Tylertown — Joan Cantrell Rushing may have inherited her late husband’s established business in the early 1990s rather than starting it from scratch, but under her guidance, Tylertown Wear Parts has flourished while many U.S. manufacturing plants have not.
“In 2004, we had the best year in two decades,” said Rushing, whose Tylertown-based plant manufactures parts for use in wood chip mills worldwide. “We hit $1.5 million in sales, a 15% increase over the previous year, and so far in 2005, we’ve had our best two months. We have hope that it’s staying, that it’s not a fluke.”
Rushing attributes the upswing in business to perseverance, customer service, an economic upturn and the decision to invest in new machinery that has increased productivity.
“Ours is the type of business that would not run away to Mexico because most of our parts are made from steel, which is very expensive to ship,” said Rushing. “Even though Japan and other countries make these big chippers, they have a U.S. location for their sales base, so you wouldn’t necessarily order clamps and holders from Mexico or China.”
A native of Ripley, Rushing worked for the Nevada Nuclear Atomic Test Facility after college and before returning to South Mississippi. It was a job she said “started me in the direction that I find myself today.”
Before she took over Tylertown Wear Parts, Rushing owned a local tractor dealership and a small advertising newspaper when her husband, Bill, was diagnosed with cancer. She sold her businesses and helped him maintain the manufacturing operation.
“I put him in a wheelchair and took him to work every day for seven months,” she recalled. “I bought a couch and put it in his office. Every day, he laid on the couch and I sat behind the desk as he taught me about parts, how they were made, and how they fit in the machine.” He died in 1994.
When she took control of Tylertown Wear Parts, the operation consisted of the repair of parts for chippers, debarkers and hammer hogs, with most of the sales territory in Southern states.
In 1996, Rushing expanded the facility to 16,000 square feet, acquired additional machinery and began to manufacture most of the parts that once were repaired.
“Not only did we become a legitimate manufacturing plant, but our sales area now covers the entire U.S., and exports to Canada, New Zealand, France and even Mexico,” she said.
Rushing probably won’t try to expand the company’s percentage of overseas sales.
“Between the shipping time, customs process and 30 to 60 days’ billing, I have to wait sometimes five months to get paid and it ties up a lot of cash flow,” she said. “I couldn’t afford too much of that.”
Despite downturn, success
During the economic downturn, Rushing vowed to maintain sales and avoid layoffs. She succeeded on both counts. Two or three years ago, she added three machining centers to facilitate the manufacturing of several new parts. More recently, she purchased additional milling machines and hired three new employees to operate them. Soon, Rushing will add a 100-by-50-foot wing onto the building.
“We’re so crowded, we feel like we’re in a camper trailer,” she said with a laugh.
Rushing expects the company’s profit margin to drop off because steel prices have escalated, but said the rising cost of raw materials is not the greatest challenge facing American manufacturers. “It’s competing with cheap labor, the main killer of everything,” she said. “I hope Congress will make changes to incentivize employers because we need to employ America.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.