CHICAGO | Through its almost 100-year history, W.G.N. Flag and Decorating Co. has provided millions of the flags flying throughout the region on Flag Day and every other national holiday.
While important to business, Flag Day hasn’t been a major sales event for the industry, said owner Carl “Gus” Porter III.
“Flag Day falls between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July,” he said. “Typically people will replace their flags or get a new flag at those times. Since flags don’t have to be replaced every month people try to take care of multiple holidays with one purchase.”
The Chicago-based company was founded in 1916 by William George Newbould, whose initials became the business’ name. Porter, who took over the company when his father, Carl Porter Jr., retired, is Newbould’s great-grandson.
The company’s name has caused some confusion with the media conglomerate.
“We get calls for WGN on a weekly and sometimes daily basis,” Porter said. “Changing the name has always been in the realm of possibility, but we were there before TV and radio. We’re the oldest or one of the oldest flag companies in the country.”
W.G.N. has provided flags to Hammond, Gary, Highland, Whiting and many other Northwest Indiana communities, and to Chicago and other municipalities in Illinois, the state of Illinois and to other public and private entities nationwide.
All of the American flags it sells are produced in the United States, Porter said.
“I wouldn’t sell them otherwise,” he said. “Their origin is very important to us in the flag industry. Having them made anywhere else would be an insult to the flag and our country. I really believe, more than anything else, the American flag needs to be made in U.S. by Americans.”
Many flags sold in big box stores have a “Made in America” label, but it’s the package, not the flag that's produced in the U.S., Porter said.
“Generally what you get at those places is the bottom of the line,” he said. “They’re made to be cheap rather than good.”
Flags in general comprise 50 percent of W.G.N. Flag’s business with American flag sales making up 80 percent of that amount. Flag poles and flag pole repair represent another 25 percent and the remainder of W.G.N.’s business is in custom work, Porter said.
Since the terror attacks on 9/11 and the flag frenzy it produced, business has declined slightly, especially following the recent recession.
“When 9/11 first occurred, we had a huge influx of sales. People didn’t care what size or kind, and it was one of the most beautiful sights ever coming out of a national tragedy,” Porter said. “Since then sales are probably lower than what they were before 9/11.
“The economy is a big factor,” he said. “When you look to shave off whatever you can, people change their flags once a year instead of twice or they just decide not to replace them.”
He's seeing a small resurgence in flag and flagpole sales to individuals and businesses this year.
The typical 3-foot-by-5-foot residential flag and 5-foot-by-8-foot commercial flag lasts six months to a year, he said.
“In our area with the weather that’s pretty good,” Porter said. “The larger the flag, the shorter time they last. They’re a giant sail, and they keep whipping and whipping in the wind.”