There I was, recently wandering around what is called "Breakout Day" at the annual conference of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association in Florence, South Carolina. That is the day various outdoor retailers and manufacturers set up booths and show off their wares to outdoor writers from across the country.
In one booth a pretty young lady in a bright orange shirt was enthusiastically telling a fellow writer all about HotHands, those air-activated hand warmers so popular with hunters, fishermen and spectators at winter sporting events. I've used HotHands most of my life. I thought I knew all about them so I was just there for the free samples. I really was not listening to the young lady's spiel until suddenly I heard her say "Dalton, Georgia."
We were 400 miles away from Dalton - the neighboring city most of us know as 'The Carpet Capitol of the World' - so I am intrigued and started paying attention. She finished her sales pitch to the fellow writer and I asked, "Really? Are you serious? I'm from Chattanooga and you're telling me HotHands are made in Dalton, Georgia."
Brittany Self lit up with a bright smile that made it clear why she was chosen to represent HotHands. The young UTC graduate has been the Marketing Coordinator for HotHands and the company's other products for just over a year.
The company, originally known as Heatmax, was born in 1989. Around 2005 they were bought out the Japanese-based parent company, Kobayashi. However HotHands, Grabbers and several other products are manufactured and marketed out of the U.S. headquarters in Dalton because of what the company described as "its great workforce and logistics infrastructure." More recently Kobayashi bought out a competitor called Grabber. It was the equivalent of the Bass Pro buyout of Cabelas.
"Originally Grabbers and HotHands were competitors," said Self. "But when Kobayashi bought out Grabbers we consolidated everything so now they're all coming out of the same place right there in Dalton."
While they are virtually the exact same product, Self said they do continue to market Grabber and HotHands differently.
"They have a different consumer base," she said. "Grabbers you'll find primarily in sports stores and ski shops. They're more of a sport brand popular on the west coast. Whereas HotHands are a household name. You'll find them at Walmart, you'll find them in gas stations and in convenience stores. They each have their own image."
She says there are about 200 employees in Dalton cranking out the disposable hand warmers. Her job is to keep up with the company's social media accounts, coordinate displays and donations for major trade shows and sporting events along with occasional appearances at grand openings and other major events.
"I'm having so much fun. I love it," said Self, who moved to this area from Florida three years ago. "I feel like I've moved up North now. It's freezing sometimes."
Which should help her better sell HotHands and Grabber.
"It's a great product and a great company to work for," she said. "It's really fun learning different cultures, working for our Japanese company and trying to integrate things into the U.S. There's a lot of opportunities that come with the job and the fact that it’s an American-made product is really exciting."
More specifically, make that Dalton-made. So when you buy those Christmas stocking-stuffers for the outdoor types in your family, now you know you're supporting a product, and other families, from your own backyard.