EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 25, 2013

It's in the bag - and in the city

Company adjusts to succeed and stay in Lawrence

By Dustin Luca

---- — LAWRENCE — From Water Street, you can barely see the home of Spector Textile Products. Walk into their facility, however, and you’ll find a busy supplier meeting the demands of society with USA MADE products and USA MADE jobs.

Walk on their roof, and you’ll see something completely different — several arrays of solar photovoltaic panels, 1,495 units total, covering the entire building to make it all happen.

Since 1937, Spector Textile Products has been in the business of fitting society’s byproducts to society’s own needs from its headquarters in Lawrence. The company has had several chances to relocate since then, but it has always stayed in its original home, according to company Vice President Howie Flagler.

The company’s latest venture, USA Made Laundry Bags, brings in material by massive volumes to turn it into “finished goods to either customer specifications or product demands, whatever the industry is,” Flagler said.

In any given week, the facility is pumping out hundreds, if not thousands, of laundry bags, reflective vests, truck coverings and more. They are made to order, largely for the dry-cleaning industry, according to Flagler.

But this is only what they’ve been doing recently. Since the company first opened within the Spector family, it has changed its target demographic just as quickly as the demographics themselves have changed.

When the “cut and sew operation” first opened, staying in business meant taking scrap and discarded wool from Lawrence mills in the ‘40s to create whatever there was demand for, according to company President Howard Spector.

“One of the major applications before the war was for felt, for Army jackets,” Spector said.

His father, Louis Spector, “would reclaim waste ends from all of the industries up and down the Merrimack, and then sell them to other people,” Flagler said.

Over the last couple decades, the company has focused on a laundry list of products, including laundry bags, nets, wiping cloths, and even things like caution flags and privacy fencing, according to Spector.

The focus of their products being “USA MADE” originated in the complaints they heard about laundry bags as they started making them.

“The product we were getting, that we were importing or buying from people who would import it ... the quality just went away,” Flagler said. “We felt we could make a better bag.”

So they did. Today, they sell those bags primarily to the dry-cleaning trade — an industry becoming more environmentally conscious due to the effects of the chemicals it uses, according to Flagler.

They did this when faced with cost-saving opportunities to move out of state, or even out of the country. Instead, they stayed in Lawrence and bought a bigger facility in town.

“Howie and I grew up in Tower Hill. We’re childhood friends from kindergarten,” Flagler said. “We wanted to save those jobs, keep those jobs. There’s family that has worked with us, and we felt it was important to stay in Lawrence.”

And while they have stayed, they’re not just making laundry bags anymore. To be green like their customers, they’re making the products using solar energy.

Last year, the company leased out its roof space to the Soltas Energy Corporation, based out of New York.

1,495 panels were installed. In good weather, they unleash 364 kilowatts of power, a portion of which goes to Spector Textile while the rest is kicked back into the local power grid, according to Teresa Zhao, an analyst with Soltas. When energy output is low, the building draws power from the grid, just like everyone else.

The relationship is a positive one for all parties involved. Soltas gets valuable net metering credits from National Grid worth what the energy is worth, and the building owner — Spector Textiles — collects rent for an otherwise unusable space, Zhao said.

“And they can go green, which is the concept of their products,” she added.

Beyond that, the company also gets a reduction in its production costs. Soltas provides Spector Textiles the energy for free, so the only electricity bill they get is for the distribution fee from National Grid, according to Flagler.

Certain conditions must be met to undergo such an investment like installing a solar array on a rooftop — building strength being a big one, Spector said.

But any business should “look for opportunity, and take it where you can,” Flagler said. “Don’t be afraid to ask other people to help. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We didn’t.”