When it comes to organizational purposes, H.L. Bouton Company Inc. demonstrates unfaltering 20/20 vision. For more than 60 years, the Wareham, Mass.-based organization’s single focal point has been eye protection. While targets shifted throughout its existence, Bouton always maintained eagle-sharp acuity.
While Bouton has evolved into a leading manufacturer of safety eyewear, eye wash and lens cleaner products, it was established upon a singular product. Jack Hershmann founded the company in the early 1940s by contributing to the war effort with a specific eye-protection product. “His claim to fame was developing and manufacturing goggles worn by U.S. army tank drivers,” relates David Roll, Bouton’s vice president of sales and marketing.
Following the war, Hershmann’s privately owned company expanded its product line and reach, developing eye protection devices for welders, chippers and other workers exposed to eye-safety risks in activities such as tool grinding and other heavy metal shaping and machining operations. The company even entered the recreational sector, developing goggles for the ski market. “At one point, the company was the goggle provider for the U.S. Olympic ski team,” Roll indicates.
However, in the 1980s, an investor group purchased the company and took it into a more tightly defined direction. “The new owners moved it away from areas such as the ski market to concentrate activities in the industrial and safety markets, enhancing the product line in that direction,” says Roll.
Subsequently, H.L. Bouton became the first U.S. business to make industrial eye protection its core business activity. “As safety had become such a commoditized product area, we decided to concentrate strictly on eye protection, which not only meant eyewear but eyewash and lens cleaning products,” Roll points out.
End users include companies in the industrial, medical and consumer markets, which Bouton serves through distributors. “Our primary market is safety equipment distributors,” explains Roll. “That has always been and will continue to be our focus, and it includes the typical distributor who has an outside sales force that sells to end users, primarily in the metal and automotive markets, as well as utilities and municipalities.
SUBSTANCE AND STYLE
Throughout its history, Bouton has been at the safety eyewear industry forefront by responding to demands for stronger and more durable lenses. It achieved that status through innovations such as special molding compounds that provide strength without weight. However, the company also strives to maximize worker comfort and style, as those two elements have proven critical in ensuring the highest possible voluntary compliance.
“Style has become such a driving force,” says Roll. “The industry has moved beyond what I call the basic, ugly ‘Buddy Holly’- type of glasses and into much more stylish options.”
Stylistic considerations, he proposes, were driven by the sunglass industry, which turned eyewear into a fashion statement, more or less. “That outlook has trickled down into the workplace environment,” reveals Roll.
The trickle-down effect touches both worker satisfaction and management flexibility. Indeed, management attitude has shifted from a you-will-wear-these glasses dictate into the more tolerant wewill- give-you-what-you-want stance. “It’s all about achieving voluntary compliance,” says Roll. “Management thinks, ‘As long as our workers are happy with these glasses, and they’ll wear them, then that’s all we’re worried about.’ Management’s major concern is protecting workers from a very dangerous environment. In fact, some of our customers will buy several different styles of glasses, just to suit their employees. ‘Pick anything you want,’ they tell them, ‘just as long as you wear them.’”
But this approach significantly impacts H.L. Bouton’s eyewear product lifecycle. “It used to be about six to eight years,” indicates Roll. “Now, it’s about two to three years, as product has become fashion-driven.”
This poses a substantial challenge. Bouton now needs to develop eyewear that is stronger and much more durable, as well as stylish and comfortable, on a regular basis. In meeting this challenge, Bouton engineers have developed many leading advances in all of those areas. These advances are manifested in its BOLD and UFO series, as well as its newest product, the Hi Vizibility 6900 eyewear, designed for both comfort and security. Features include a soft-padded brow, rubberized temple inserts, unique single lens design, molded nose pads, lightweight nylon frame, hard-coated 8-base curve lens and an optional headband strap that snaps for easy removal. More significantly, it provides 100-percent blockage of UV rays.
As far as eyewash products, Bouton’s most recent introduction is its Lavoptok Safe Stream System, a seven-gallon, portable, selfcontained, primary eyewash station with one-step activation. It delivers 15-minute flow in less than one second. Further, the unit is 50 percent lighter than conventional standards.
Such new product introductions underscore one of H.L. Bouton’s main differentiators: it’s ability to quickly respond to customer needs. In addition, the company provides timely delivery for its cost-effective product. It’s all part of the Bouton vision for eye safety.