Long before the invention of the automobile, assembly lines, and modern manufacturing, a young man with an entrepreneurial mind decided to start a company. Albert-Pierre Raymond grew up in Grenoble, France when horses were the modern form of transportation and the world of textiles was big business.
“Albert-Pierre was my great-great-grandfather, and he was the founder of ARaymond, which today — five, going on six generations later — is still a 100% family-owned business,” shares Antoine Raymond, the company’s CEO. “He was a mechanic and quite innovative, developing a hook fastener for shoes. His initial inventions began in 1865.”
Albert-Pierre Raymond was indeed innovative and wise, immediately seeking a patent for his concept — which he got seven years later. His shoe hook design used a “helix” fastening concept that was riveted in a single component (typically, in a leather shoe), ensuring that the hook or eye was watertight. This proved useful and popular at the time because it meant lacing boots was possible without the need for additional sewn-on buttons or buttonholes.
Even before this, he had invented a spring based on the mechanical push-button principle. With the right amount of pressure, the spring would release. These early closures led to clip fasteners, thousands of patents, and a global, multi-generational family company. It all began with easy-to-use fasteners for the textile industry 156-plus years ago.
“Another popular invention followed in 1886. It was the first snap closure, originally for the glove industry,” says Antoine Raymond. “Back then, women wore long gloves that reached almost up to their shoulders and the snap concept let them easily fasten the gloves at the top, also replacing more cumbersome buttons.”
At the time, France was well-known for textile manufacturing and the capital of the glove industry. Albert-Pierre supplied the snaps (also known as press-studs, which he patented in several countries, including in the U.S. and Japan), as well as hooks and eyelets that he developed for them. He slowly added to his inventions, which he shipped worldwide. Then, he expanded into Germany.
“Granted, Europe as we know it today did not exist at the time. Germany was not yet known as ‘Germany,’ and there was still a Duke…the Duke of Baden in the Southwest of the country. But my great-great-grandfather became very much a part of this early industrial period of the late 19th century, opening his first subsidiary in 1898,” he says. “It was only 400 kilometers away in Lörrach, but this took him nearly four days to travel there. Today, it takes me four hours.”
Eventually, the patent for Albert-Pierre’s snap fastener expired and others developed similar concepts. But not before he built up international connections throughout the world, including in the United States. This also meant that he lived through two world wars.
“It was enough for him to get through the first war,” says Raymond. “But the business was heavily affected by the Second World War. At the time, it fell under the Nazi regime who overtook enemy enterprises and, afterward, my great-great-grandfather had to majorly rebuild — which he did with determination.”
One favorable development after the war was the advancement of the automotive industry. Just before WWII, ARaymond had created the first spring, steel clip for the emerging auto industry. After the war, the fastener grew in demand.
“The textile market was still predominant and the first automobiles had a lot of it, including leather for their roofs and seats. It made a lot of sense to supply to this sector,” explains Raymond. “As these vehicles became increasingly made out of steel, the ARaymond metallic clip continued to serve as fasteners for these parts.”
In 1955, the company also began a plastic-molding process, offering the automotive sector options for the widely used clip. Plastic was not subject to rust, like metal, and provided a lighter choice with greater flexibility. Plastic materials can be more easily molded into different shapes.
“What’s interesting is that since 1865, ARaymond has essentially been doing the same job of designing, developing, and successfully selling some form of the clip fastener — whether it is hooks, snaps, or clips,” he says. “With the growing auto industry, the company continued to expand, worldwide. Over time, we established manufacturing hubs in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the UK, and the Czech Republic. Then, in 1987, we launched the first American subsidiary in Rochester Hills, Michigan.”
At first, this was a joint venture with a company named, Mernick Raymond, which lasted about five years before ARaymond became the sole owner and investor.
In 1989, the company designed its first generation of quick connectors for automotive fuel systems, becoming a world leader in production for the sector — which it maintains to this day.
“Of course, today, we are challenged by the advancing developments of the electric vehicle. But initially, this creation accelerated the global reach of the business, and we became a major player for the quick connectors and the clips.”
In the ’90s, ARaymond set up manufacturing hubs in Japan and eventually in India, China, Brazil. Then, it slowly moved into Russia and Turkey, offering employment opportunities and furthering its growth. Today, the company is present in 25 countries with 27 production plants, employing about 7,500 people worldwide.
Despite an ongoing global pandemic and push toward sustainability, ARaymond shows zero signs of slowing down. Rather, the company is evolving with the times.
“We are currently working very hard to support and find success within the new mobility sector, including for electric and autonomous-driving vehicles, car sharing, and so on,” says Raymond. “Mobility is a necessity of human beings. It started with horses, then automobiles, and now it’s gradually changing to become much more respectful of the environment. We want to be part of this change and even a champion of this change.”
In late 2020, ARaymond launched advanced VDA quick connectors, as one example, which are ideal for the thermal regulation of battery packs in electric and hybrid vehicles.
Additionally, the company recently developed solar-panel clips that simplify photovoltaic-module assembly, resulting in a significant labor cost reduction compared to the typical use of nuts and bolts. ARaymond also created a range of biodegradable and compostable greenhouse clips, designed to support and protect delicate plant stems and heavy crops.
“It’s important to us to support innovations that fit within advancing industries and lifestyles,” he says. “We have several ongoing projects. This includes solutions for not just the development and assembly of fasteners but also methods for their disassembly, with options for recyclability. This is so important for the environment and the climate challenges we are now facing.”
The company has also begun supplying to the healthcare sector, manufacturing vaccine caps made of plastic rather than aluminum, and other types of snap caps for medication vials.
These are advancements, Raymond’s great-great-grandfather would undoubtedly be proud of, along with the long lineage of his family who’ve been part of the company. Every generation has worked at the company since Albert-Pierre founded it.
“My great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all very involved in the business. In fact, my father worked for more than 40 years, retiring in 1998,” shares Raymond. “I have since been primarily in charge of this enterprise, but I am far from alone. Its accomplishments and success would be impossible without my colleagues and family, of course.”
The next generation and Raymond’s daughter, Audrey Raymond, is already working at ARaymond as an initiative change management coordinator.
“She represents the sixth generation at the moment although many of her cousins are also interested in a future role, so we’ll see how it all comes together.”
So, what has Raymond learned throughout his 35 years with the company?
“When I first started working, I thought my most important personal challenge was to motivate people. After some experience, my understanding grew and I realized that it’s far more important to provide security, safety, and trust to our employees,” he says.
After the uncertainty of the last couple of years, Raymond’s lesson has proved particularly useful. “During times of challenge or turmoil, the solidity of strong values, and especially trust, are extremely significant,” he says.
It also helps that the business runs as a connected, yet autonomous structure, rather than as one centralized authority. This allows each subsidiary to maintain its own integrity and self-sufficiency — important given the various travel restrictions and supply-chain challenges related to the pandemic — while still provided with a support system.
“It is a bit of a paradox, finding collaboration within autonomy. But the two are a fantastic engine,” says Raymond. “We provide trust and support at the same time.”
He adds that there has been usefulness in viewing the business as an adventure. “You have to be willing to take risks while finding acceptance in the outcomes — some will be better than others. But you cannot run a successful business without some risks and a good sense of adventure.”
“Ultimately,” he adds, “I’ve learned that the life of an enterprise is not the machines, processes, or buildings that keep it together. It is always the people that, together, build success. It is their ideas, engagement, commitment, collaboration, and level of trust that make the difference.”
Given five, going on six, generations of family success, this statement from the CEO of ARaymond makes a lot of sense.