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The Pride of Elkhart: After 100 Years, jj Babbitt Still Embraces its Indiana Roots

by Victoria Wasylak • in
  • Anniversary
  • May 2019
• Created: May 7, 2019

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100 years since the company’s launch, jj Babbitt is proud to say that they’ve never grown too big for their hometown. Founded in 1919 from the confines of Jesse James Babbitt’s garage in Elkhart, Indiana, the esteemed mouthpiece company has expanded to include over 1,000 different products, but still sits in the Indiana city, content and delighted to be rooted in its original neighborhood.

“No, they’ve never considered moving,” says Rocco “Rocky” Giglio, current president and chief operating officer of the company. “We have 40 employees who are highly skilled craftsmen, and many of them have been with us for 40, 50 years. We have a way of making mouthpieces that we really don’t want to change because tradition is very important in our business. Players that want a mouthpiece, they want to be sure it’s going to be what they want it to be, so we wouldn’t think about moving the operation or changing the way we do things.”

“Tradition” specifically comes up frequently in a conversation with Giglio, who eagerly acknowledges that while the number of available models has expanded to four digits in a century, jj Babbitt is still strictly making saxophone and clarinet mouthpieces.

“We have a philosophy: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. And we have had great success with the way we do things right now. We want to continue doing that, being loyal not only to our employees but to our customers,” he says, reflecting on their notable history. “That’s all we do and that’s all we’ve ever done. We’re not into making musical instruments or accessories or anything like that.”

Their consistency – in both quality and growth – it turns out, might just be the elixir for another hundred years of business.

A Century of Family History

Dating back to that fateful garage workshop in Elkhart, jj Babbitt has been in the hands of the same family for the entire century, although some new names have come into the mix.

In 1939, Jesse Babbitt’s nephew, Eugene (Bud) Reglein, started working for the family business and, during his 65 years with the company, he would ultimately design and built several machines that are still used in the making of jj Babbitt products.

Bud’s son, William (Bill) Reglein also came into the fold and started working for jj Babbitt as early as high school, spreading his time between manufacturing stations, shipping, sales, and design. He transitioned to president in 1999, and later, owner and chairman, bringing his time with the company to 40 years. Giglio also was welcomed into the jj Babbitt family in 1999 and celebrates his own anniversary this year: an impressive 20 years with the company. Giglio himself even helped contribute to the creation of the FL Otto Link and the Meyer NY, RG, and G models.

“I’ve been in the music business for over 50 years, and I be came friends with the Regleins –both Bill’s dad, Bud Reglein, and now Bill,” he explains. “I used to go over there to test mouthpieces for them occasionally, as there was no one there at the time that played. So when I decided to retire, Bill and Bud talked to me about helping them out at the factory because Bud had had a stroke and he wasn’t capable of going in every day, and Bill wanted me to help out with running the company. That’s how that all started. And, believe it or not, this October that will be 20 years ago.”

The next Reglein in line to continue the family business is Dominic, currently 23, who Giglio says has already been integrating himself into the jj Babbitt world for years.

“It’s just everyday hands-on learning, and that’s what Dominic is doing now. He’s been working out in the shop every summer while he was in college, and he has just graduated this past June and now is working full-time,” Giglio explains. “So it’s just learning everything there is about the business and all aspects of it.”

As far as a timeline goes, though, the lessons are just beginning, and learning the family business is a lengthy process for even folks like Giglio who have an extensive music background outside of jj Babbitt.

“I think it’s going to be a few years down the road before that happens,” Giglio says of Dominic taking the helm of the company. “He still has a lot to learn, and hopefully, he will, while there’s still people around to [teach him] – like the vice president of manufacturing, he’s working with him quite a bit and working with the customers. It’s going to take time. It’s not something you learn overnight. Even though I’ve been in the music business my entire life as a musician, as an executive of a musical instruments company, et cetera, I still had to learn the inner workings of jj Babbitt and understand its dedication to its models of mouthpieces.”

Looking Beyond 2019

Scanning the timeline of jj Babbitt’s history – and even their catalogue – displays how many of the company’s competitors have sold their name and businesses to the Elkhart company. The Meyer line came in 1971, followed by Otto Link in 1971, Hite in 2006, and Portnoy in 2015. Yet Giglio affirms that going forward, he doesn’t want any sort of excessive expansions to take away from what the family has already cultivated for their customers.

“We haven’t really opened up a new account in several years because the pie is already just so big and we don’t want to take business from our customers that have been supporting us for all these years just to open up another business, when one would only be taking from the other,” he explains. “That’s the way we think. Now, what Dominic decides to do after he’s been there a few years [is to be determined] – maybe he’s got a better way.”

This June, the anniversary takes full form, as jj Babbitt throws an official “100 years” party – in Elkhart, of course – inviting associates and customers from all over the world to join in the celebration.

The festivities represent so much more than a century for the company, though – jj Babbitt still has over a million mouthpieces made and thousands of models released to honor. But most importantly, it’s the understanding of the value of a good mouthpiece that gives the company its true distinction.

“I think [the key to 100 years] is simple, dedication to associates as well as customers, stick-to-it-ness, trying to please everybody with what it is they want,” Giglio notes. “Because a mouthpiece becomes part of a person. It’s just not something you press a button or you push a lever, you put it in your mouth and it becomes part of you.”

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