Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Plainfield toy company pays $1.1M penalty for choking deaths

Deaths of three children are attributed to toy gun and dart set.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) press release (see here) said Plainfield, NJ, toy maker Gordy International agreed last week to a $1.1 million civil penalty for failing report safety defects with the company's 'Auto Fire Target Set' toy.

Who? What? Huh?

I knew of a long-vacant industrial building on North Avenue near Seidler Field that bore a 'Gordy International' sign, along with another indicating the building also housed Howell Electric Motors. But it seems odd that the CPSC would consider the firm Plainfield-based since I cannot remember any activity in the area for at least a decade, and am told that Howell pulled operations out of its end of the building at least three years ago.

Signage on the industrial property at 900 North Avenue.

The CPSC's allegations are serious --

  • that Gordy knew the toy was defective and could cause harm but did not report it as required;

  • that Gordy refused to conduct a product recall, even after deaths of three children had been tied to the toy; and

  • that Gordy made a 'material misrepresentation' by not reporting to the CPSC all of the information it was in possession of during the investigation.
The toy was sold exclusively through Family Dollar Stores (of which Plainfield has two outlets), and the product recall of 1.8 MILLION TOYS was conducted in May 2010 by Family Dollar and the CPSC, with Gordy refusing to issue a recall.

This is not Gordy's first brush with the CPSC --

  • in 1990, the company voluntarily recalled an unspecified number of its 'Eggscavators' egg-shaped toy trucks, parts of which presented a choking hazard to small children (see here);

  • in 2007, Gordy also voluntarily recalled approximately 387,000 'Galaxy Warriors' toy figures which contained excessive levels of lead in surface paints (see here). Ingesting lead causes irreversible brain damage in young children.
Who are these people? And what is their connection to Plainfield if the factory building has been vacant for years?

Gordy International is run as a division of EXX, Inc., of Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 1970, SFM Inc. (founded in 1899 as Seneca Falls Machine Company in that New York village) acquired Howell Electric Motors of Plainfield. Howell is a manufacturer of specialty motors used in the blowers of air conditioning systems, floor scrubbing and polishing machines and  motor pumps used in food processing machinery.

The headquarters of the relatively small SFM was then moved to Plainfield. In 1984, David A. Segal, who owned 10 percent of the company's stock, took control of the company as CEO.

In 1987, SFM acquired Yonkers-based Henry Gordy, Inc., a manufacturer, importer and marketer of toys, changing its name to Henry Gordy International and moving the firm to Plainfield, where the title on the  North Avenue building says it was 'Plant No. 1'.

In 1994, SFM bought Colorado-based Hi-Flier, a major manufacturer of kites and model airplanes. Whether or not Hi-Flier actually moved operations to Plainfield (I have no evidence), its name appears in the faded window signs at 900 North Avenue.

Also in 1994, SFM changed its name to EXX, Inc., which is the name of the holding company currently owning both Gordy International and Howell Electric Motors as well as other divisions. In 2010, Segal took EXX, Inc., private, buying up all the outstanding Class A and Class B shares.

Plainfield building sports logos for Gordy Toy, Gordy Time and Hi-Flier.
(Anyone have an idea what Gordy Time was?)

The vacant industrial property on North Avenue, which stretches from the 700-block to the building at 900 North Avenue is currently on the market, and I understand from sources that there is actually some interest by a potential buyer. Tax records show the property as being owned by Howell Electric Motors in Hermann, Missouri, which is now the only physical plant location for that division of EXX.

As for Gordy International, it seems to have devolved into an importer of toys exclusively, with an office address only listed in Las Vegas and no American manufacturing facilities.

But of the mysterious -- and perhaps imperious, given his behavior in his latest brush with the CPSC -- Mr. Segal, I am most curious. He is one of those few folks who are impervious to Googling -- no information other than his company connections and no photos at all.

Can anyone remember David Segal from his days in Plainfield? Did he live in Plainfield or one of the surrounding communities? Was he involved in community activities or charities? Or perhaps he ran the company by delegation and never actually lived in the area?

Or is he just another faded sign of Plainfield's manufacturing past?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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