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Six decades later, folks still flock to Hudson’s great deals

One of Mississippi’s most successful privately-owned businesses started some 60 years ago with a fire in a grocery store in the hamlet of Palmer’s Crossing.

Out of this rose a retail operation that is the most successful of its kind in the country, a Longhorn cattle ranch and, indirectly, the largest seller of discount clothes on eBay.

The genesis came when H.C. Hudson bought back his smoke-damaged goods from the insurance adjuster. The next day, he put up a sign that read: “Smoky Groceries, 50% Off.” People flocked to buy the groceries.

The Hudson salvage retail concept was born and H.C. Hudson began to search the country for similar merchandise that could be sold at a heavily discounted price in his store.
His two sons, Billy and Mickey, entered the business and worked together until 1991, when the company split. Mickey Hudson and his daughter, Melissa Hudson Callahan, took the northern half of the Hudson salvage stores, under the name Hudson Salvage Center Inc., and later changed the name to Hudson Inc.

Billy Hudson and his son, Bill, took the southern half of the stores, under the name Hudson Salvage Inc.

Today, Bill Hudson — H.C. Hudson’s grandson — owns the largest retail salvage sales operation in the country, with two separate store chains: Hudson’s Treasure Chest and Hudson’s Dirt Cheap. (His father retired in 1996.)
He still follows his grandfather’s axiom: The buy always drives the sales and not the other way around.

“Most retailers try to merchandise space,” according to Hudson. “And to keep their merchandise in stock, they have to pay regular prices if, say, they’re out of Polo shirts and need to fill that space. We don’t care what we sell when, so we don’t ever have to pay regular prices.”

There are seven Treasure Hunt stores, 62,000 square feet each, selling some of everything at 30% to 50% off. Bill Hudson is CEO and is involved in hands-on management of the operation.

Though he says that he sees an 8% to 10% sales increase over last year and thinks that this kind of growth can be sustained,

“The number of Treasure Hunt stores is not going to increase because this company depends on mother nature (floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires) and there’s only so much salvage.”

Hudson indicated that though there are some 100 similar companies in the country, “We buy 50% of all retail salvage.”

With Dirt Cheap, though, Hudson sees a rapid increase in the number of stores.

“We’ve got 29 stores now… and I think you’ll see 50 Dirt Cheap stores open in the next year or two.”

Dirt Cheap sells mostly customer returns from retailers, merchandise of lower value but at up to 70% off.
Rob Roberts is the CEO and is involved in the hands-on management. Hudson doesn’t take part in the daily operation of Dirt Cheap, though he’s chairman of the board of the corporation.

Treasure Hunt and Dirt Cheap share the same warehouse. The Hattiesburg facility is 400,000 square feet and contains 10 acres of merchandise.

Andrew Waites, eValueville’s founder and president, learned why Hudson’s was so successful when he worked for the company. Waites was vice-president of inventory procurement when he told Bill Hudson that he wanted to go into business for himself.

“I’ll fund you,” Hudson said.

The partnership was named Inventory Procurement Services. Then, Waites started eValueville. He said that Hudson’s isn’t a partner in eValueville any longer but, “a great customer.”

A word Hudson uses frequently is “passion.” He says that, “I don’t go to work, I go to play. I have a tremendous passion for what I do.”

And Bill Hudson always talks of success in terms of the people who work for Hudson’s and of their ability and passion for what they do.

There are some 850 full-time employees and up to 200 part-time employees during peak periods.

Hudson Longhorns calls itself “Mississippi’s Premium Texas Longhorn Ranch.” Located in Purvis, south of Hattiesburg, the ranch is the “passion and full-fledged business” of Bill Hudson, along with Chris Schaper.

They’re assembling and building a herd of foundation cows, heifers and bulls, in anticipation of going to the marketplace in a few years with some of their progeny.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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