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`Our success has been about the people`

Opportunity-seeking abounds at the Mitchell Companies

MERIDIAN — A lot of companies brag about their ability to hear opportunity knocking at the door. However, Mitchell Companies of Meridian has not been content with being a passive participant. It has gone after opportunity and brought it in.

However, even though it offers everything from beer distribution to crane rental and sales, this conglomerate of services and products has not pursued every new avenue just for something to add to the mix.

“We’re actually pretty conservative,” said Manny Mitchell, chief executive officer. “We’re not risky. But we have assembled an excellent management team. If an idea makes it all the way around the table, I feel confident that it’s a good one. My philosophy is put the right people in the right place, and we can do anything.”

Mitchell Companies roots go all the way back to the 1940s when Manny’s father began in beer distribution. In 1953, Mitchell Distributing’s future success was established when it landed an Anheuser-Busch distributorship.

Meridian native Manny Mitchell, 49, said his earliest memories are filled with hanging (and working) around the distributorship. Mitchell would go on to LSU, earning degrees in marketing and finance before returning to the distributorship.

Under Mitchell’s leadership, Mitchell Distributing has grown markedly. When he took over the reins, the company’s market share was in the 30% range. Today, it stands at more than 60%.

Perhaps the most telling mark Manny Mitchell has made, though, is his vision to grow outside beer distribution. While still a college student at LSU, Mitchell was introduced to screenprinting of t-shirts. He started in his basement. Today, M’Prints not only handles screenprinting, but has added a state-of-the-art embroidery machine, and also embosses logos and designs on all types of promotional products from apparel to pens and key chains. It now does contract work for such heavyweights as Peavey Electronics and ships all over the U.S. and beyond.

The opportunities just kept coming. Mitchell was one day approached about buying a mom-and-pop sign business.

“I was intrigued,” he said. “I saw a lot of potential. Everybody needs a sign, and signs change all the time. So, I bought it, then a second.”

Mitchell Signs is now an award-winning company that has tackled such impressive projects as the electronic marquee at Silver Star Casino in Philadelphia, and an enormous job of switching out more than 100 signs for First Tennessee culminating in a helicopter lift of a massive sign in downtown Memphis.

As its sign business took off, Mitchell Companies saw a limited U.S. market in crane rental and sales as an opportunity for success. After starting the crane company, it struck a bold plan. Since the U.S. crane market was so tight, why not go abroad and ship the heavy equipment back into Meridian? Today, Mitchell Cranes buys its inventory in Europe and rents and sells to contractors and crane companies all over the U.S.

The sign business also brought another opportunity. Mitchell Companies was approached by a local bank with a problem — it couldn’t find any company to design, build and install its ATM surrounds. ATM surrounds are the consoles that encase the machinery. Mitchell Designs now does internal, external and drive-up ATM surrounds for banks throughout the nation.

To handle all these different concerns, Mitchell Companies currently employs more than 125 people. The management of these workers and diverse industry segments has proven a real coup for the “parent” company. The company goes to great lengths for solid employee retention including picnics and getaways, as well as “Mitchell University”, an employee actualization and growth program aimed at teaching its workers skills such as Internet fundamentals.

Perhaps the most exciting news around the company is its current construction and what it means to Mitchell Companies’ future success. The facility that houses everything except the crane and distribution businesses is getting a major overhaul. The sign fabrication facility is going from 38,000 square feet to 85,000. Just as crucial, the expansion will allow the sales teams representing M’Prints, Mitchell Signs and Mitchell Designs to be under one roof. With a newly-hired sales manager to oversee all sales functions, Mitchell said he is excited about the potential for improved efficiency and effectiveness of the sales personnel.

“Our success has been about the people,” Mitchell said. “I can’t operate a crane. I can’t make an ATM surround. But we have a management team that’s as good as they get, and are blessed with some extremely talented people and artists.

“If we continue on with what we have now, I feel we’ll be successful. However, I doubt our people will be content with just doing what we do now. There will be more growth.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

About Wally Northway

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