In 1928 the floundering Carolina Cotton Mills in Maiden was acquired and, through sound organization and wise acquisition of other plants, the business became an industry leader in yarn manufacturing.
At the time of the actual organization, Carolina Cotton Mills was in such financial difficulty that there seemed no alternative but to go into receivership. It was in the middle 1920's that several experienced and well-known businessmen were approached to become receivers, but all refused.
Finally, through the mill's attorney, Thomas P. Pruitt, a Hickory merchant was persuaded to accept the responsibility.
J. A. Moretz operated a clothing store in Hickory, but he had never seen the inside of a cotton mill. Being an able businessman, Moretz took hold using good business judgment which is the same whether operating a store or a complex mill. He left technical operations to men who had the know-how for that phase of operation - men such as W. L. Heffner, who was general superintendent then and remained in that capacity until his retirement in 1948.
Moretz also put into immediate practice his belief that no successful enterprise can be built unless both employer and employees recognize each is dependent on the other. He believed when enterprise prospers, everybody prospers and when enterprise loses, everybody loses.
In 1928 an experienced textile operator was the defunct mill's principal creditor, Julius W. Abernethy, who, along with Moretz and Pruitt, bought the plant and called the new company Carolina Mills. The new enterprise was hardly established when the stock market crashed in 1929, but it survived the long depression of the 1930's under Moretz' management.
Moretz managed the company until his death in August 1942 when the job was taken over by his son and assistant for 13 years, Leonard Moretz.
During the early years of Carolina Mills, the machinery and plants were in such poor condition the company could not operate with the degree of efficiency needed to compete in the textile trade. Modernization necessitated company changes.
For several years the scant earnings of the little Maiden mill were put back into the company replacing obsolete machinery. In 1938 the company was able to acquire the Catawba Cotton Mills in Newton at which time its old machinery was liquidated and a new operation begun when machinery and equipment of Kauga Manufacturing Company in Lexington was acquired and moved to the Newton mill.
The upward-spiral in building and textile machinery costs during the years of World War II prohibited further expansion.
Management continued to believe that diversification was a means of strengthening the structure of the company to insure its steady, successful operation.
In 1947 the New City Mills Company, a canton flannel producer, merged with Carolina Mills through an exchange of stock. At the same time the machinery and production facilities of the Abernethy Manufacturing Company in Laurinburg and the Knit Fabrics Company in Hickory were acquired in the same manner and moved to Newton.
Three years later in 1950 Anchor Mills Company in Huntersville was purchased by J. W. Abernethy who offered the enterprise to Carolina Mills at his purchase price.
However at that time, Carolina Mills did not have the surplus money to buy the sizable Huntersville mill. Considering the offer, the stockholders of Carolina Mills sold sufficient new stock to raise the necessary capital to buy Anchor Mills. Most of the company's stockholders bought the new stock but 41 new investors were taken in, increasing the number of stockholders to 83.
The next addition to the company came about in March 1959 when Carolina Mills and Glenn Mills of Lincolnton merged through an exchange of stock. This brought the number of spindles operated by Carolina Mills to 42,838.
Julius W. Abernethy served as president of the company from the time of organization in 1928 until 1960. Although he was not active in day-to-day management while president, he was vitally concerned with the financial programs of the company and personally responsible for acquisitions of new properties through both purchase and mergers.
When Abernethy retired from presidency, Leonard Moretz moved up to that position from the position of general manager. Abernethy continued to serve as chairman of the board until November 1976, at which time Moretz was elected chairman and served until his death in August 1977.
Carolina Mills continued to expand and in April 1961 bought Trenton Mills which had locations in Gastonia and Statesville and in December purchased Carolina Fine Fabrics in Hickory.
In 1967 one of the most modern textile plants in existence was constructed off Highway 321 near Maiden. The Julius W. Abernethy Plant was one of the few completely new spinning plants in the area that was engineered and built from the ground up. The plant contained 161,00 square feet of floor space. It was built at a cost of 4.5 million dollars and housed production of 150,000 pounds of yarn weekly.
Keeping up with modernization and to progressively serve the Sales Yarn Market with high quality products and meet the demands for diversified yarns, a revolutionary innovation in the area of spun yarns called Open End Spinning was installed in the plant behind the main offices in Maiden in late 1972 and early 1973 and also later added at the Newton plants.
In 1976 Edward P. Schrum was elected president of the company. He was the third chief executive officer of the company in nearly 50 years. Under his leadership, the A.M. Smyre Company in Ranlo and Null Manufacturing Corporation in Maiden were acquired. He remained president until he retired in 2001.
Moving into the 1980's, Carolina Mills ventured into two basic product lines: textiles and furniture.
In textiles the company was known for quality in a diverse line of yarns and fabrics: sales yarn for apparel and home furnishings, canton flannel for work gloves, tubular knit finishing and upholstery fabrics.
In furniture the company's wholly owned subsidiary Null Manufacturing Corporation, which became CM Furniture, built a reputation for craftsmanship as a maker of upholstered furniture and solid wood occasional tables.
Through the years the employees have always been a main concern with the company. The company as far back as 1934 inaugurated one of the first hospitalization and insurance plans for employees and in 1942 set up a retirement plan. A profit sharing plan was begun in 1964. A Credit Union was chartered in 1974. Since that time assets have grown over four million dollars with 1,934 members.
