Brush up on Bennett

Brush up on Bennett

Bennett Tools is on a roll as the only Canadian manufacturer of painting tools, including the exclusive line of CO-OP® Imagine paint brushes and rollers.

This has been an evolution for Bennett, which began with CEO Henry Silberman and his father selling paint brushes from the single-car garage of their Toronto home in the mid-1970s. The move into manufacturing came when big-box stores – who buy directly from manufacturers – entered the Canadian market around 2000.

“We realized that we had two choices: either become a manufacturer or we would buy distributors,” Siberman explained. “We had to reinvent and rethink the way we do business. It was either grow, manufacture or you have no chance at surviving.”

While they had originally opened facilities in both China and Canada, Bennett moved all production home in 2010 due to concerns with labour, quality and environmental issues. He said that the Canadian market demands higher quality, which is what Bennett has established a reputation for.

“Within two years of manufacturing paint brushes in Canada, we were as good or better than any other major brands in North America,” he said.

While Bennett still will import certain components – there are no fabric makers or wood handle manufacturers left in Canada for instance – the steel, injection moulding and assembly are all done locally.

“The key is technology and understanding how to manufacture a product efficiently,” Silberman said. “You have to invest heavily in knowledge, machinery and automation.”

Entrepreneurial start

Silberman was in his second year studying commerce at the University of Toronto when his father, an electrician by trade, bought a container of paint brushes from an acquaintance in Poland.

“My father had no idea what he was doing and he bought a container of paint brushes,” Silberman recalled. “They were pure trash. But they were so cheap that we sold them.”

Silberman would begin importing paint brushes from a company in England called Bennett’s, which became the namesake of the Canadian business. While he hadn’t done it before, Silberman figured things out for himself, filling out paperwork for customs as opposed to hiring a broker.

“As my father would say, I had the brains and he had the drive,” Silberman said. “We were good partners. I was the administrator and he would go and sell.”

When he couldn’t get a job after university, Silberman created his own job – turning Bennett into a full-time job. Bennett Tools would move from the garage to their basement and then to a warehouse, now filling 150,000 square feet in three buildings.

Do it right

“People have no idea what goes into making a professional paint brush,” Silberman said. “To make a cheap paint brush, anybody can do it. You need to have the time, capital and the person that loves what he’s doing to make a paint brush.”

And Silberman says they love what they do. At 62, he has no plans to retire, loving the whole process and finding a new challenge every day. He’s now working with two sons, with whom he readily admits to having disagreements.

“It’s normal,” he said. “They have a lot to learn still. However, in many ways, they’re better than me. They have the luxury of time looking at machines and nuances to make things better.”

This is something the sons have picked up from the elder Silberman, who built one of his facilities to reduce energy consumption by 50 per cent when compared to another one.

Another way Bennett Tools makes things better: it shares a minimum of five per cent – it’s usually more – of pre-tax profits with its 70-member workforce. Silberman said they also donate six to 10 per cent of pre-tax profits to charity.

“I believe you need to share your profits with employees because without them you’re a nobody,” Silberman said. “My wife and I believe we need to give back to the community in various ways.”

It’s his life philosophy, which matches Co-op’s values very closely. It’s a great relationship – made in Canada.

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