On A Roll
Beri Fox believes in the American Dream, and she is passionate about sharing her enthusiasm for a “unified, non-partisan effort” to re-build prosperity in America’s small business and manufacturing arena. The CEO of Marble King USA, Fox is bringing her “A” game to the table promoting her vision for her business, her community and her state to a wide and diversified audience.
A key element to prosperity, she believes, requires both business and the labor force’s commitment to improving the local, state and nationwide economic future. “One can’t survive without the other,” she said. “Like the saying goes, it takes a village. We must work together toward common goals.”
As manufacturing jobs are being lost nationwide, it has become Marble King’s and Fox’s struggle to remain afloat in a sagging economy. To that end, Fox has worked tirelessly to retain a place in the small manufacturing landscape, a landscape that is shrinking rapidly. “Ten years ago, West Virginia had 165,000 manufacturing jobs. Today, we have 50,000,” commented Fox. “If you put every manufacturing job in the entire state in a seat in Mountaineer Stadium, there would be 12,000 (seats) left empty.
“It’s happening all over the country. Take a look at where manufacturing jobs are flourishing, and you will see growth. Then look at those places that have lost those jobs. One manufacturing job supports four other jobs,” she noted. “There are the raw materials, packaging, shipping and suppliers. Manufacturing equals economic vitality.”
A family-owned and operated business, Marble King USA was founded in 1949 by Berry Pink and Sellers Peltier. The two teamed up and founded Marble King in December, 1949.
The original Marble King factory was located in St. Marys but was destroyed by fire in 1958. Beri’s father Roger Howdyshell, factory manager at that time, made the decision to move the company to its present location in Paden City after the fire. Howdyshell, an innovator in the marble industry in many ways, led the business into the forefront when he manufactured the first American-made Cat’s-Eye marbles. “Dad was very involved with all aspects of the company,” Fox remarked. “Many of the manufacturing processes and machines we use are his inventions.”
A self-made man, Howdyshell obtained a degree in engineering before joining the armed forces during World War II. After serving his country, he returned home and went to school at Marietta College on the GI Bill, obtaining another degree, this time in business. He was hired by Marble King “right out of college” Beri explained. “His story is quintessentlally a story about the realization of the American Dream. He worked his way up from worker to management to owner, and dedicated his life to the business. He truly loved it.”
After Fox’s father died in 1999, her mother, Jean Howdyshell, became President of Marble King. Beri took the reins as General Manager and Chief Operating Officer. After losing her mother in 2003, Fox purchased the majority shares of stock in the company, becoming its latest owner.
In person, Beri Fox is animated, sincere and articulate about her desire to bring a “level playing field” to small businesses and manufacturer’s in the global community. “In the present market set-up, small business can’t compete with big businesses, we can’t compete with global franchises,” she explained. “We just want the ability to compete fairly.”
It was remarks like these that caught the attention of Stephen Colbert, whose nationally syndicated show, “The Colbert Report,” invited Fox on as a guest speaker. The live interview aired on November 10, 2010.
Fox discussed the importance of diversifying Marble King’s product line on Colbert’s program. “Our marbles don’t just go to kid’s toys anymore,” she told the audience. “If you could wave a magic wand,” asked Colbert, “and tell the government what to do to help small business, what would you say?”
Fox expressed the need for the government aid in leveling the playing field. “Do you mean tariffs?” asked Colbert.
Fox replied that tariffs would move the process one step forward. “We (the U.S.) have to pay tariffs to export to other countries. But, for example, China pays no tariff to export marbles to the U.S. Their government even subsidizes their costs.” Consequently, their operating costs are one-third to one-half less than the U.S. manufacturers.
“Colbert was fabulous,” she smiled, “and is very supportive of keeping jobs in the United States. He and his whole staff were excellent. It was a pleasure to meet him and to have him be so supportive of our goals. His commitment to incorporating positive change is real.”
“It was intense,” she acknowledged of her appearance. “The show is live and there were hundreds of people in the audience. I was very nervous! The show is fast-paced, and while you are told what Colbert is going to be asking, once you get on stage, anything can happen.”
Apparently, Fox’s comments about small manufacturers’ struggles and challenge struck a chord. Marble King was inundated with phone calls and emails from other small companies in the days after the show.
“Our phone was ringing off the hook,” says office manager, Pam Corwin “and our email received 11,000 messages in one day. We were totally caught by surprise!”