As a side note, the Carolina Mills Employee Credit Union separated from the company in 2006 and merged with Financial Partners Credit Union. In 2009, Financial Partners Credit Union merged with United Services Credit Union. In 2013 United Services Credit Union merged with Self Help Credit Union. Through a series of mergers, acquisitions, and new branch launches, Self-Help Credit Union and Self-Help Federal Credit Union together have forged a network of over 60 branches and offices serving more than 154,400 members in seven states.
A forerunner in the field of employee relations, Carolina Mills maintained top wages and benefits to help each employee as a person of dignity and responsibility. Since the beginning, Carolina Mills has had two definite policies from which they have not varied: First, to manufacture the finest product possible and, second, to share with employees any financial success attained.
Among the many benefits were the Profit Sharing Plan, paid for entirely by the company. As far back as 1942 the company established the retirement plan...the first textile company in the south to do so. Carolina Mills was, and still is, concerned with not only the company's future, but that of the employees as well.
In 1934, the company inaugurated one of the first hospital insurance plans for employees. This insurance program was begun because many of the employees were being denied hospital treatment since the hospitals feared their inability to pay the bills. The country was still climbing back from the depression of the early 30's and money was scarce. In the 2000's the program provided free hospital insurance for all employees, plus the opportunity to cover their families at a nominal cost. In addition, the company had seven industrial nurses whose job it was to help employees maintain good health.
Carolina Mills maintained one of the highest wage scales for this region in the textile industry. In addition to base wages for the various jobs, bonuses were also available. In a three-shift operation, it is vital to staff all jobs on all shifts; therefore a 10% shift bonus was paid to employees for work performed on the second and third shifts to help offset inconveniences cased by these work hours. Also a 10% attendance bonus was paid weekly to employees who worked all of their scheduled hours. In addition, there was a group incentive bonus with a possibility of 20% extra on each week's earnings, which allowed the employees to share in the successful operation of their plant. Employees received two weeks' vacation with pay, in addition to five paid holidays. Also, a Christmas bonus was awarded to all employees.
Ed Schrum when asked the reason the company has been successful said, "Above everything else, our success is due to our people. We can replace buildings and equipment. Our products can change to meet demands. But to be successful, we must depend on the loyal service and skills of all the people who make up Carolina Mills."
In 1998 Carolina Mills acquired Rhyne Mills from Lincolnton NC and several Burlington Mills plants in St Pauls NC. The acquisitions added several specialty brands to the Carolina Mills product line-up - most notably Cool Max, Hydrotec and Hydropur.
In the early 2000's, Carolina Mills was a broad operation consisting of 2,500 people and composed of nine spinning plants, two weaving plants, one finishing and dying plant, and one furniture manufacturing facility. Sales offices were located at the corporate headquarters in Maiden and in New York City. Carolina Mills was a company with over 100 million dollars in sales and a total employment of approximately 2,500 people. Over 27 percent of the employees had been with the company for more than ten years.
In 2001 Steve Dobbins became president of Carolina Mills and remained in that position until he retired in late 2012. During this time, the company saw many suppliers and customers go out of business due to rising energy prices and lower-cost operators in China. The domestic textile/apparel industry employed nearly 1.6 million workers in 1994; but by early 2006 the number was roughly 500,000 and headed much lower. China's share of the U.S. clothing market was soaring toward 50 percent, up from 16 percent only 18 months previous, when quotas expired. Due to the downward spiral of the textile market, Carolina Mills closed all manufacturing locations by the end of 2006 as the company sought to reinvent itself as a specialty manufacturer. As an employer that valued their employees, the downsize was a difficult decision but necessary for the continuation of the company.
Carolina Mills still operates out of the original Maiden NC location and, with a much smaller employee base, still has millions of sales per year in specialty yarns.
Carolina Maiden Silhouette Story
Back in the early 30's most sales yarns were handled through commission houses in New York, Philadelphia, etc. who actually bought the yarn and resold it. A number of times some of our friends wanting to buy our yarns specified to the commission houses that they wanted Carolina spinning. The commission houses delivered any spinning that was secured in the Carolinas and claimed they were fulfilling the customer's requirements. To be more specific, the customers then started calling for Carolina Maiden Spinning to make sure they got yarns spun by Carolina Mills in Maiden, North Carolina. Knowing this, Mr. Leonard Moretz felt it would be interesting to utilize the Carolina Maiden trade name by using a silhouette with the profile of a girl, or young maiden, on our letterhead.
Mr. Moretz's mother was quite artistic, so he asked her to sketch a profile of a girl to be used for this purpose. She shifted the responsibility to her three daughters who were still at home. Rather than draw a sketch, they resorted to the photography book to find a side view that would be suitable. The first profile they found in the photograph album was Mr. Moretz's youngest sister, Martha, so this was cut around with scissors and used for the silhouette, or trademark, became more positively identified with the operation of Carolina Mills its use spread to our packing cases, cone labels, envelopes, trucks, etc.
In 1967 a firm of attorneys in Charlotte was hired to register the trademark. Protection for the exclusive use of the silhouette in the textile field as our trademark was obtained, and we started using the "R" to show that the silhouette was registered. The final certification from the patent office was received in February, 1970.
Things Unique To Carolina Mills:
First major installation of shuttleless looms in the U.S. (1961)
Among first U.S. textile companies to install open end spinning (early 1970's)
One of the first companies to provide hospitalization insurance for employees (1934)
Employee-owned credit union with assets of more than $1 million
Recipient of state and national awards for free enterprise program
Among top 10 textile companies in return on total equity and return on invested capital over five-year period. (Source: Kurt Salmon Associates, Inc.)
Completion of $8.5 million ultra-modern furniture manufacturing plant.