PUGWASH – Seagull Pewter is a Nova Scotia company.
That’s the sentiment at the heart of the messages the company’s president and the manager of national sales offered at an interview in their facility outside Pugwash.
Yes, the brand was purchased by an overseas company, Royal Selangor (the Malaysian company claims to be the largest pewter maker in the world). And yes, some of Seagull’s production was sent offshore in the early years of the new ownership.
Production is entirely back in Pugwash now, according to Cy Wong, company president.
“We’re a small local owner…,” he said.
They’re not, literally, but he wanted to make the case that Royal Selangor’s investment saved a company in receivership, saved jobs that have continued to this day, and demonstrated a commitment to local craftsmanship and local artisans. The artists work in Pugwash, the designs are created there, and less technical tasks are also outsourced within the community, said the CEO.
It’s impossible to know if they were representative of the whole workforce, but the employees manning stations in the factory Wednesday uniformly had a decade or more of experience working for Seagull. Some had many more years than that. They worked for the original owners and their jobs have continued through today.
The company pays a fair wage, claimed Wong, and does in-house training. An entry-level position with Seagull starts at $13, he said.
The president wouldn’t share revenue numbers – “It’s a very meaningful business,” he said – but his ambition is to see the business grow. He has a small sales force across Canada and a couple dozen employees in the United States. Their latest foray is distribution in Australia.
“We are the brand of choice,” said Mary Ann Bunker, manager of national sales, referring to brand recognition in Eastern Canada.
Wong spoke about iconic souvenirs for tourists from abroad: maple syrup, smoked salmon. He’d like Seagull Pewter to join the ranks of those staples.
The pewter business is not without challenges. The president said the raw materials of pewter – mostly tin – have increased in price five-fold in a short period of time. Large, chunky designs are no longer within the price range of many consumers. He said retooling and careful design and product development choices – items like jewelry, for example – have permitted them to manufacture in Canada profitably.
The CEO argued the company has contributed to the community by being “green.” Well over a million trees have been planted by Seagull as a result of customers purchasing products that yield a donation. Wong made the case that pewter, manufactured since the bronze age, is one of the oldest recyclable products: old pewter can be melted down and crafted into new forms.
The president is convinced the tide has turned a little – that consumers have had their fill of cheap, disposable products imported from abroad, and want to return to better items with more value.
Clearly, Seagull Pewter wants to spread the message they fall in the latter category.