By Wendy Kilmer
Photography by Beth Dukes
Maybe you heard a rumor that Taco Bueno originated in Abilene. (It did.). Or noticed your favorite local burger joint popping up in other cities too. You might not know, however, about the household products manufactured right around the corner, or many of the big names and industry leaders who call Abilene home. We’re profiling just a small sample of such companies – three businesses based here but whose influence extends well beyond the city limits.
Nation Wide Products
When the temperatures drop, the pressure heats up for an Abilene-based company responsible for manufacturing one of the common cold-weather staples for homeowners – outdoor faucet covers.
That simple foam cover you slip over your faucet in case of a freeze was likely produced just down the road from you at Nation Wide Product’s facility on South Treadaway Boulevard in Abilene.
The product was invented and patented more than 30 years ago by Nation Wide Products, which was then located in Fort Worth. But in 2000, after one of the partners in the business passed away, the two other owners looked to sell. Through their connection as a customer of Abilene’s WolfePak Inc., they met Abilenian Bud Darby, then a military contractor, and he purchased the company along with two other friends and moved its headquarters to Abilene.
Bud’s son, Jason, a 1996 Wylie High School graduate, was working on a Master’s of Business Administration at the time, but a few months after the purchase, he came to work with his father and help run the newly-acquired business.
“Nation Wide Products was the first to bring the product to market, and it was patented in 1983,” Jason said. “We have been selling some version of it ever since, and we are the market leader in exterior faucet covers.”
You’ll find the product in stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Lowes, and Tractor Supply, although not necessarily with the Nation Wide Products logo; most of their products are sold under private labels.
Jason also improved the product itself, changing from a difficult-to-maneuver J shaped hook attachment to a looped rubber band with a slide lock.
“About 2003, we determined that it was easier to break the cover than undo the J hook,” he said. “We figured we weren’t the only ones, so we needed to come up with an easier solution. We went back to original patent and looked at how to improve it.”
The new attaching device is a part of all the products they sell and has been imitated by all competitors, Jason said.
Although likely the most often used in this part of the country, faucet covers only represent about 25 percent of what Nation Wide Products distributes. The majority of their production is after-market accessories for window air conditioning units – support brackets, side panel fillers, filters, foaming coil cleaner, etc. – under the AC Safe brand.
“Initially, when we bought Nation Wide, they were producing about 400,000 faucet covers/year,” Jason said. “Now we produce 4 million annually, and we’ve acquired the AC Safe product line as well.”
Nation Wide’s faucet covers are distributed in 49 states and air conditioning accessories in all states and provinces of the U.S. and Canada. Their influence isn’t just outside of Abilene, however; it helps boost other businesses in the area.
“We reciprocate to other local businesses,” he explained. “Our hardware kits for A/C brackets are all purchased locally through Abilene Sales. Being located here helps the auxiliary businesses that support ours. Often I think that gets overlooked. People see initial business that are being helped but it also gets a lot of other dollars flowing in the community.”