New Piedmont plant owner taking a chance on people
by Eddie Burkhalter
May 07, 2012 | 4467 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PIEDMONT – When Garcy’s owner Sam Tunstall talks about his new company, he talks about the people who work at the Piedmont manufacturing plant.

Tunstall, 54, talks about the 30 or so he’s hired to date, people whose jobs would have been lost when Garcy’s former parent company, Leggett & Platt, announced in January plans to close the 35-year-old facility. The workers, about 150 of them, were to be laid off by June.

“There’s been so much ... since the announcement’s been made about Garcy. There has been so many losses of family members and friends, illness,” Tunstall said, his voice trembling, “that we needed something good to happen.”

Tunstall worked as Garcy’s plant manager for 13 years. He always wanted to buy the company, if ever the opportunity presented itself.

When Leggett & Platt, a multinational company with more than 130 manufacturing facilities, decided to consolidate operations, Tunstall saw something in Garcy that he felt would be hard to replace.

A glass case just inside the reception area at Garcy displays what the long-time Piedmont company makes: High-end metal finishings for retail displays --- the racks that clothes hang on at well-known store chains such as Aeropostale and Old Navy. Brushed and burnished metal, highly polished bits of trim and connective pieces glimmer under the glass.

And that’s what saved those first 30 or so jobs, Tunstall said.

“The skill set required isn’t just sitting around in somebody’s plant not being utilized,” Tunstall said. “The skill sets developed at Garcy over all those years are invaluable.”

Since October, Tunstall has been working to put a deal in place with Leggett & Platt to buy the metal-shop portion of the company. The deal was finalized for an undisclosed amount of money last month.

Another Garcy facility in Piedmont, a cabinetry shop across town from the metal shop, will not carry over into the new Garcy. Workers are still operating the cabinetry facility, but those workers will be laid off by June.

Heading into Garcy’s third week of transition from a publicly traded, corporate-owned company to a family-owned business, Tunstall said things are going well.

“The awareness is heightened. Let’s do it right the first time … let’s make sure it’s right. It goes out the door and is correct, and let’s keep moving on to the next one,” said Tunstall, who lives in Rainbow City with his wife, Jenny, and two children.

And it’s always a good thing for an entrepreneur to have intimate knowledge of the business, said Keivan Deravi, an economist at Auburn University Montgomery.

While competition, specifically with China, will remain a threat to U.S. manufacturers, Deravi said he suspects Tunstall already has a vision for how to keep Garcy profitable.

“Usually, an insider has a pretty good idea about how to trim the costs,” Deravi said by phone Friday. “He probably knows what he has to do in order to streamline the process and make it profitable.”

The Institute for Supply Management reported last week that U.S. Manufacturing expanded in April for the 33rd consecutive month, and that 16 out of 18 manufacturing sectors reported growth in April, including apparel and fabricated metal products.

The decision to risk his own personal finances to become an entrepreneur was not one he approached lightly, Tunstall said. Ultimately, he said, it was with a great deal of research, reflection and prayer that he and his wife made the decision to go forward.

For Jenny, who works as a banker, it required a close look at all the risks involved. From providing health insurance for the workers to securing financing, Jenny said there was much to consider.

A close friend who is also a banker looked at the deal at the Tunstalls’ request.

“He would have been the first to tell him, 'you’re crazy,'” Jenny said. “But instead he told him that this looked like a great business model and that Sam had really done his homework.”

In early November while on her way home from a trip to Birmingham, Jenny said she felt a sense of peace about the decision to buy Garcy.

“When I got home, I told (Sam), ‘We’re in this as a family, and if we’re not all on board, that’s a challenge you don’t want to have day one,’” she said.

Tunstall said if he had received any doubt from the companies that agreed to continue buying Garcy products, the deal would have ended. But that didn’t happen, he said.

Which companies chose to stay with Garcy, Tunstall declined to say, but he said they’ve all been supportive of his decision.

And, yes, he’s heard from people who say he must be crazy to buy an American manufacturing company when so many have closed in recent decades, but he said he feels the time is right for entrepreneurs and small businesses to get re-engaged in their markets. Tunstall said conversations are being had at all levels about how to re-energize U.S. manufacturing.

“We’re getting phone calls from places we’ve never gotten phone calls from before, and it tells me that there’s been such a deterioration of this skill set, that if this thing can work, I believe that it could sustain itself,” he said.

“Everyone feels blessed to be a part of it. There’s a lot of people that aren’t a part of it yet,” Tunstall said, referring those Garcy workers who were not hired on to the new company.

“What the Lord has in store for this place, and what we’re going to look like in 12 months … I have no idea what he has in store, but I believe it’s going to be good.”

Star Staff Writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @EBurkhalter_Star.

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