymore. It takes a metal printing plate with raised surfaces, a set of roller brushes that apply ink to the plate, and a mechanical process takes the blank item, presses it against the printing plate and returns the item back to you, now printed.

working letterpress to print rain gauges

The press operator has a moment to collect the printed item and replace it with a new blank item, and watch the process start all over. It’s all about timing.

And it’s about attention to detail. Do you have enough ink? Is their lint on the printing plate? Are you printing all the detail? If you zone out, you could ruin a dozen items.

As rare as it is, letterpress is the preferred way to imprint something with crisp, clean lines and bold graphics.

It turns out Bob, who’s our service manager, originally worked as a letterpress operator in this pressroom years before. At that time, there were dozens of letterpresses and dozens of people running them. Now there remains just one press and one pressman.

We move into the next area, the screenprinting section.

screenprinting to imprint clipboards

Screenprinting isn’t just for printing tee shirts. Morco uses it to print its plastic clipboards.

Here, the screen printing process is still done by hand. A screen is laid on top of a blank clipboard, and someone slides a squeegee across, pushing ink through the screen and onto the clipboard.

Like the letterpress operator, the screenprinting technician has to be aware of lots of things all at once: enough ink on the screen, ink thickness, angle and pressure on the squeegee, lint in the screen or on the blank item, ensuring the bottom of the screen stays clean, drying and curing the item after its imprinted.

The last printing area we check out is the most advanced. It’s Morco’s digital printing section and it handles the orders that need full color imprints.

Here is the area that would print a Morco item with the NBC peacock logo, or a color photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge, for example.

Someone sets up a 5-inch plastic base onto one of the print beds. The plastic is a blank white item -- this one is house-shaped, and eventually it will have an outdoor thermometer mounted to it. Someone else uses a computer to tell the printer which art file to open, and clicks ‘start.’

The machine whirs, a printhead darts back and forth across the plastic item and a colorful image begins to appear. A minute goes by and the imprint is complete. It’s a gorgeous, full color illustration of the front of a house with lush landscaping and a logo for a major power utility.

Sure, Morco makes low cost promotional items – a customized rain gauge costs less than $2 each -- but seeing the company’s focus on product and print quality, you feel the company was producing items that were ten times more valuable.

finishing a thermometer mount by hand

We get back to David’s office and the conversation goes to how his business fits into today’s world.

He explains his business perspective as this: every morning, you get up and walk over to your window and look out. You see the temperature on the thermometer from Northeast Insurance. Later that year, you’re thinking about new insurance – so guess which company you think of first?

Marketing is not about Big Data or SEO or bandwidth, as much as it’s about making an impression at the most basic level -- with the person who could become your customer.

Morco’s items do that. They’re really no more complex than they were in 1921. But they still work at making connections at a personal level, and in a unique and genuine sort of way.

David looks at me and says, “and that’s why companies need my products.”

We shake Bob and David's hands and let them know how appreciative we are that they shared their factory and their story with us, and we head out.


As we drive back through the small community that surrounds Morco, I think about my next step.

Morco is the last factory on our Made In America factory adventure. And now I need to go from being an ‘observer’ to being an ‘advocate.’

I think about David’s business perspective – how the best marketing happens by making connections at at a truly personal level, and I decide that this is the perfect mindset for promoting ‘Made In America.’

We need to make an impression at the most basic level -- and convince every prospective buyer that Buying American is the right thing to do.

Sure, you might think that changing the habits of the nation's population is a daunting task.

But if you take David's perspective, and focus on changing one mind -- and one heart -- at a time, well, that sounds completely do-able.

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