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Mannington Mills celebrates 90 years in flooring business

June 28, 2005
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SALEM - June 28 - (Courier-Post) - Ensconced in marsh grass at the end of a country road, Mannington Mills churns out resilient flooring 24 hours a day, at least five days a week.

It's an unlikely setting for a factory.

But then, Mannington prides itself on differentiating the company from the rest of the corporate pack, still family owned and selling only through independent flooring specialists rather than big-box home centers.

"If this plant was owned by a conglomerate, this would be a very different place," said Keith Campbell, chairman of the board and the fourth generation to lead the company. "Our family views Mannington Mills as a legacy rather than an asset."

Now marking its 90th year, the company is rolling out an aggressive strategy to grow through acquisition and new products, investing $40 million in expanding its hardwood floors operation. Campbell said Mannington expects to double its sales within the next seven years.

"We make the best stuff out there and that's what we're going to show in the marketplace," he said.

Campbell's great-grandfather, Scottish immigrant John Boston Campbell, founded the company in 1915, choosing this sleepy stretch because of its proximity to the railroad. The business is professionally managed - Tom Davis, who came up through the ranks, is chief executive officer - but the Campbells set the tone.

"We are phenomenally blessed to be here and we plan on staying and continuing to nurture this company," Campbell said.

Mannington is the only corporate headquarters in Salem County, the state's poorest, least-populated county. The plant employs 850 people; more than 300 have worked at Mannington for more than 25 years.

The sprawling complex includes an employee gym and cafeteria. Each Tuesday, the company store - the Flooring Emporium - opens so employees can purchase Mannington products at deep discounts.

"You'll see the wives coming in with their husbands to pick out what they need," said Betsy Amoroso, community relations manager.

Inside the bustling vinyl plant, crushed limestone and colored chips are blended in a giant mixing tank, heated and pressed into sheets and embossed on 12-foot-long rollers, like a printing press. The company also makes 12-inch-square flooring for commercial customers, including Target.

The housing boom has been a boon for Mannington, which has forged relationships with major builders, Amoroso said.

Most of the company's expansion will be at its southern operations in Alabama and North Carolina, which produce wood floors, laminates and commercial carpeting. Bamboo flooring is imported from China. But vinyl sheet goods still account for roughly half of the firm's sales.

Mannington also has broadened its public persons by providing flooring for some high-profile projects. The company supplied 5,000-square-feet of hardwoods in cherry and hand-scraped hickory for the 25th anniversary home on the PBS series This Old House.

Candace Olsen, host of HGTV's Divine Design, chose Mannington's resilient flooring in the Bombay pattern for a bathroom. The company donated flooring for the newly renovated Delaware Art Museum.

"It's not just that they're nice folks," said Sandy Montero, publisher of the trade journal Floor Covering Weekly. "It's that they're business people of good character, too."

He said Mannington's emphasis on style and design helps the company go toe to toe with competitors Armstrong and Mohawk.

Its latest line, the premium vinyl Realistique, is the company's most successful launch in nearly a decade.

Montero said Mannington has grown through a superior network of 33 distributors, who deliver products to independent retailers, many of them mom-and-pop stores.

"Staking a claim with the specialty flooring retailers has contributed to Mannington's tremendous growth," he said. "There are retailers whose fathers and grandfathers did business with Keith Campbell's father and grandfather." He said the company distinguished itself in the early 1990s when its much-heralded Mannington Gold flooring developed problems with wear and shrinkage.

"It was a real threat to the company but (then chairman) Johnny Campbell stood by the retailers and distributors and made good on the product," he said. "It was a bold statement and it won them a lot of loyalty."

Campbell, 51, is the youngest of Johnny's four children and the only son. He went to work for Mannington immediately after college.

"There were a lot of doors that were not opened for my sisters that were opened for me," he said.

The eldest of Campbell's three children is 20 and he isn't sure if any of them will be interested in the company. A nephew, 32-year-old lawyer Zach Zehner, has just joined the management team.

"I've advised my children to go to work for someone else first because if they're going to work for Mannington they have to bring something to the party," he said.

Campbell said the company is committed to remaining private so management doesn't have to answer to "the bow ties on Wall Street."

"We tend to control our own destiny," he said.

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