Conover Plastics

Friday 26 June 2009

On my dresser was one of those little plastic hangers that socks are sold on. I was about to throw it away when I noticed it had an 800 number molded onto it. I was curious to see what would be at the other end of that number, so I asked Google about it.

It lead me to Conover Plastics, whose home page claims,

Conover Plastics, Inc. is the leading manufacturer and supplier of sock hangers. With over 30 years of experience making sock hangers, Conover has a great assortment of sock hangers. We have many standard sock hangers in stock - ready to ship the same day we receive your order.

Every once in a while, I get a glimpse into a corner of business I don’t usually see, and am amused and impressed by the complexity of human activity. Here’s a product I’ve seen over and over, and never thought about where it came from. And it turns out that there’s an entire company that makes nothing but those nondescript sock hangers. Not just that, I’m sure Conover has competitors, there may be an entire sub-industry of sock hanger makers, or at the very least, specialty injection molded plastics.

The enormity of industry is an amazing thing. The fractal-like splitting of products and services down into component parts; the supplying and demanding of those parts from firms created purely to provide them; the trade associations, brokers, warehouses, and middle-men; the conventions, skill sets, sub-cultures and specializations are fascinating to me.

I partake in these sorts of specializations in the software arena, and to think that there’s that sort of unseen complexity in sock hangers is astounding.

Somewhere at work we have a 200-page catalog just for shipping materials and another 200-page catalog of supplies just for manufacturing departments. Somehow we even a thick catalog just for audio-visual systems for churches.

This splitting into finer and finer sub-categories of specialization shouldn’t surprise me any more, but it still does, and I’m proud and impressed to see the human beehive of activity at work.


Thanks for sharing this Ned...fascinating.
What's really amazing is that we all agree to act as if what we do all day matters. It's the only way to keep the system working. If we don't give it our all then we lose to someone who is willing to try harder. The business world is like the Amazon jungle: enough resources to support incredible specialization and inspire fierce competition.

FWIW, my company is about a specialized as the sock hangers, and from where I sit YOUR work looks strange and trivial.

John Locke worked for a box company, yet he is the most interesting (imo) character on Lost of all.
When I consulted at a OTC drug manufacturer, it suddenly struck me that there were whole industries devoted to things consumers never saw. Someone made the conveyor belts, the bins (or vats or buckets...there was a name for them) for ingredients and product, the things that put "pills" in plastic and foil.... It amazed me how blind I was to the wealth of activity necessary behind the scenes to keep it all running (Who provides spare parts for machines made 30 years ago? Are they all hand-crafted by one old guy in the company metal-working shop?). It made me more aware of how much of the economy was really hidden from the consumer and retail shopper.

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