2017-08-06 / Insight

SE Tools makes 60,000 pliers a year

Some employees at family-oriented firm have been there 40 years
BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601 •


An example of one of the first ring compressors manufactured by SE Tools, dating back more than 80 years. An example of one of the first ring compressors manufactured by SE Tools, dating back more than 80 years. LAPEER — It’s safe to say the world has changed since 1932, and the world of manufacturing even more so. But tucked away on Howard Street in Lapeer near the train tracks, a non-descript building has housed a resilient, family-owned and operated manufacturing company for more than 80 years.

SE Tools (the SE stands for Shaw’s Enterprises) has been in business since 1932 and has been in the same building on Howard Street in Lapeer since 1934, for 84 years, adapting with the changing needs of the manufacturing industry.

“We have a little niche,” said SE Tools General Manager Aaron McGhee. McGhee is the latest of a multi-generational family that has operated the business since it relocated from Pennsylvania 84 years ago. The company was founded by Otto Shaw in 1932 and moved to Lapeer two years later. “(Otto Shaw) brought the business from Pennsylvania,” said McGhee. “He came here and convinced businesses around here to help, and they donated $1,500. That was big money back then.”


Three longtime SE Tools employees (from left) Dave Chernenko, Corrine Dombrowski and John Miller take a break to pose for a picture in front of the business on Howard Street in Lapeer. Among the trio is almost a century’s worth of experience working with the company. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Three longtime SE Tools employees (from left) Dave Chernenko, Corrine Dombrowski and John Miller take a break to pose for a picture in front of the business on Howard Street in Lapeer. Among the trio is almost a century’s worth of experience working with the company. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese The business, previously known as Aircraft despite crafting automotive tools, has featured family in its operations ever since. Otto’s wife Zeta served as secretary treasurer, working full time in the office well into her 90s. Their son Byron was president of the company for several decades, a position now maintained by Greg Shaw, who has been president for 35 years.

Crafting quality products has been the focal point of the business since its inception, as McGhee noted. In the office are examples of ring compressors, some almost 100 years old, that were created in Lapeer.

“On a piston, there are these rings and it compresses it down to get in the cylinder,” said McGhee. We make several different ones.” But ring compressors, noted McGhee, aren’t the main product of SE Tools. That, he said, would be pliers.

“Pliers are probably one of the biggest things we do,” he said. “We do 60,000 a year.” According to McGhee, the company produces several different types of pliers, each designed to perform a specific function. SE Tools provides pliers that can be found in tool kits for several leading brands, including Snap-On — in fact, a Snap- On toolkit that can be purchased in Lapeer may contain pliers that were crafted right down the street.

SE Tools also provides tools to kits used by car dealerships. As engineering advances, the need for specialized tools rises, which means dealerships must constantly update their tools to maintain certification. “Different (vehicle) models require different tools, and SE does them all,” said McGhee.

Another part manufactured by SE Tools may seem archaic, but is in fact still in use in various places around the country. “When you drive into a gas station and run over that hose and you hear a bell that goes ‘ding ding!’” said McGhee. “We still make those. They’re still being used.” In some places in the United States like New Jersey and Oregon, it is required by law that gasoline be pumped by an attendant, and chime systems like SE Tools’ signals are still utilized.

The company is currently working on prototypes for new products as well, including a patent-pending invention by former president Byron Shaw.

“Byron (Shaw) invented an air chuck caddy,” said McGhee. “If you’re ever inflated your tire, you’ve used an air caddy, and most mechanics have dozens of attachments for air tools. With an air chuck caddy, you can snap it onto the hose and never lose it.”

SE Tools currently employs around 20 people and, as McGhee stressed, has been family-oriented since the beginning. It’s not unusual that employees spend entire careers with SE Tools — some current employees have been with the company for 40 years. Parts and tools crafted by SE Tools are also shipped internationally, with items heading off to Germany and France as well as tools used by Fiat or Maserati.

As much as times have changed, they’ve stayed the same, and McGhee said that the emphasis on family has been a major point in the company’s identity since the beginning. In the summer, SE Tools hires college students as seasonal labor, and in the winter, they hire stay-at-home moms after the school year begins. The company has persevered despite the ever-changing economic landscape.

“We have some old equipment, sure — but it was new when we bought it, 75 years ago,” McGhee joked. “But we also upgrade and do prototyping and work with local and global companies.”

“There have been a lot of manufacturers that have gone under since the rise of China in the industry. I think that in itself is a testament to our success,” said McGhee.

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