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Growing A Company

Ethical values, innovation, focus on quality propel growth at Blue Ridge Industries.<

Peggy Whales

 In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains sits Blue Ridge Industries, along the banks of the Cartecay River in the town of Ellijay, Ga. The Cherokee Indians labeled this rolling area land of many waters. Ellijays town square contains antique merchants, a barber shop, a gallery of local art, a coffee house, as well a few surprises. Known as the Apple Capital of the South, Ellijay attracts people from near and far to its apple harvest festival each fall. If the area sounds picturesque, it certainly is and here youll also find a commercial carpet company whose owners have combined the sound ethical values long found in small Southern communities with innovative and creative ideas to build a highly successful firm.For more than 30 years, the company has been quietly producing carpet under the stewardship of several different owners. But a powerful new management team came on the scene in September 1998, when the company was purchased by Mike Gallman, president and CEO; Gregg Hayes, senior vice president, sales and marketing; Steve Sarratt, executive vice president, operations; and a group of investors from Chattanooga, Tenn. Gallman, Hays and Sarratt left Shaw Industries to start this new venture; they had worked together 14 years and were very comfortable working with each other.The new owners had a refreshing perspective on commercial carpet. Gallman said, We had a lot of unconventional ideas about corporate culture and customer service. Since we came from a large company, we were aware that size alone sometimes causes problems. A battleship is harder to turn than a speedboat. Blue Ridge has an open-door management policy, and most telephone calls go directly to the person dialed. Gallman feels Blue Ridge has leverage because, when a situation arises, answers can be given quickly. He reflected that geography and people are an important part of the overall company. Were the employer of choice here in this area. A large number of current workers started with the company, and now their children and multiple members of the family work here. We treat our workers as family were all part of a team! He said employees are used in most company advertisements. Vision For GrowthThe trios vision was to create a focused manufacturer of quality carpet, and not one structured to compete on price. Areas of focus are service, quality, and design. Said Gallman: Over the past three years, we have delivered 98.7 percent of orders on time, and 95 percent of orders ship within two weeks or less from receipt of order. The system used is Just-In-Time demand fulfillment operation. No inventory is kept, and all orders are made to meet demand. Gallman calls their whole operation KISS (keep it simple silly). We do not try to be all things to all people. We want to remain focused, keep raw material limited, orders shipped on time and the whole process streamlined. Our quality is the best in the carpet industry, consistently under 1 percent every year, he said. Manufacturing ProcessesBlue Ridge has doubled in size since the beginning of the trios ownership and has increased the employment base in the area. Last year, another building with 112,000 square feet was bought to be used for samples, rug manufacturing and shipping. More equipment has been added air entangling, twisting, warping and tufting. Blue Ridge uses ICBT twisters; Tuftco and CMC tufting equipment; Kusters Rotary Printers; Bellmont and Pritchett air-entangling equipment; and MCS jet becks. As a specialty manufacturer of uniquely designed and engineered commercial carpet, the company produces durable and stylish carpet for a wide variety of installations. Except for extrusion, the firm is completely vertical. The normal process of the carpet mill includes yarn manufacturing, warping, tufting, dyeing and backing. Inspection is done at every process, with check-off of all inputs and outputs. Equipment is state-of-the-art, according to Gallman.Most of the fiber and yarn used by Blue Ridge is BASF Zeftron® 2000 and DuPont Antron®. The company is in the process of introducing BASFs new fiber, Savant®.David Rose, vice president manufacturing, discussed the products of Blue Ridge. We produce loop, cut, cut/loop, scroll and enhanced variations of constructions. Special techniques are used during production. For instance, our stitch-lock construction is unique on some products inch step over stitch construction replicates knitting, but using a tufting machine. This allows Blue Ridge to guarantee the life of the product, and it wont zipper or edge-ravel when constructed with Power Lock®.Power Lock ensures a 20-pound tuft bind and endurance without delamination, pilling or fuzzing. According to Rose, the Power Lock backing system is a low-filler latex applied using a special apparatus on the coater that gives tremendous penetration and bundle saturation of the back stitch. This backing is applied to the back of all its products.Another process used is a proprietary yarn technique that adds color and clarity to solution-dyed yarn and produces a unique product. It is not muddy, but gives clear separation of colors, he said. New ShowroomsIn 1999, an unusual break room was provided for employees as part of a