Celebration Corner: Mannington Mills' 100th anniversary

By Barbara Spector

The flooring manufacturer, based in Salem, N.J., kicked off a yearlong celebration with a black-tie gala in December. Numerous 2016 events are planned.

The Business: John B. Campbell, who immigrated to the United States from Scotland, bought an oilcloth manufacturer in Salem, N.J., and converted it to a maker of low-priced floor-covering products called linoleum rugs. According to company records, Campbell bought the business on Dec. 28, 1915.

"I couldn't have picked an odder date," says fourth-generation chairman Keith Campbell, noting the proximity to Christmas. In 1915, it fell on a Tuesday, he notes. "Why would you buy a business on the 28th of December on a Tuesday?" The reason, he speculates, was that "that's when the owner wanted to sell it, so that's when they did it." No information exists that further explains the timing or describes how the founder celebrated the acquisition, Keith Campbell says.

John B. Campbell's sons, Neil and Kenneth, joined him in the business, which was then called the John B. Campbell Manufacturing Co. The original facility was sold and replaced by a new plant—which was destroyed by a fire in 1924. The company rebuilt in a new location a half-mile away in Mannington Township, N.J. That plant also burned to the ground in 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression—a time when insurance companies were going bankrupt. Neil and Kenneth Campbell took second and third mortgages on their homes to finance the reconstruction, and insisted that contractors hire Mannington workers to help rebuild the plant.

Kenneth's son, John B. "Johnny" Campbell II—Keith Campbell's father—was raised in a home next door to the plant; visiting customers stayed with the family because there were no suitable hotels in the area. Johnny Campbell served as president of the company from 1956-69, and as chairman from 1969-91. Under his leadership, the first non-family CEO was hired in 1969; Mannington has had non-family CEOs ever since, except for a brief period in the early 1990s. The "separation of church and state," Keith Campbell says, is part of "our secret sauce as to how we make things run efficiently." The company also has an independent board of directors.

In 2008, to increase its business in the commercial arena, Mannington acquired Burke Industries, which produces rubber flooring tiles, wall base, treads and accessories; in 2012, it acquired Amtico International, a U.K.-based maker of vinyl flooring and tiles. Today, Mannington employs about 2,700 associates worldwide. The company has nine manufacturing locations in the U.S. and one in the U.K.

Keith Campbell succeeded his father as chairman in 1995, after working in several senior and management positions in the company. He attributes the company's success to several factors:

The ability to overcome extreme difficulties. Mannington survived the devastating 1931 fire and the travails of the Great Depression "by the sheer will of my great-uncle and my grandfather," Campbell says. In the 1990s, the business was able to recover from the failure of a much-touted new product line, Mannington Gold. The company released Mannington Gold before the product had been sufficiently tested. To honor its product guarantee, it had to replace some customers' floors multiple times, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in claims that necessitated a massive writeoff. "We recovered from that debacle in roughly five short years," Campbell says. "We resolved the problems, of course, [and] we did it with the highest amount of integrity."

An emphasis on technology and innovation. Johnny Campbell, according to his son, "believed that if you didn't innovate and press forward with new technologies, you were going to die." The third-generation leader's $1 million investment in a 12-foot-wide rotogravure printing process in 1957—a big gamble at the time—enabled Mannington to manufacture flooring for Armstrong. During Johnny Campbell's tenure, "Mannington went from being a rather sleepy little manufacturer into new areas of floor covering," his son says.

Commitment to company values. "We didn't have to go to a consulting firm to dream up some values for us; they were passed down through generations," Campbell says. "And those key values are embedded in virtually everything that we do and the decision-making process that we go about in conducting our business." The values, according to Campbell, are "doing the right thing, caring, controlling our own destiny, and working hard and playing hard."

The Family: Chairman Keith Campbell is the only fourth-generation member working at Mannington Mills. Three members of the fifth generation have joined the company: Zach Zehner, senior vice president of customer service and the distribution network; Ian Campbell, commercial business analyst; and John B. Campbell III, manager of enterprise analytics.

Keith Campbell's sister Carolyn Brown chairs the four-member family council, which was created in 2013. There are 32 family shareholders and 75 members of the wider family assembly, Brown says. There are different classes of company stock; as chairman, Keith Campbell controls the voting shares.

"I am honored to be part of the family council, which I think has really helped the company [enter] this next century," Brown says. "We've set up the framework to do that. We have a process to keep that going. The family has endorsed the council and is behind it, which is great. We communicate." One of the council's first activities was formalizing a family employment policy; currently, a major area of focus has been on educating the fifth and sixth generations about the company, Brown says. "We're rather new, but I think we've done a great deal in this short amount of time," she says.

The Celebration: Mannington kicked off a year of celebratory events with a black-tie gala at the National Constitution Center museum in Philadelphia on Dec. 28, 2015, the anniversary date. Attendees numbered about 450 and included family members, current and former company executives and directors, and key partners such as wholesale distributors, customers, bankers and advisers. Among the highlights of the evening was a keynote toast given by Ann C. "Buffy" Campbell, the 94-year-old mother of Campbell, Brown and their sisters Joan Eliot and Laura Campbell. "It was a wonderful evening, culminated with a bit of dancing at the end, and I'm told that Gen 5 then took the party on to the penthouse at the Hotel Monaco," a nearby hotel where out-of-town guests were housed, Keith Campbell says.

