In a Market Crowded with Imports, the American Chest Company Keeps it Local

By Jeffrey Bonior
Nov 24 2021 |
” We want people to get a quality chest and we want to make them in small quantities. I don’t want to go after mass merchandising. It’s not a business that I want,” said David McLoughlin, founder of the American Chest Company. Photo courtesy American Chest Company

Quality, not quantity, is the focus of the company. It’s paid off, and the American Chest Company even makes the box the Presidential Medal of Freedom comes in.

David “Mac” McLoughlin had decided to retire from the jewelry and flatware chest manufacturing business in 2005 after bringing the Reed & Barton brand of chests to national recognition.

As president of manufacturing at Eureka Manufacturing, a subsidiary of Reed & Barton, McLoughlin had spent the 1990s building the company to be the largest manufacturer of hardwood chests in the United States. But he lost his zest for the business when corporate strategy turned to importing lower-quality products from China during the early 2000s.

McLoughlin had spent his entire working career in the gift, tabletop and chest-making business. So, he ditched his plans to retire and instead started a consulting business called D-Mac to share his expertise in the marketplace.

While working as a consultant, McLoughlin never lost his passion for the chest manufacturing. By 2014, he got back in the game by starting the American Chest Company (a 2021 Made in America Holiday Gift Guide pick).

“I always had this desire again to build a new brand, an American-made brand, so I started American Chest about seven years ago,” McLoughlin said. “We’ve been building it ever since.”

At Eureka Manufacturing, McLoughlin oversaw a factory of 225 employees who made more than 150,000 chests per year. But at this stage of his career, he had no desire to head another manufacturing facility.

Now, at the age of 68, McLoughlin sub-contracts the manufacturing of the American Chest Company products to Amish communities in Ohio and Indiana.

“About four years ago I started using Amish to make all of my chests and we’ve got a nice group,” said McLoughlin. “They’ve become good family friends and they make a tremendous product.”

McLoughlin has a small Amish workforce of 15 to 18 craftsmen manufacturing the American Chest Company products daily. He is no longer striving to be the biggest chest manufacturer. Instead, he’s emphasizing quality.

“I would rather make a quality product that people appreciate,” McLoughlin said. “We are not price conscious. We want people to get a quality chest and we want to make them in small quantities. I don’t want to go after mass merchandising. It’s not a business that I want.”

Jewelry and flatware chest sales make up the bulk of the American Chest Company business, but the company also offers humidors, watch chests, watch winders and gun chests.

All chests created by American Chest Company are made from genuine solid, American hardwood grown in upstate New York. The wood is solid cherry, and the Amish craftsmen apply either a mahogany, heritage cherry or English walnut finish to the pieces.

“I decided to go with cherry because I think cherry is one of the finer furniture woods,” McLoughlin said. “It has a lot of character to it and the fact that it is a fruit wood, natural cherry will oxidize over time so that means it gets darker over time. I like to say that when we talk about the beauty of wood that no two chests will ever be exactly the same because each piece of wood we use is different from the other.”

For more than 40 years, McLoughlin has travelled the world both importing and exporting gift products and tabletop chests. He started American Chest Company after souring on the quality of chest imports from China and other low-wage countries.

“Everything that is imported now is MDF – medium density fiberboard – and basically what it is is they take wood and grind it up and chip it up and then they make sheets of it by using adhesives. They put solvents in that bind it all together and it is basically just a block of wood chips that are stuck together. It doesn’t have great strength.

“They use MDF because it is cheap. Wood is say a buck and a half a board foot where MDF is priced at 17 cents. So, what they do is they make a six-sided box out of MDF and then they laminate. At one time they used to use wood laminates or wood veneers but now what they do is take a picture of the wood veneer and print that picture on paper. So, what they then laminate is paper over the MDF and after the chest is all done they may hit it with a finish coat of matte finish and they call it mahogany.

“But basically, what you’ve got is mahogany-looking paper on MDF board and it is not wood at all. I saw that and I decided I wanted to do a quality product and that is why I started American Chest.”

A typical tabletop jewelry chest is 15 inches wide by about 11 inches deep and 9 to 15 inches high. American Chest Company also offers one-, two-, or three-drawer chests with prices ranging from $200 to $600.

The American Chest Company makes the chests that the Presidential Medal of Freedom comes in. It also has made several presidential flatware chests. Photo courtesy American Chest Company

American Chest Company also does custom work. The first-rate quality of its chests has even caught the eye of White House procurement officials. The Presidential Medal of Freedom now comes encased in a small wood chest made by the Amish craftsmen, and the company has produced several Presidential flatware chests with the Presidential logo engraved on the lid.

“They were looking to upgrade and sent two people to the factory to make sure of our American-made process and quality,” McLoughlin said. “There is talk about us doing chests for embassies for their flatware sets.”

The American Chest Company is headquartered in North Kingston, Rhode Island where McLoughlin runs the business with his wife and a small staff of sales representatives. The Amish send the finish products to a warehouse in North Kingston, where orders are fulfilled every morning.

“Business is very good right now,” McLoughlin said. “If I had more chests, I could sell more chests. It’s a good problem to have and we are basically doubling the size of the company every year.

“There is no two ways about it, the quality of American-made products is the best. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I know that any place you go you can find different places that make things at different quality levels. What I look at is the product line and say I want to be at the high end.

“When you decide you want to pay the price for a quality product, you get the best value out of American products. The benefits to our economy are there, but, on a personal level, if somebody wants to buy a product and they go and invest in an American-made product, they are going to have a greater value product that is going to last longer and hold up.

“It’s just a better product for the price they pay. From what I am seeing now, people appreciate Made in America and we are proud to provide these top-quality chests.”

American Chest Company chests can be found at many of the finer jewelry and flatware stores throughout the country, and are available to order on the company’s website.