Stride, Inc. manufactures pens and other office supplies while employing a 50 percent disabled workforce. The company started in 1981, when Barbara Brennan and her husband Don purchased the manufacturing plant that Barbara had managed since its inception in 1981. Under previous ownership, the factory had been a not-for-profit, but as general manager, Barbara was frustrated by the difficulty of competing with for-profit businesses in the manufacturing industry. She and Don decided to go another way and restructured as a for-profit business that employs disabled adults as part of its mission.
“They dreamed of maintaining the business of manufacturing pens while employing adults with developmental delays but this time in an integrated environment where upward mobility would be possible for their special-needs workers,” says their daughter, Kerry Bertram. But two months after they purchased the plant, tragedy struck and Don died unexpectedly. Suddenly widowed, and the owner of a small business with employees counting on her to succeed, Barbara sought help from SCORE.
Back in the 80s, when Barbara was starting out on her own, SCORE helped with machinery and mechanical problems. Bertram says, “Our SCORE mentors were a group of men with engineering and mechanical experience – we had retirees from Honeywell and Sandia National Laboratory who retooled pen manufacturing machines and got them humming!” SCORE volunteers also helped them add programmable logic controls to old machines, allowing them to collect statistical data on manufacturing performance.
Bertram says, “The work they did allowed Stride, Inc. (a woman-owned manufacturing company) to be the first company certified to sell a rollerball pen to the Federal Government! SCORE had the added challenge of working with our special needs employees, training them in the machine operation adhering to the mission of our company to provide integrated employment. They quite literally saved our business while maintaining a severely under-utilized workforce.”
Over time, Barbara and Stride relied less on SCORE. However, Bertram, who inherited the business from her mother, recently became involved with SCORE once again when she entered the American Small Business Championship. Bertram also pariticipated in the Emerging Leaders program run by the U.S. Small Business Administration. She says, “I am thrilled that our company has been a partner with SCORE for close to four decades. We are here today because of their early intervention and assistance and plan on utilizing SCORE into the future.”
Despite losing her husband, Barbara started a successful business, and Stride, Inc. has manufactured and packaged office supplies for 37 years. Their revenue grew over time and the Brennans expanded their workforce, offering additional employment to individuals with special needs. In 2018, Stride, Inc. was named a finalist in SCORE’s American Small Business Championship.