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After flat sales, The Taylor Group reports robust year

Still revving engines after 77 years in Louisville

Louisville — After five years of flat sales, The Taylor Group in Louisville is reporting a robust year.

“Overall, 2004 has been a substantial growth year in the company in practically all operations,” said William A. “Lex” Taylor III, president of The Taylor Group. “We’ve gone from $192 million last year to being on target to finish the year in the $300-million range. The past five years have been challenging, no question about it, and the biggest impact on us competing on a worldwide basis has been the strength of the dollar.”

Since 2001, the U.S. dollar has been depressed, Taylor pointed out.

“Our overseas competition has been having a heyday coming into our markets, and made it difficult for us to price in their markets,” said Taylor. “In fact, we’re one of the last companies left in this country manufacturing the broad range of products we build. But all that began to change last September, when the dollar began its downward trend. As a result, exports have increased around 12% this year.”

Even though Taylor Machine Works, its flagship company, is reporting “a phenomenal sales year on the lift truck side,” the margins are squeezed because of exorbitant steel prices, said Taylor.

“The steel industry is doing wonderful — and is charging excessively high rates — but the capacity is practically gone,” he said. “The steel industry has been decimated in recent years, and the plants that were brought back to world-class production did it on a mini-mill basis, starting from scrap.”

In 2003, 523 new lift truck units were sold; the company is on track to sell more than 800 new units this year.

“It’s unfortunate that the moons and planets don’t line up right,” said Taylor. “If the pricing of steel had been somewhere at or around the price of 2003, we’d not only have a record revenue year, but also a history-making record profit year at Taylor Machine Works. But those prices will change, and as long as we stay competitive in the market, we’ll see the benefit down the road as steel prices return to normal.”

Sudden Service, Taylor’s aftermarket company, is also having a booming year, reporting a 24% increase in business over last year, said Taylor.

“That’s truly a function of industries like the wood products industry, which is prevalent in Mississippi and the Southeast,” he said. “They’re definitely back on their feet, and machines are being put back into service. Our other divisions are back on four cylinders as a result of Sudden Service’s growth.”

The Taylor dynasty began in 1937, when W.A. Taylor Sr. produced a cable logging skidder, which became known as the “Logger’s Dream,” and pioneered the way for other industry-leading Taylor equipment. Today, The Taylor Group is the last privately held family-owned, fully integrated manufacturer of industrial lift trucks still operating in the

U.S., and the company’s products, which can move and transport almost anything, can be found in nearly every port in the world.

The company also owns Temtco Steel, a U.S. leader in high-strength plates, parts and fabrication, Taylor Rail Group, which sells, leases and maintains rebuilt locomotives for the short-line rail industry, and Taylor Environmental Products.

“We’re in the process of selling off assets in Taylor Rail Group because sales have been flat and the industry that used rebuilt locomotives has been hit hard and remains quite depressed,” said Taylor. “However, we’ve seen more quote activity this year than usual, and we hope to see some good returns in the next 90 days.”

Taylor continues to excel by filling niches. For example, Ridgeland-based Taylor Power was established to supply standby or auxiliary power for refrigerated goods. The company’s fairly new “Big Red Taylor Tough” marina truck featuring a revolutionary front end and other new products have been well received worldwide.

“Customers come back to us because we listen and build what they need,” said Taylor. “The promise of more production down the line represents the best kinds of niche markets to find.”

The company is also busy adapting to regulatory and technological equipment changes.

“The biggest thing happening concerns regulatory issues, such as emissions, noise pollution and diesel engines,” said Taylor. “We’ve also been heavily involved in upgrading the electronics side of the product line, such as steering by GPS control and satellite monitoring equipment.”

As a result of increasing sales, Taylor has rehired many employees who were laid off during the recent economic downturn.

“We’re fine-tuning the work flow and trying to increase employee motivation and the cultural principles of work ethic in our group,” he said. “It’s paying off. We’re reporting more production with fewer folks, but those folks are secure in their jobs. However, we’re having a very difficult time hiring skilled workers. Of 50 recent résumés, only four applicants were qualified to work for our company. The balance had drug, alcohol or criminal histories. That’s tragic. We’re not looking for Superman. But we can’t afford to bring potential problems into the workplace.”

Several Taylor family members maintain long-term key leadership roles in the company. Even though Taylor’s dad, William A. “Bill” Taylor Jr., inducted into the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame in 1999, is semi-retired, “he’s still our greatest PR man,” said Taylor.

Taylor’s brother, Robert Taylor, is vice president of operations for The Taylor Group. His sister, Teresa Ktsanes, heads up corporate promotions and public relations. His cousins, twins John Pascahl and Mary Shapley, run Temtco and Taylor Power Systems, respectively. Lex’s uncle, William Metts, handles all marketing and sales for Taylor Machine Works.

A 1977 graduate of Mississippi State University, Lex Taylor joined the company as a systems coordinator and assistant to the president of manufacturing in 1979, after working for a consulting firm for two years. He was elected to the board of directors in 1981 and promoted to vice president and general manager in 1982. On July 14, 1986, he was elected president. The Mississippi Business Journal selected him as one of the state’s Top 40 Under 40 in 1994. That same year, he was honored as Winston County’s Man of the Year. In 2000, he was elected president of the Construction Industry Manufacturers Association.

The Taylor Group has received numerous awards as a state, regional and national business and industrial leader. Taylor is quoted frequently in The Wall Street Journal, The Kiplinger Letter and The Christian Science Monitor. Last year, he was called on to be the first chairman of Mississippians For Economic Progress (MFEP), a grass roots organization dedicated to the passage of tort reform in the state. Earlier this month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform recognized MFEP for successfully lobbying for tort reform legislation with the 2004 Legal Reform Organization Award.

Because the company has weathered the economic downturn and is reporting robust sales in nearly every division, Taylor receives offers “almost daily” to acquire it, he said. The family isn’t interested in selling, and instead, is in the acquisition mode, looking for components to enhance its core businesses.

“As long as we’ve got good banking relationships to fund our operations, we have no incentive to be acquired,” said Taylor. “We don’t have an appetite for it, quite frankly.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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