LEWISTON — Geiger announced Tuesday that it is laying off more than 100 factory employees and ending the manufacturing side of its business.
Geiger has about 400 employees, plus 500 salespeople scattered across the country. About 300 workers are based in Lewiston, including all the laid-off employees.
Gene Geiger, CEO of the 135-year-old company, believes this is one of the largest layoffs in the company's history.
He said demand for the company's bound paper products, such as planners and calendars, has dropped by about half in recent years due to popular electronic alternatives and manufacturing competition from Asia.
"We've been losing money and we've been losing a lot of money," Geiger said. "We've kept it going because of our sense of tenacity, because we've been making things for more than 130 years, because of our sense of obligation to our employees, because of our obligation to the community. We've just done it because, dammit, we were going to try to figure out how to keep things going and turn things around."
In the end, he said, company leaders realized they couldn't turn things around without significant time and money, and without great risk to the rest of the business.
"The flip side of this whole things is that the other side of our business . . . is rapidly changing with e-commerce and other things that require our investment," Geiger said. "We decided we just could not continue to invest and bleed on one side when we have such a strong demand for resources on the other side."
Less than 10 percent of Geiger's business is manufacturing. More than 90 percent comes from promotional products that are made by others and sold through the company.
Geiger said he hopes to move about 25 laid-off workers to new or existing jobs within the company and has held off filling some open positions so those jobs would be available. He also said he has been in talks with other companies and hopes someone will purchase the manufacturing side of the business and, possibly, put some laid-off employees back to work.
"It's unclear how the dust is all going to settle," he said.
On Tuesday, Geiger gave employees 60 days notice that their jobs will be terminated. He believes, however, that the company will have enough orders to keep manufacturing — and keep some people working — into the summer.
"We would like to keep things going as long as we can for people," he said.
Employees will receive severance pay based on wages and number of years with the company.
If no one buys the manufacturing side of the business, that will leave Geiger with 80,000 to 100,000 square feet of unused factory space in Lewiston. The company plans to rent or sell that. Regardless, Geiger said, the company plans to stay in Lewiston.
It also plans to keep producing its iconic Farmers' Almanac. The retail version of the almanac is produced elsewhere, but Geiger has been manufacturing promotional versions on site in Lewiston. It will now need to find someone else, possibly a local printer, to take over that work.
Geiger said many workers weren't surprised at the company's decision to stop manufacturing, but that didn't make Tuesday's announcement any easier.
"I know most of these people. I love all of them. They're all wonderfully good people, and to stand in front of them and to say 'We can't do this anymore' was as miserable an experience as one can have," he said.