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Silicon Valley Firm Defies Disruption



(p. A1) LOS GATOS, Calif.--Companies that resist change don't tend to last long in the caldron of innovation called Silicon Valley.

Then there's the Z.A. Macabee Gopher Trap Co.

Founded in 1900 by local barber and inventor Zephyr Albert Macabee to manufacture his patented metal gopher traps, the company is a stickler for tradition.

The traps' design has remained exactly the same, including their forest green color--despite complaints that the hue makes them hard to spot. Some customers gripe of hitting them with mowers, and have repainted them bright red or other colors. Still, the company doesn't waver.

Macabee operates out of the same small Victorian house where "Zeph" Macabee started it all on a quiet residential street. Even the packaging---Spartan white boxes of 24--remain unchanged since the postearthquake edition of 1906.

"We have a strong product identity," says Ronald Fink, the company's cheerful septuagenarian general manager, who grew up on a nearby apricot farm.

But existential questions loom. The company's patent expired in 1917. The threat of cheap Asian knockoffs led the company in (p. A10) 2008 to shift all production to China and lay off the eight Cambodian refugees who built traps in the basement on decades-old machines.

Another new competitor has popped up: a pest exterminator named Steve Albano, founder of Trapline Products in Redwood City, who used and studied Macabee traps and came up with what he considers a better design. "I think they just work better," says Mr. Albano.


. . .


As the owners sort out their differences, copycat traps are flooding the market. Most retail for about a third less than the roughly $9 a Macabee commands, including several that even mimic the forest color.

"But people still buy us, because they know they're getting quality," says Mr. Fink.



For the full story, see:

Timothy Aeppel. "Old Time Rodent-Trap Company Doesn't Gopher Change; At one firm in Silicon Valley, disruption is a dirty word; existential fears after 100 years." The New York Times (Fri., June 19, 2015): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Macabee, an Old Time Maker of Rodent Traps, Doesn't Gopher Change; At one firm in Silicon Valley, disruption is a dirty word; existential fears after 100 years.")






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