Everyone knows there are no domestically owned TV manufacturers left in the U.S., and that contract manufacturers never talk about their business.
And everyone is wrong on both counts.
The American-owned color TV manufacturing business is alive, well and living in Greeneville, Tenn., where Taylor-White, the company formed five years ago by the unlikely duo of Edward Taylor (president) and Charles White (CFO), operates the 1.1 million square foot color TV plant formerly owned by Philips. That's what TWICE learned during an exclusive visit, the first to the plant by a member of the trade press since the facility's sale by Philips.
The history goes back to 1995 when Taylor-White, looking for someplace to make polyurethane-impregnated flooring, heard Philips might be interested in leasing out some space at its 980,000-square-foot Jefferson City, Tenn., woodworking plant. As it turned out, with the traditional console business flagging, Philips was more interested in selling the plant. Taylor-White got it, along with a contract to continue to supply cabinets to Philips.
As George Taylor tells it, a little more than a year later Philips called to offer its Greeneville plant, along with a TV supply contract. That was bought too, but not until lengthy negotiations with the IUE were completed. Both plants continue to be union shops. Employment at the two plants now exceeds 2,000 -- no small total in the Knoxville, Tenn., area.
The Greeneville plant isn't the kind of "nobody here but us robots" facility that churns out 13" and 19" commodity sets, it is equipped and staffed for the manufacture of higher value products. The plant is highly automated and, except for picture tube production, almost fully integrated. It has its own circuit board-stuffing robots and the injection molding equipment needed to turn out finished plastic cabinets.
The plant has four direct-view TV assembly lines, two for projection TV and two others for low-volume set assembly. Taylor-White currently makes 27", 32" and 36" direct-view color and a variety of projection TVs (including a 64" HDTV model) for Philips Magnavox, console color TVs for Zenith, a 36" Loewe digital TV console for Sensory Science, and projection TVs for Samsung. It also makes projection sets for Sears under a contract actually held by Philips, and recently produced Crosley-brand projection TVs.
While the company can, and does, build sets essentially from scratch, some are assembled from complete or partial kits supplied by customers, and the finished chassis for the Loewe console come from Germany. The factory does put together the three-tube assemblies used in its projection TVs, marrying tubes, lenses and glycol-filled cooling tubes.
Knoxville-headquartered Taylor-White also formerly made WebTV boxes for Philips under an expired contract, and is currently in negotiations for a contract to produce a similar but more complex product for another company.
While its plants are reasonably well loaded with work and, according to Charles White, are profitable, management knows that customers go as well as come, and so Taylor-White is always looking to attract and sign on new accounts for both woodworking and electronics manufacturing. As Greeneville VP-general manager Tom Hopson said in a recent interview with the local newspaper, it really doesn't matter what potential customers are looking for, "I'll just make whatever they tell me to."