Published on 4 May 2020
Reading time: 4 minutes
Mr Didier Vrac has recently announced his retirement after more than a quarter century with the company: 27 years precisely, of which 20 years as a CEO. He is ready to pass the management on to the next generation. His successors, Audrey Régnier, currently director of the museum and her husband are very proud to take on the challenge of leading the business and perpetuate the success story of the last sewing needle and pin manufacturer of France, in the Orne department of Normandy.
Benjamin Bohin, a genius business man
The story begins in 1833. Benjamin Bohin, aged 11, takes his first steps in the family-owned business: a wooden boxes manufacture. At the age of 17, he fully runs the workshop: patent applications, mechanisation, mass production. The young visionary and benevolent entrepreneur skillfully manages to gradually triple the production. Didier Vrac remembers “He was stubborn and creative at the same time, definitely ahead of his time. Along with several other manufacturers of the region, he hugely contributed to the railway connection to L’Aigle”. By 1877, Benjamin retires from the factory in L’Aigle, rightfully named “Bohinville” and devotes himself to writing and travelling. The company however – employing 600 workers before the breakout of First World War – continues to thrive under the management of Paul, his only son.
In the year 1997, Didier Vrac, graduate architect and commercial director of Bohin, desperately understands the company is on the brink of bankruptcy. His ambition to save this precious industrial heritage leads him to close the head office in Paris and relocate near the production plant in Saint-Sulpice-sur-Risle, in the Orne department of Normandy. On site, meeting the talented staff is the trigger Didier needs to fully convince himself to take over. “It was a real challenge to turn the situation around, business was at its worse”.
Dedicated to fulfilling his mission, Didier creates “Bohin France” and brings the business back to life. In May 2000, a TV report on France’s national TV channel TF1 showcases the know-how of the factory nestled in the Orne countryside. The day following the broadcast, calls come in flooding with requests to actually visit the factory! To meet the public’s increasing demand, Didier imagines undertaking factory tours. By chance, he meets Normandy lover Audrey Régnier, a young woman who shares his vision with a powerful enthusiasm. The rest is history.
When “Made in Normandy” pins and needles conquer international markets
By September 2011, Audrey heads up the future “Manufacture Bohin”, working tirelessly on the content and overall organisation. Finally, the long-awaited opening takes place in March 2014 and the first visitors come to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the fully operational manufacturing plant. The general public discovers with amazement the backstage of factory work and on two levels, the entire making/manufacturing process of sewing needles, ball safety pins and other Murano glass head pins. Some of the manufacturing machines date back to as far as the 19th century! This fascinating atypical tour is paired up with a museum visit and temporary exhibitions to give the public a deep insight into these “Made in Normandy” products. During the behind-the-scene tours, all 40 employees proudly showcase their skills and local know-how with passion
A specialty from Normandy nowadays exported throughout the world, in more than 33 countries including the USA, where Bohin’s expertise is highly valued.
Video : Marie Lemesle
La Manufacture Bohin – Museum & production workshops
1 Le Bourg – 61300 Saint-Sulpice-sur-Risle
Adults: from 11,90 €.
Children (from 6 to 18 years old): from 6,90 €.
Family rate: From 38 €.
Free for children under 5 years old.
From March 20th to October 31st 2020, Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm public holidays included, except 1 May. Closed on Sundays.
Arts, craftsmanship and the “Hand Made” in Normandy