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Toxey Haas, Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, Bill Sugg

Mossy Oak: A middle market success story

TOXEY HAAS

TOXEY HAAS

By JACK WEATHERLY 

Toxey Haas knew there had to be a better way to hunt.

So in 1986 he started a company whose name is now almost synonymous with hunting – Mossy Oak.

The West Point company started with two patterns – Bottomland and Hill Country – and has expanded that to more than 25 camouflage patterns.

Along with that, the two-man startup has grown to about 140 employees, most of whom are in West Point.

Mossy Oak is a mid-sized company, as defined in a new study by American Express and Dun and Bradstreet.

Mississippi ranks 22nd in the past five years in growth of mid-sized companies in the nation, according to the study.

Mid-sized companies, defined in the study as generating annually between $10 million and $1 billion, made up less than 1 percent of the nation’s employers but accounted more than half of job growth and generate about one-fourth of revenue and employment, the Middle Market Power Index shows.

And true to the exponentially disparate performance by such companies, Mossy Oak President Bill Sugg says: “We fight in a higher weight class than our size.”

“We are substantially above ($10 million) but nowhere near $1 billion,” said Sugg, who worked hand in hand with Haas (pronounced hayes) at the beginning, “knocking on doors and packing boxes at night.”

Mossy Oak is primarily an intellectual property company, Sugg says. Its patterns are licensed to those who manufacture articles of clothing – hunting gear, of course, but also extending to women’s fashions, such as wedding gowns (sizes 2 to 30), prom dresses and purses, and even seat covers.

Also, the company, whose parent is Haas Outdoors Inc., has branched out into Mossy Oak Properties, Biologic, which produces forage blends; Nativ Nurseries, which can “turn a normal piece of property into a wildlife haven,” and Gamekeeper, which offers conservation education.

Sugg said the company has not done any 30th anniversary promotional marketing. Instead, “it has been a year of gratitude.”

The five-year period ending in March showed Mississippi with 1,313 mid-sized companies out of a total of 139,841 and eight companies with annual revenue of more than $1 billion.

Thus Mississippi is right on the national average of slightly less than 1 percent of employers, said the author of the study, Julie Weeks.

Mississippi is one place ahead of neighboring Arkansas, which ranked 23rd in growth, and far ahead of Alabama, which was 31st in that category, while Louisiana outshone its neighbors, with a ranking of 7th, Weeks said.

Middle-market firms have stolen the spotlight from the fabled small-businesses (less than $10 million in revenue in this study), Weeks noted.

In the past, the reality was that small firms created roughly two-thirds of all jobs, Weeks said, but that’s no longer the case.

A former staff member of the Small Business Administration in Washington, D.C., she said, “I was in fact, in the office of advocacy that came up with a whole lot of those sound bites – that small business is the backbone of the economy.

“That was 15 years ago, but that is no longer the case. The last few years have not been kind to the very smallest of businesses and has been very kind to the largest of businesses.

“Coming out of the recession, most of the net new-job growth has come out of very largest companies. Small businesses have not bounced back from the recession.”

There is a kinship between small and mid-sized companies, she said.

“The SBA’s definition of small business is fewer than 500 employees, and three-quarters of middle market are in the small-business population if you define it that way.”

Whereas the vast majority of the large companies are publicly traded, middle-market firms are primarily privately held and “they still have much more of a small-business mentality, as far as being a good citizen in the community, understanding that they take care of their employees.”

The American Express/Dun and Bradstreet studies are designed to raise the awareness of the middle market. “They are quietly going about bolstering our country’s economy, and are really not getting their due.”

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