Making it to 50 years in business is really no big deal and simultaneously a very big deal, according to Carolina Color Corp.'s CEO.
Matt Barr, who has been with the color concentrate company for two decades, sees the milestone a couple of different ways.
Sure, he's pretty proud the Salisbury, N.C., based-company has been able to weather a half-century of ups and downs. But, at the same time, 50 would be just a number without a set of values and beliefs that drive the company.
The failure rate of new businesses is sky hill, Barr points out. So Carolina Color's longevity beat the odds.
“How is this possible in this day and age?” he asked himself during a recent interview where he was asked plenty of other questions. “I think it's several things. First and foremost, it starts with employees. If you are not loyal to them, engender belief, trust and commitment, respect, mutual respect, you are not going to have much of a foundation to the business.
“We have folks who have been with us for nearly 40 years and that's amazing,” Barr said. “They are proud they've been able to make a career at Carolina Color and take care of their families, recognize our commitment to them and theirs' to us.”
And while the company looks to make long-term relationships with its employees, Carolina Color also wants that kind of view to extend to suppliers and customers.
“Partnerships are great and we really believe in it. But it's a term that's often used and rarely achieved nowadays. Kind of a throwaway [term]. But we strongly believe in the word ‘partnership.' If you look at our customer base, we've got customers who are at this show who have been with us for over 40 years,” he said at the recent Pack Expo in Chicago.
“If you look at our supply chain, we are very loyal to our supply chain. Not to a fault, but I think it's important nowadays to show that commitment to one another because, invariably, there will be rough patches in a relationship,” he said.
Keeping costs under control is important, but it's not the most important factor in a supplier relationship, Barr said.
“We expect a sharp price. We don't shop on a regular basis. If there is a need to shop because of a performance issue, be it product performance or price, we're going to go out and do it,” he said. But the company is not looking to make changes solely based on saving a little money.
“Ultimately, we look at the entire value proposition,” he said.
Carolina Color was started 50 years ago by Vincent Benedetto with the financial backing of John Carter, Barr's father-in-law, who passed away at the age of 92 in 2013.
Barr's family maintains majority ownership of the company. And treating employees like family is an important aspect of the company, which has about 120 employees at manufacturing sites in Salisbury and Delaware, Ohio.
Carter was an entrepreneur who was involved in many businesses, including furniture making. He ran his companies without taking on debt, Barr said, and that helped out when the economy went south in 2008.
Carolina Color had just closed a manufacturing site in Lancaster, Texas, earlier in 2008 because improvements in productivity gave the company more capacity than needed at the time. Then the Great Recession took hold.
Despite the economic problems, the firm did not lay off any employees or make benefit cuts when the recession hit. “We didn't do that because we were strong enough to weather the storm. If you are able to do that for your employees and make that commitment, that says something and that leaves an indelible mark on their hearts and their heads,” Barr said.
“There's a feeling there, an ethos, that we're going to be there for them and they're going to be there for us,” he said.
The company also has a long-standing work release program in North Carolina that's proved highly successful in helping turn lives around and providing quality workers for the business, Barr said. The company is in the initial stages of establishing a similar program in Ohio.
“I believe in humanity. I believe in people. I believe in second chances. I believe in the redemptive quality of these types of programs. If we don't give folks a second chance at life, many of these guys make silly mistakes, their future is basically blown,” Barr said.
So Barr measures the success of the company not just in years, but also in terms of accomplishments and impact. “Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. Just simply being around for 50 years is an accomplishment. But, frankly, not much of an accomplishment,” he said, by itself.