And to all those companies that have shut down their factory tours because of some straw men like insurance or liability, shame on you. The reality? People love companies that open their doors to the public, but they HATE companies that do not engage with the public. Companies that run factory tours get to tell THEIR story, first hand, to new generations. When these great tours have been shut down, companies always blame the public or regulators or trial lawyers, but there are usually internal issues. Certainly, there are always issues with factory tours, but part of being in business is getting around them.
Here are the glorious survivors. There are, however, many more, including the BMW factory tour in South Carolina. Is it any surprise that BMW is breaking all sorts of sales records in the U.S.?
- Union Pacific Museum: In Council Bluffs, Iowa is the museum of the railroad whose slogan is Building America. While volunteer money got the building, Union Pacific pays the expenses. God bless them for it. Other than trying to spot Mr. Berkshire Hathaway himself, The Union Pacific Museum is one of the great draws in the Omaha area. UP also runs steam excursion trains. It’s a brilliant promotion for the railroad, and a heck of a lot of fun. Remember other railroads. Why would you blow millions on advertising, when you get just as much bang with stuff like this?
- John Deere Museum: In Moline, this is the Holy Grail of branding and Americana. A celebration of all things rural and American, with lots of technology in between. It’s really a whole set of attractions, from house to farm to corporate headquarters (Eero Saarinen) to sales. Lots of companies could learn from this extravaganza. Lots of museums can learn from it too; they have packaged an office building AND farm exhibit as one, making each piece part of a larger tour experience.
- Kohler Design Center: A free guide to all the great bathroom fixtures of this American Icon. The museum has three stories of kitchen and bath products, designer rooms, luxury furniture and Kohler history. Each weekday morning, you can tour the actual factory.
- Ford Rouge Factory Tour: The greatest car tour in the world. Visit in conjunction with The Henry Ford Museum. Grand. We just wish the other Ford factories could be preserved. Pity they waste that legacy.
- Boeing Everett Tour: The grandaddy of aviation tours, the Everett Tour shows one of the greatest American achievements, Boeing. The full name is the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Tour. Northrop Grumman would do well to think of Boeing as it considers its Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock asset. Located just miles from Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Virginia Beach, it would tell the story of great ships under construction, and be a way to promote Northrop Grumman in the eyes of the public.
- C.R. Smith Museum: All about American Airlines. Gerald Arpey, American CEO, couldn’t have said better, namely: “As a life-long aviation enthusiast, I’ve always had particular interest in commercial aviation history. To that end, the American Airlines C. R. Smith Museum is an entertaining source of relevant, fun-to-know information for me and my family. Like us, you and your family will find that the museum provides a unique insight not only into aviation’s storied past, but a stirring reflection of American’s proud history.”
- McIlhenny Tabasco Visitor Center: The hottest thing in Louisiana, a tour of the sauce factory!
- McDonald’s Museum: The McDonald’s Museum and Store #1 in Des Plaines, Illinois is mecca for those of us who still appreciate the McDonald’s hamburger. There is also a Big Mac Museum in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Did they save the McDonald’s in Downey, California? Not sure. But thankfully there is this one.
- Corvette Factory: Bowling Green, Kentucky is the museum and factory tour of this automotive icon. Corvette really acts as if it is a “rich cousin” separate brand from Chevrolet, and that is the correct position for it to take. My question is why aren’t there more of these around the country. Where is the Jeep attraction? Where is Buick?
- King Arthur Flour: The ancient Vermont flour company has a Baker’s Store that is a lesson in how to expand a brand. Every single unique consumer brand could have a store like this. No, not a copy of it, but a riff of it. If you are a car brand, you repair and display cars and sell car-related things. If you are food brand, you display that brand, and other like products. Oh, and sell some T-shirts and crap to the kids. School tours? You bet. They will be brand ambassadors forever.
Do readers have any favorite factory tours that ought to reappear, or that we have not listed? Love for readers to add in some suggestions.