Brown notes that 95% of the family attended the gala. "The only folks that didn't make it were those that got the flu at the last minute," she says. Family members came from across the East Coast and as far away as California. Brown attributes the high turnout to the fact that the date—and the significance of a strong family presence—were communicated far in advance. "It was awkward, because it was the Monday after Christmas, and people had Christmas plans, but Keith wanted it on the date of the true anniversary," Brown says. "He said, 'When you celebrate a birthday, you don't do it the day after or the month after, you do it on the day,' so that's what we did." Company associates received a paid day off on December 28 and a $100 bonus contribution to their 401(k) accounts.

The late-December gala was followed in January 2016 with a lively party for about 3,500 at Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas, coinciding with Surfaces, the annual floor-covering trade show, and the International Builders' Show. "It was sort of the direct opposite of what the black-tie event was at the Constitution Center; it was raucous, it was fun," Campbell says. The original cast of the Jersey Boys performed at the event.

Thanking the customers was an important part of the anniversary plan, "because without our customers, we wouldn't exist," Campbell says. "Those customers are also family-owned firms; we do not sell to the big-box retailers on the residential side." Similarly, he says, most of the contractors that install Mannington floors are family businesses. "Our DNA is the same," he says.

Mannington's 20,000-square-foot booth at the trade show included an extra-large timeline display that featured historical photos and vintage products. In honor of the anniversary, the company launched its Centennial Collection, a line of throwback flooring designs. "These are looks that sort of have today's palette and style but are reminiscent of things that you would have seen back in the '20s and the '30s or the '50s," Campbell says.

Throughout 2016, centennial celebrations for employees and retirees will be held at all Mannington manufacturing and warehouse facilities in the U.S. and U.K. Activities will include picnics, a night at a AAA baseball game and a premiere showing of Race, a new film about Jesse Owens. Mannington executives and Campbell family members plan to attend the events.

Mannington also produced a documentary-style company history video, "The Mannington Story," featuring some key executives and members of the Campbell family. The film was sent via YouTube link to employees, customers and distributors. A theme of the film, Brown says, is "the values that the family has set, and how over the generations they have stayed with the family and are a really critical part of running the business." A history book is also in the works.

The company also released a music video starring about 1,000 Mannington associates from around the world, set to the tune of Bachman Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care of Business." The associates made cell-phone recordings of themselves on the job; the individual videos, shot from many different angles, were stitched together by a production company. The employee film was shown at the black-tie gala and the Las Vegas party.

The Planning: An event-planning company that Mannington has used for 25 years helped facilitate the December and January celebrations. The ideas for the two big events originated with company chairman Keith Campbell.

"You had a number of different things happening within a very contracted period of time," Campbell says. "We wanted to have a suitable event in Philadelphia that honored the company properly and formally, that would be black-tie fancy and fun. You know, it's not too often these days when we get dressed up like that. And so having that event for the family, and for the management, was very meaningful, and it was a proper way of doing it, and there is no better venue than the National Constitution Center, overlooking Independence Hall in Philadelphia. And then you turn around, and what was important for us was to share this and to say thank you to our customers."

Each company location formed its own committee to plan its celebration. Family council member Tom Smith was involved in planning the gala. Betsy Amoroso, the company's senior director of corporate communications, was heavily involved, as well.

Brown says she networked with owners of other large family companies that had celebrated their centennial anniversaries in advance of Mannington's milestone year. "I touched base with several of them and got ideas for how they [handled] gifts to customers and employees, and what kind of celebrations they had," she says.

The Response: Campbell and Brown received many notes and calls from attendees at the December and January events. "People were just overwhelmed with how well it was run, and how touching it was, and how it really brought the family together," Brown says of the black-tie gala.

The Salem County, N.J., Board of Chosen Freeholders honored the company and the Campbell family at its November 2015 meeting, and the company has been recognized by public officials and chambers of commerce at its other locations. "It's been a lot of fun; it's been just a great big wonderful birthday party," Keith Campbell says.

The celebration has had a financial payoff, as well, Campbell says. While the winter is generally the floor-covering industry's slowest season, Mannington's sales for early 2016 were "off to a phenomenal start," he says. "So if you can compute enthusiasm into top-line growth, we've been able to do that. If you can get the pedal moving forward in the first quarter of the year in our business, that is really good."

The Advice: Brown has this suggestion for families preparing to celebrate a milestone business anniversary: "First, get a committee together, and set your goals, and your budget, for what you want to do in that celebration. In our case, we've extended it over several events. Do you want one event? What is your theme; what is your purpose? Once you get that established, set a dollar mark, and then you can formulate your events around that. They don't have to be as grand, obviously, as what Mannington did. Mannington's a big company now, so that also has to be kept in mind. There are many ways to thank people and to celebrate."

Campbell urges family business owners to use their milestones as marketing opportunities. "Family businesses don't ever do enough to promote the fact that they're family-owned," he says.

In addition, Campbell advises, "Make the event enjoyable for everyone. Everyone in the company deserves the opportunity to celebrate."

Copyright 2016 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

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May/June 2016

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