MERIDIAN — Newell Paper Company has a well-deserved reputation for catering to their customer’s needs, so they’ve always been a tough competitor. When Newell opened up a new warehouse/office last May, the competition got tougher.
As an example of that catering to customer needs, Meridian’s Dement Printing Company receives two deliveries daily from Newell, and Bill Allen, Newell’s sales manager, calls on owner Johnny Dement every Friday.
“He or his father have been doing that for years,” Dement said. “We’ve been a customer of theirs ever since they got here.”
That translates into the past 56 years.
And as for Newell’s new warehouse/office, Dement is very pleased.
“We’re tickled to death with the ease of supply,” he said.
That’s sweet music to Newell CEO Tommy Galyean’s ears.
Galyean began his career with Newell Paper Company in 1963 as a floor sweeper and boxcar unloader. After a promotion to salesman, he became manager of the Meridian operation in 1989, then was named chairman and CEO of the firm — and the affiliate, Jackson Paper Company — 10 years later. He still resides in Clarkdale, a community just south of Meridian.
“I live just two to three miles from where I grew up,” Galyean said. “I’ve just never wanted to leave.”
Bespectacled, gray-haired and soft-spoken, he presides over the Meridian office that has 72 employees and supplies more than 7,000 products to those treasured customers. In addition to the Meridian and Jackson operations, he also has charge of offices in Columbus and Hattiesburg and subsidiary offices in Demopolis, Ala., and Gulfport and 112 more employees.
The companies are privately held in an employee stock ownership plan.
Before the new warehouse, Newell operated in downtown on Meridian’s storied Front Street. “In today’s world, it just wasn’t the location for a business like ours. Not only did we have congestion and accessibility problems, we had multi-story building problems,” Galyean said. “We had to get more efficient.”
That led to the purchase of 22 acres in 1999 within a stone’s throw of Interstate 20/59, yet less than a mile from downtown.
“We wanted to stay fairly close to downtown for the convenience of our customer base,” Galyean said. “That’s an asset to us and to them.”
Galyean visited businesses similar to Newell’s in Nashville, New Orleans and Mobile, then began planning what was needed. Dungan Engineering out of Columbia, was hired to help in the designing.
There were 12 bidders on the final plans. When asked if business was that slow then, low bidder David King, CEO of King Metal Buildings from Louisville, responded, “Yeah, it still is.” King had built several Meridian buildings and had met Galyean previously, so there were good feelings already when construction started in October 2000.
The building with 100,000 square feet of warehouse space and 11,000 square feet of offices was completed last May. It was almost two years to the day after the property was purchased. Lee Mock of Dungan Engineering and Galyean made sure it met the specifications.
Contractor King said, “We had the best relationship you can have when three people are involved in a building project.”
There was one hitch — lack of immediate access to those interstate highways. Newell solved that by placing a paved road immediately behind the new warehouse. Then to assist such a long time community firm, the Meridian City Council, the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors and the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation agreed to put in a culvert bridge joining the new road to St. Paul Street. Voila! Access gained.
Although Galyean said, “We’re still unpacking and straightening out,” the warehouse appears to be a smooth operation.
With spotless floors, the well-marked bays tower more than 20 feet and are neatly stacked with the myriad of products Newell stocks. Fork lifts whine about loading the 10-truck Newell fleet with goods for their customers or unloading the latest shipment from their suppliers.
The office operation seems just as efficient with desks for each of their salesmen and separate offices for accounting and the reception area.
As for his customer base, Galyean said, “Most all businesses can be customers.”
About 50% of Newell’s sales are in industrial papers, which includes towels and tissue, wrapping paper and packaging items, 30% in janitorial supplies and equipment and 20% in printing papers.
Although there are some local competitors, the main competition comes from the surrounding area, primarily Jackson, Mobile, Birmingham and Memphis.
“We’re not batting a 1,000%, but I sure wish we were,” Galyean said.
Among the changes in the business during his tenure, he cites mergers and acquisitions of his major suppliers.
“It limits competition, but it helps in that we’re doing business with fewer companies,” he said. “It seems to take two to three years to complete the acquisition and get all the bugs out…if they ever get them out.”
The other major change is the advent of the Internet.
“It makes for a better informed customer, so we have to do a better job. We have a Web site and are in the beginning stages of e-commerce, but are behind schedule in our ability to take orders.”
As for the future, Galyean said. “The tragic events of Sept. 11 make for uncertain times. While I’m a realist, we take a positive attitude and a ‘can do’ outlook and know that our economy will come back stronger than ever.”
Galyean believes that Newell will continue to be successful thanks to the trust customers have in his firm and as long as he continues to have employees who do the required good work as they have in the past.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. at email@example.com or (601) 485-7046. Johnson served as an economic development consultant in Starkville from August 1999-April 2000.