larger project to reposition the companys brand and image.Gallman explained: We wanted to make a statement with this project, to illustrate the power and impact of design as it relates to basic quality-of-life and work issues. We also wanted the redesigned space to encourage the convergence of employees from all areas of the business.Custom tables with iron bases and unfinished MDF tops provide flexible work stations in the training area, while stainless-steel wall panels are used to display new product samples. An interior window emphasizes the manufacturing facilitys connection to all other company operations.Blue Ridge went all out with design for a permanent showroom in Chicago and received the International Interior Design Association Creative Excellence Award at NEOCON 2000. This annual showroom design competition recognizes excellence in interior visual impact, effective use of materials, use of space, use of color and textures, lighting and graphics. Blue Ridge was also one of three finalists last year for the National Association of Manufacturers and Arthur Anderson Award for Manufacturing Excellence. This was for re-engineering efforts manufacturing from stock to on-demand, reducing inventory, getting rid of waste, improving service and being engineered from bottom up not from the top down. The Power Of DesignBlue Ridge appreciates the power of design. Gallman noted inspiration comes in a variety of forms from the companys picturesque location to the arts and crafts heritage of the community. We utilize an eclectic mixture of award-winning independent product designers to create original combinations of color, texture and pattern in a variety of forms, he said. Some of Blue Ridges latest collections show classic, handcrafted styles that distinguish Blue Ridge from the me-too design mentality. 
Manufacturing agility allows for custom products. Many products can be custom-colored for orders as small as 45 feet. The firm also routinely produces custom patterns, textures and weights. Products are designed to give excellent performance in diverse commercial environments.Products are available in 92 styles. Two new styles are Boxwood B210 and Candidate C110. Boxwood uses DuPont Antron continuous filament nylon with Duratech® soil-resistance treatment. Construction is textured loop pile, 1/10 gauge, with a face weight of 28 ounces per square yard (oz/sq. yd). It is available in 17 colors. Candidate uses BASF solution-dyed Zeftron 2000 continuous-filament nylon with stain protector and soil repellent. It is also a textured loop, 1/10 gauge, with a face weight of 30 oz/sq. yd. It is available in 16 colors.Blue Ridge markets its products to corporate office segments, schools, health care and retail chain stores. Distribution is worldwide. The company also stages a road show in major metro areas, which is co-hosted with BASF and/or DuPont. Gallman and his team invite about 75 to 100 architects, specifiers, and designers to dinner at a local, trendy restaurant. Its more of a one-on-one, and we tell about our culture and what we can accomplish as a company, he said. Growing And GrowingIn a decision to diversify, Blue Ridge purchased Flagship Carpets and Rugs in June 1999. This division is a specialty manufacturer of childrens educational rugs and black-light entertainment carpet. In May 2000, Richmond Carpet Mills was added. Richmond is used as a brand name as part of Blue Ridge Commercial.Gallman said the companys separate printing and dyeing commission operation, Courier Commission Dyeing and Printing, handles both commercial and residential specialty projects. The majority of its work is done for other major manufacturers. Courier can rotary-print polyester carpet and dye cotton, wool, and nylon.The polyester process is considered unique. Gallman explained: Most manufacturers produce polyester only in solid colors, but we can give them the ability to use polyester in multi colors. We have the ability to produce 12 different colors on the dye line in broadloom and rugs. And, we also dye carpets for the automotive industry. This exclusive set-up includes a 200-foot horizontal steamer that enhances the process of multicolor print polyester. Color sells, and we can extend products by taking standard products and producing different and creative color combinations to enhance appearance. We have a complete laboratory facility where we replicate big machinery, and we do not charge for lab work.Managements future goals are to continue growing and to be able to make necessary capital expenditures, not only to keep Blue Ridge competitive in the industry, but also to continue making quality products plus changes necessary to accommodate the growth. Sales were about $35 million in 1999 and are now rapidly approaching $100 million, he said.Gallman talked about the firms commitment to its community, employees and customers. When it comes to service, Blue Ridge knows time is money. We will do whatever it takes to manufacture and deliver carpet with quality and outstanding appearance retention and we will do it faster than most.We respect our customers and co-workers. We work hard and enjoy what we do. We find inspiration in our own community. Our products are made as if we were making them for ourselves value is not at the expense of quality. Plain and simple if you need it, well make it and well make a quality product.

May 2001