Fox commended Corwin on her ability to manage the day-to-day details at Marble King. “I couldn’t do it without her,” she said.
The positive feedback was tremendous, Fox continued. “Sometimes you feel isolated in this situation, but there is a large base out there going through the same thing. I can never thank Stephen Colbert and his staff enough for giving this issue such wide exposure and hopefully, helping to save American jobs.”
“We need a system that operates on balance and fair trade practices,” she concluded. “Don’t make us climb the mountain. Give us a level playing field.”
While appearing on the Colbert Report, Fox met media personality and business magnate Martha Stewart, who invited Fox to also appear on the Martha Stewart Show. Soon thereafter, Beri shared the Marble King story with Stewart and her audience.”We make close to a million marbles a day, every day,” Fox told Stewart. “We have to be inventive, and create new things,” she added. “For example, our marbles are used in paint cans now, instead of ball bearings, which corrode.”
Fox says she was more relaxed on the Martha Stewart show. “It’s a different atmosphere. We were there between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they were decorating the set. It was absolutely beautiful. It was a great experience. Martha Stewart was very gracious.”
The Marble King factory was also featured on the Travel Channel in John Ratzenberger’s “Made in America” series. The crew filmed on location in Paden City. Fox noted that after the show aired, tourists came from all over the country to tour the factory.
“We are proud of the fact that Creative Child magazine choose one of our packaging options – a cylinder containing a Marble King T-shirt, marbles, and instructions to a marble game – as Toy of the Year (traditional toy division) in 2006,” Fox also noted.
She goes on to say, “In addition, our company is considered a ‘green’ manufacturing facility. We recycle 4 1/2 tons of glass a day that would normally go into a landfill.”
Another major achievement crowns Marble King with distinction. They are the first U.S. children’s toy manufacture to be granted license to use the Made in USA Certified Seal.
Fox gives credit and kudos to her employees for keeping the small business solvent. “Most of our employees have been with the company for ten years, many of them twenty years. They are a dedicated group of employees, willing to work on changes and make innovations,” she commented. “Because of their familiarity with the products and processes, they are invaluable to the overall achievement of the company.”
Fox stressed, “None of this would be possible without our employees. I commend them each and every day for their tenacity, and for believing in our success.”
Fox recently attended the International Toy Fair in New York City. “I was asked, where is your business located? People assumed that our offices were in West Virginia and our products were manufactured elsewhere. I corrected their misconceptions,” she said. “Marble King manufactures in West Virginia!”
Fox also appeared on Fox Business News recently, and says she has some other plans “in the works.”
As a member of the business community, Fox collaborated with former Governor and current United States Senator Joe Manchin while he was still governor.
Manchin visited the Marble King factory when the company was named one of the “Fifteen Things That Make West Virginia Special.” Governor Manchin toured the factory and shot marbles with local children.”He’s an excellent marble shooter,” noted Fox.
Fox praised the former governor, saying, “Governor Manchin did an excellent job during his tenure, bringing business and labor together in a bi-partisan effort. This equated to positive growth and development. He’s a true advocate for the state.”
When asked if she would consider entering politics herself, Beri Fox pauses, then attests, “I may entertain that option in the future. Government needs to focus on our problems, and look for constructive solutions,” she remarked frankly. “Someone asked me recently if I believe that one person can truly make a difference in today’s society, or if we are too far gone, as a country.”
“I believe, considering the responses from small businesses across the country, that there is a trend of awareness and caring about saving American jobs. We need a united, non-partisan effort between business and labor, and we need government to take responsible action to keep American jobs safe.”
“After all, she concluded, “the job you save, may be your own.”
Beri Fox will be guest speaker at this month’s Sister’s Fest celebration banquet. Her topic will be, “It Takes A Village.”
“I’m very glad to be part of this area,” she stated. “Small communities such as ours produce leaders, too. Being from a rural environment does not limit your possibilities.”
As the interview concluded, an email came into the office. Pam Corwin shared the contents with Beri. A contractor, J. Nichols of bluemarbles.org – a company based in California, had this to say: “By the way, two of your azure marbles are riding on sleds in the Iditarod Race (a historic dogsled race) in Wassila, Alaska – one on the four time winner’s sled, and one on the team from Jamaica.”
Marble King certainly seems to be on a roll these days.