Chapter 59

FACING THE GREATEST CHALLENGE OF MY CAREER

The morning after we arrived at Johnie's sisters home, I told Johnie that I thought I would ride over to Williamston. Mr. Rhew was doing some consulting work there for Mr. Griffin at Williamston Packing Company. When I arrived at the packing house, an out of date and small plant, I found Mr. Rhew and had a nice visit with him. He asked me if I would like to take a ride with him to survey some stores in a nearby town. As we rode along, he asked me if I would be interested in coming to Williamston and becoming General Manager of the Williamston Packing Company. I told him I did not see any potential. Mr. Rhew said they were looking for someone with the ability to put together a plant that could service an area from Norfolk, Richmond, Raleigh and Wilmington. This would cover a market of one hundred and fifty miles in all directions. I told him I was very much interested and that afternoon he set up a meeting with Mr. Griffin, the President of Williamston Packing Co. Mr. George Peele was Vice President and Lola Rodgerson , Mr. Peele's daughter was controller. It was a family business who also had Mrs. Rodgerson's daughter, Robin and son Billy employed. There were other employees that had been with the company for thirty years or more. Mr. Russell Griffin ran a large super market up the road from the plant. The company also owned another super market in town as well as a country curing ham plant on the other side of town. The main plant was located on one of two farms owned by the company and they had subdivided a parcel of land across from the plant which they divided into building lots and sold for home sites. The company had some cash and the prospects looked good to develop a nice size meat plant.
After meeting with Mr. Griffin I felt he was a man I could work with so I told him I would like to ride with one of the salesman and get a feel of what they were calling on. I felt that I could increase the volume in the accounts. I got up early the next day and rode with Mr. D. W. Jones, a good company man that had worked for the Williamston Packing Company for many years. He was not is good health and had to be very careful as to what he tried to do other than take orders. He had a long route that day starting at seven o'clock and after working in Washington, Vanceboro, New Bern, Low Lands and Arora we returned to the plant about six thirty. I drove back to Bay View and told Johnie I was interested in the prospects of building a plant with Mr. Griffin. He impressed me as being a straight forward man and he made me an offer stating that if I could get the business we would build the new plant by the end of the next year. This was August of 1978 and I told Johnie that we would have to move right away and I would begin my work as soon as I could give Valleydale my notice. Johnie wanted to come home by way of Williamston so she could look around. We found very few houses for sale so I contacted Linwood Boyd, a real estate agent, and he showed us a couple. Then he told us about a house that he had about six miles south of Williamston just off Route 17 in a place called Quail Haven. On our way there, Johnie and Linwood got to talking and found out that she had been a neighbor of his aunt. I thought before we arrived at the house that they would claim kinship. The house was two story and about two and a half years old. It contained a living room, dining room, den with a fireplace, a kitchen and half bath on the first floor. Upstairs was four bedrooms and a large bath with tub and shower. A nice size garage with stairs leading to an unfinished room above. It was a large lot with a number of trees and shrubs. Johnie said she just loved this house and if we could get it she would be willing to move. I told her I would do my best. I gave Linwood a check for five hundred dollars and told him I would take the house if we could sell our house in Chesapeake. We went home and the next day called Rachel Benzie, a real estate agent we had met some years ago. She sent out Margaret White to see us and give us a contract to sign. When she left we packed our bags for a trip to see Dallas and Bette. We had a nice visit and on the way home Johnie said she had a feeling that our house had been sold. As we came into the house the phone was ringing and it was Margaret White. She had been trying to get in touch with us because our house had been sold. Things were happening so fast that I could hardly believe it. I left for Williamston on Monday morning and began formulating plans to up our tonnage at the plant.
Their method of doing things was different from what we had done in a larger operation. They used a crew to kill the hogs and dress them in the afternoon. The next morning at five o'clock they would come in and cut the chilled carcass and pack the meat for delivery the same day. In a small operation this worked fine and the pork was as fresh as you could ever want it to be. At seven o'clock they would send one of the girls on the cutting line down to a lunch room and get breakfast for everyone. I saw another difference also in the method they used to get up orders and load trucks. After the orders were cut, they would take all the orders for one of their routes and write everything on a piece of paper. Then give one to several people. They in turn would take a flat and load the merchandise and hand it to the driver of the truck. No check was made, you could hand him anything and he accepted it as the merchandise for that delivery. I asked how often they took inventory and they said once a year. I had not heard of a system like that in all my life.
I first concentrated on volume. We had to have more tonnage if we were to stay in business. I started with Colonial Stores in Raleigh. I made an appointment with Mr. Register who had teen a good customer of Frosty Morn, telling him we would soon be a major supplier of pork and beef on that market. He gave me my first order for over a half truckload of merchandise. I knew I was on the right track. I went back to the plant and told them to up the whole kill. They thought I was out of my mind. I told them they would have to produce the merchandise if I was going to sell it for them. By the middle of September our house had closed out and we had moved into the new house at 109 Scenic Dr., Quail Haven, Williamston, N. C.