Don’t be fooled by the name. Liberty Brass is as renowned for its top notch capabilities in steel and aluminum as for its namesake medium.
By Linda Longo
What’s in a name? According to third-generation component parts manufacturer David Zuckerwise of Liberty Brass, quite a lot. When his grand-father chose the name for his business more than 100 years ago, brass was the most popular metal used in parts.
“Today, ‘Brass’ is a misnomer,” Zuckerwise says. “It makes it sound like brass is the only thing we do, when we actually do so much in steel and aluminum.”
While a lot has changed for the company over the past century – including the expansion into various metals and industries served – there are other aspects, such as the commitment to quality and the ability to handle short runs and small orders, that have fortunately endured.
“You don’t stay alive by staying the same,” Zuckerwise states, referring to the challenges facing U.S.-based manufacturers. After all, the majority of domestic manufacturers that used to exhibit alongside Liberty Brass at the U.S. Suppliers’ Show [which used to run concurrently with the Dallas Market] are no longer in business. Staying “alive” and competitive has also meant importing 70 percent of the product line in order to remain price competitive. Liberty’s business model provides the ability to manufacture parts for the customer who needs expedited delivery as well as serving those who order parts made overseas for significant cost savings.
When most people hear “imported,” they immediately think China; however, Liberty Brass only imports from select factories in India, and under strict quality standards. Zuckerwise travels regularly to those Indian factories, making sure those demanding quality levels are upheld.
“The quality is superb, their delivery is terrific, and their price is as good or better than China,” Zuckerwise comments. Another benefit is not being affected by any tariffs.
Change is good
As Zuckerwise has learned, change can be a positive thing, such as the company’s relocation from its long-time headquarters in the New York City borough of Queens established by the family’s past generations. “We got an offer we couldn’t refuse [to sell our building],” Zuckerwise jokes. Rather than retire and close the business, David and his brother, Peter, made the decision to enter a new company phase. They decided that David would take on full ownership as President and Peter would step back to focus on handling the sales side. Simultaneously, they would move the office and factory – complete with CNC machines – to a convenient part of Long Island.
Finding skilled labor since the move hasn’t been a problem. After a large employer in the aerospace industry left Long Island, there was a lot of skilled labor without jobs. “If I need a high-tech CNC programmer, finding one nearby is easy. It’s not something I lose sleep over,” Zuckerwise remarks.
Then again, Liberty Brass has never had difficulty filling positions. “Some of my employees have been with me for 20 years or more,” he relates, adding, “We have had multiple generations working here as well.” In fact, Zuckerwise’s daughter is currently working in the Customer Service department, becoming the fourth generation to join the family business.
“I think my grandfather would be pleased with how the company is today,” he comments. “When I joined my dad (Jack) in the business, there were so many things that we didn’t do…like nickel-plating, for example.” At David’s urging, his father agreed that expanding the company’s capabilities was important for keeping the company moving forward.
As it has been since the beginning when Zuckerwise’s grandfather, Max, established the business in the 1930s, lighting has always been the largest clientele. [Max Zuckerwise got his start in lighting, distributing a kit that enabled homeowners to convert their homes from gas lighting to electrical lighting in the late 1920s.]
Over the ensuing years, other categories such as military work, instrumentation, ornamental hardware and parts, novelty items, candle (holders), elevators, construction nuts, and fasteners have meant steady business regardless of the economy or the volatility of the housing market. Some of the accounts include thermal temperature sensing equipment for spas, thermometers for oil wells, plus regulators. One of the most high-profile accounts involves decorative hardware for Wynn Design Group, which operates luxury hospitality properties such as the Wynn and Encore in Las Vegas and Wynn Macau in China.
Custom work is a specialty
Within the 10,000-sq.-ft. factory are Hitachi Seiki, Miyano, and Brother CNC lathes and machining centers; Warner & Swasey and Hardinge turret lathes; plus Bridgeport, Nichols, and Cincinnati milling machines; along with a full complement of drill presses, saws, inspection equipment, plus shop machinery of every type as well as material handling equipment. Liberty is also an ISO 9001:2015 registered company and has been for over 10 years.
Among Liberty’s capabilities are fulfilling orders as small as one piece to one million in brass, bronze, stainless, cold rolled steel, and aluminum and made from round, hex, or square bar, flat stock, or tubing. “We can do decorative work to fabulous finishes and precision work to a tolerance of within .0005 of an inch and of course, we speak metric as well,” according to the website.
Product designers, manufacturers, and other businesses rely on Liberty to create prototypes and samples. “People come to us and tell me an idea, and I’ll sketch it out with approximate sizes for parts or they will sketch it out for us,” Zuckerwise states. “If they want modifications to a design, we can shorten a part or scale it up. Our catalog competition doesn’t have that ability [since most don’t do any manufacturing, just import finished parts].
While the company charges a fee to make prototypes and samples, that price is credited back with the placement of an order. In a typical month, Liberty will do 20 to 30 runs in quantities of 100 or less. “It used to be the kind of business that could support only stock items, but today people call me up and say, we need 5 to 40 pieces [in some custom size or design],” he explains.
It’s not just having the machinery and skilled labor on-hand that makes Liberty valuable to its customers, it’s also the experience. “The first thing I ask a customer is, ‘What are you trying to accomplish?’ Some younger engineers these days don’t have the decades of experience [with component parts],” Zuckerwise remarks. Since he has been working in various metals for decades with a complete knowledge of the machinery, Zuckerwise is well-versed on the tolerances of each metal. “Some of the specs that come in are over the top. I’ll take a look and think, ‘That’s a missile part, not a lamp part!’ and I’ll explain that there are ways of making things more affordably and efficiently. These are the things you learn from being hands-on, not from a computer program,” he states.
Joining the internet age
Like it or not, even if it seems like entire industries know who you are, there are still new companies popping up nationwide who do not have that knowledge of history and are thrilled to find a parts manufacturer who can do custom work quickly and domestically. How do you reach these upstarts? The internet.
Zuckerwise has made building a company website a top priority for the past two years, getting ready to accept online orders and cataloging all of its thousands of stocked parts. The site (www.libertybrass.com) just launched in July, although Zuckerwise is quick to point out that it is still a work in progress.
In this age of digital convenience and online ordering, he has found it necessary to post in bold letters on the site that discounts are given to orders in quantities over 100 and to call for special pricing [the website does not automatically create the discount]. And still, Zuckerwise will receive orders of 300 or more via the website. “I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened,” he says, upset that customers would be missing out on savings.
Even with serving a variety of clientele in disparate categories, the lighting industry is dear to the Zuckerwise family. “We’ve made a commitment to the lighting industry and would like them to support us back,” he comments. “We are the largest and oldest stocking manufacturer of lamp parts in the country and we intend on continuing that commitment. We like to say we’re celebrating our first 100 years and are looking forward to our next 100 years.”