531 Cotton Blossom Circle
Gastonia, North Carolina 28054-5245
Telephone: (704) 874-5000
Toll Free: (800) 331-1843
Fax: (704) 874-5175
Web site: http://www.parkdalemills.com
Sales: $940 million (2017 est.)
NAICS: 313110 Fiber, Yarn, and Thread Mills; 315990 Apparel Accessories and Other Apparel Manufacturing
Privately held and based in Gastonia, North Carolina, Parkdale Mills, Inc., is the world's largest producer of spun yarns. Production methods include open-end spinning, ring spinning, air-jet, and Vortex technology. The company uses a wide variety of fibers, including cotton, polyester, acrylic, rayon, nylon, modal, Tencel, fiberglass, advanced materials, and blends. The resulting weaving yarn is used to make denim, towels, and home furnishings. Parkdale's knitting yarn produces socks, underwear, T-shirts, fleece and French terry, jersey, sirospun, and performance fabrics.
The company's specialty yarn division creates specialized products for customers in the fashion apparel and technical textile fields. The subsidiary U.S. Cotton, LLC, manufactures and distributes cotton and branded and private-label cotton products for the health and beauty-aid markets, including balls and puffs, swabs, cosmetic foam shapes, and medical-quality swabs and absorbent rolls and balls. Parkdale maintains about a dozen production facilities in North Carolina, as well as plants in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. International operations are located in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico.
Parkdale Mills was founded in 1916 by J. Lee Robinson, J. H. Separk, and a group of seven investors. Two years later, the company opened its first plant, capable of producing 425 tons of thread yarn per year. The company performed well but in 1930 faced the challenge of the Great Depression as well as consolidation in the local textile industry. A group of 14 North Carolina textile mills joined forces to create Textiles, Inc. The combination met resistance from the government, which filed suit in 1930 to prevent the union on antitrust grounds. The following year, however, Textiles, Inc., received regulatory approval.
One of the directors of Textiles was Separk. According to Mildred Gwin Andrews's book The Men and the Mills: A History of the Southern Textile Industry, “There was quite a squabble then among the stockholders as to whether Parkdale should participate. After Lee Robinson's suicide, the Robinson family finally secured control of Parkdale, refused the merger plan, and turned its management over to Fred L. Smyre, Sr., brother-in-law of Mr. Robinson.”
Bill Robinson, the son of Parkdale's cofounder, served as chief executive officer. Having no son of his own, Robinson found a protégé in W. Duke Kimbrell. Named after Duke Power, where his father proudly worked for many years, Kimbrell grew up just six miles from Parkdale's main office. At the age of 14, during the height of the Depression, he began working at the company during summer vacations, sweeping the floors and performing other odd jobs. Eventually, he caught the attention of Robinson. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, Kimbrell enrolled at North Carolina State University, majoring in textiles at the advice of Robinson. After graduation in 1949, Kimbrell received several job offers, but he decided to take less money and join Parkdale, where he knew no one his age held a college degree, giving him an advantage for advancement. Moreover, after surviving the war as a bomber gunner, Kimbrell was eager to return home to Gastonia.
Kimbrell's relationship grew closer with Robinson, who began to view the young man as a surrogate son. Kimbrell assumed an increasing amount of responsibility, due in large measure to Robinson's deteriorating health. Kimbrell ended his workday at Robinson's home, reviewing the day's activities. Kimbrell was essentially running the mill but lacked the requisite title. In 1957 Robinson asked Kimbrell to look after his wife and daughter after he died. Kimbrell agreed, provided he was promoted from vice president to president of the company. Robinson passed in 1961, and both men lived up to their end of the bargain they struck.
When Kimbrell fully took the reins, Parkdale remained a single mill operation, employing 150 and generating annual sales of $7 million. The company had always been willing to invest in new equipment and methods to boost production, but Kimbrell harbored loftier ambitions. Not only did he want to build and acquire new mills, he wanted to be rewarded for his efforts with stock in the company. By then, Parkdale stock was divided among more than 100 descendants of the company's nine founders and they refused to relinquish any. In 1964 Kimbrell managed to secure permission to build a second mill in Gastonia, which opened two years later. The board also agreed to allow him to acquire older mills and modernize them. On the side, Kimbrell set up and operated mills for Parkdale's largest customer, underwear maker BVD, saved his earnings, and bided his time.
After a decade of serving as president, Kimbrell had quadrupled Parkdale's production. In 1971 he finally gained some equity as part of the purchase of Erlanger Mills, based in Lexington, North Carolina. The arrangement was contingent on the profitability of the new mill, an achievement that was far from certain with the country nearing a recession. Kimbrell also recognized the growing danger posed by foreign competition, which was rapidly making inroads in knit fabrics, the largest end user for yarn mills such as Parkdale. He was never, however, averse to taking a risk. There was new equipment available that could produce yarn less expensively, and in 1972 Kimbrell made the decision to invest in a massive upgrade. Parkdale became the first independent yarn spinner in the United States to install the new equipment and as a result gained an edge on imported yarn.
In 1982 Kimbrell was finally in a position to gain control of Parkdale. He teamed up with Robinson's daughter, Douglas Robinson Henry, and her husband, George Henry, to acquire the company in a leveraged buyout in which they borrowed $47.5 million from a group of banks. Kimbrell and the couple became equal partners in Parkdale Holding Co.
