At Northeast Lantern, offering lighting that is proudly made in America is just part of this company’s success.
When he was 15 years old, Gordon “Skip” Heal worked part-time after school, making weathervanes for New Hampshire manufacturer Golden Eagle Coppersmiths. He enjoyed the craft so much that he continued working there part-time through college. Upon graduation, he was at a crossroads. He wasn’t sure of a career path to follow; he just knew that metalworking was something he was good at and had fun doing. For the next 10 years, he honed his skills at Golden Eagle until he left in 1986 to start up his own brass lantern company making Colonial reproductions. For the first three months, he was the sole employee before he was able to hire someone to help with soldering.
As basically a one-man-operation, Heal would load up his car with his lanterns and drive around the region, stopping at various retailers. “I found that the big guys don’t have time for you, but the little guys do,” Heal recounts. Many were very receptive to buying from someone who made the products by hand right there in the area. Soon, Heal’s line grew to include a dozen lantern families.
“Onions are our bread and butter line,” he states. While there are a lot of companies out there offering onion lanterns, Northeast Lantern’s reportedly stand out. “We make the better mousetrap,” Heal chuckles. “We offer a lifetime guarantee and a living finish [that patinas over time].”
A Family Affair
Heal’s son, Chris, and daughter, Jamie, have followed in their father’s footsteps. Jamie, who studied graphic design in school, handles all of the photography, printing materials, marketing, the Web site, plus manages the rep force. Chris’ role is as vice president of operations. Both children grew up learning how to wire fixtures and helping out at the factory whenever they could. They discovered that manufacturing lighting and working alongside their father was something they loved and wanted to do as a career. “I never asked them to join the company, it just sort of happened that way,” Skip Heal recalls.
Over the past 35 years, Northeast Lantern has grown to expand both its manufacturing facilities in Exeter, N.H. as well as its product line. “Approximately 25 percent of our business is now in chandeliers,” Heal estimates. “We were selling a lot of exterior lanterns, but saw the need to move into creating fixtures for the interiors of homes as well.”
While traditional styling is a perennial best-seller, there is demand for more contemporary and transitional looks. “A lot of our designs come from customers’ requests and interior designers,” Heal says. The fact that Northeast Lantern manufactures domestically and can create completely custom sizes, styles, and finishes in a timely manner has kept orders coming in at a fast pace. A master electrician helps the factory with some of the more unusual designs.
Out on the production floor, the company’s craftsmen skillfully employ original manufacturing methods with tools and machines that are operated by manpower, not machine. Each fixture’s parts are cut, bent, and soldered by hand. When complete, each craftsman signs off on the fixture he has produced as a matter of pride and taking ownership of the quality in the piece. Once the fixture has its basic frame, the finishing department adds one of seven antique finishes – a process that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours depending on the desired finish. The next stop is the wiring department. There, the fixtures are again hand-rubbed to achieve the antique finish and consistent appearance. The electrical connections are appropriately placed into the fixtures and approved for UL requirements before adding the glass. Last, but not least, each fixture undergoes a final quality control check before it arrives at the shipping department, where it is meticulously packaged and shipped to the customer.
Thanks to its thorough production methods and commitment to quality, Northeast Lantern recently won Business of the Year in the Manufacturing category for the state of New Hampshire.