Kimbrell embarked on an aggressive expansion plan and paid back the banks sooner than expected. At the time, mills across the South were closing, unable to withstand the influx of foreign-made yarn. As a result, Kimbrell was able to acquire mills at distressed prices and then use his operational expertise to make them profitable. Parkdale was not, however, immune to poor economic conditions. In 1990 it lost money, prompting the company to cut shifts but only temporarily.
By now, an heir apparent had emerged at Parkdale, Kimbrell's son-in-law Anderson Warlick. He had joined the company in 1984 after earning a business degree from The Citadel and a stint working at South Carolina manufacturer Milliken & Company. When Warlick came to Parkdale, the company was operating six plants. As vice president and chief financial officer, Warlick played a key role in the company's rapid expansion. In 1989 he was named the company's president and over the course of the next decade he was groomed to succeed Kimbrell as CEO.
By the mid-1990s Parkdale increased annual revenues to about $400 million. In 1996 the company expanded further with the acquisition of three Dominion Yarn Corp. plants in Landis, North Carolina. An even larger transaction was completed in June 1997 when all of the assets of Unifi, Inc., based in Greensboro, North Carolina, were combined with Parkdale's open-end and air-jet spinning assets to create joint venture Parkdale America, LLC. Kimbrell was well familiar with the Unifi mills. They were the foundation of Vintage Yarns Inc., established as one of his side ventures in 1982. It performed so well that publicly traded Unifi, a maker of synthetic materials, paid $279 million in stock for the mills in 1993. Unifi soon regretted the decision and eagerly returned the operations to the control of Kimbrell and Warlick. As 66 percent owner of the joint venture, Parkdale took over management responsibilities and the resulting yarns were sold under the Parkdale brand. One of the Unifi mills was shut down, but the others were successfully turned around.
In the fall of 1997 Parkdale entered the Mexican market through a joint venture with Burlington Industries. A mill was opened in Morales, Mexico, to supply a Burlington plant in the area. In the meantime, a pair of expansions at two of Parkdale's Virginia plants came on line. As a result of this and other developments, Parkdale's revenues approached $1 billion in 1998.
With Kimbrell serving as chairman and Warlick handling day-to-day affairs as chief executive, Parkdale entered the new century. It soon had to contend with a downturn in the economy, forcing the closure of three plants by early 2003. The company continued to operate 28 other mills, including 8 in the Gastonia area. Because of high operating costs and stiff competition, Parkdale closed two additional mills, in Landis and Belmont, North Carolina, later that year.
Foreign competition devastated North Carolina's textile industry, resulting in the closure of numerous plants and the loss of thousands of jobs. Parkdale closed its share of underperforming operations, but it fared far better than most, due in part to its international operations. In 2006 it also acquired mills in Alexander City and Rockford, Alabama. By 2008 the company was operating 24 plants in 4 countries.
In January 2008 Parkdale achieved a measure of diversity by acquiring U.S. Cotton, based in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Established in 1983, U.S. Cotton was a major supplier of cotton-based private-label consumer products to U.S. and Canadian retail drugstore chains and also made products for health care, pharmaceutical, and industrial applications. The company maintained manufacturing and distribution facilities in Rio Rancho; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cleveland, Ohio; and Montreal, Canada. Not only did U.S. Cotton provide Parkdale with a new revenue stream, it provided complementary technology. U.S. Cotton made use of some of the world's most efficient manufacturing processes. In October 2009 Parkdale completed a more typical acquisition than U.S. Cotton. It added three yarn manufacturing operations of Hanesbrands, Inc.
As the second decade of the 21st century neared, Parkdale grew organically. In early 2010 it announced a $3 million investment to expand a manufacturing plant in Edgefield County, South Carolina. Also in South Carolina in 2010, Parkdale purchased a building in Cherokee County, with plans to open a new yarn plant at the end of the year. Parkdale added to its Georgia operations in 2014. A 750,000-square-foot former Hanesbrands plant in Rabun Gap, Georgia, was upgraded, the new technology permitting the production of polyester/cotton blended yarn for use in the performance wear sector. In September 2014 Parkdale acquired full ownership of a textile mill, Summit Yarns, which it had co-owned in Mexico since 1997. The following month, Parkdale experienced a personal loss, as Kimbrell passed away at the age of 89. He left behind a company with 3,600 employees and approximately $934 million in annual sales, a far cry from the 200 employees and $11 million in sales when he assumed the presidency in 1961.
U.S. Cotton, LLC.
Kurabo Industries Ltd.; National Spinning Co., Inc.; Pharr Yarns, LLC; Unifi, Inc.
Andrews, Mildred Gwin. The Men and the Mills: A History of the Southern Textile Industry. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987, 367 p.
DePriest, Joe. “Gaston County Textile Executive Duke Kimbrell Dies at Age 89.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, October 22, 2014.
Gillespie, G. R. “Parkdale Mill Ends First 25 Years of Achievement.” Gastonia Daily Gazette (Rockingham, NC), February 20, 1941.
Hopkins, Stella M. “Cotton Kings.” Charlotte (NC) Observer, November 16, 1997.
McMillan, Alex Frew. “The Spin Meister: Yarn Maker Parkdale Mills' Route to No. 2 on the List Revolves around Duke Kimbrell's Penchant for Acquisition.” Business North Carolina, October 1998.
“Parkdale Mills Buys U.S. Cotton.” Mount Airy (NC) News, January 9, 2008.
Payton, Kathy. “The Thread of Change: How Duke Kimbrell Keeps Putting a New Spin on King Cotton.” Business North Carolina, January 1992.