A company that has been a fixture in White County history for more than a century recently celebrated its 125th anniversary.
Below is the entire address from Les Tubb that was presented to those in attendance.
“The abundant supplies of skilled woodcrafters - we don’t call them employees - from this area have always been a competitive advantage,” Tubb said. “A long-term company must know and respect its people.”
Les Tubb’s complete address to the attendees will be posted on SpartaLive.
My dad liked this quote: “Wood is wonderful. Never before, since the dawn of time, has there been another piece of wood exactly like any of the ones that belong to you; and never again, throughout all the ages to come, will there ever again be another piece of wood exactly like it.”
I think The Carpenter from Nazareth would also like this quote. He created wood. Each piece of wood is as unique as a snowflake, or a fingerprint, or each person here today. Wood is wonderful.
Thanks for helping us celebrate SWW’s 125th birthday. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic we could not invite the whole community. You are an elite group. We plan to invite the whole community to our 150th celebration scheduled for 2046.
Today is a rare event. I bet you have never been invited to a 125th birthday party. Businesses just don’t usually live this long. About 33% fail in 2 years; 50% in 5 years; 66% in 10 years; 75% in 15 years (there were no statistics on 125-year-old businesses).
I once heard a song at a lumber seminar in Cashiers, NC. It described my situation perfectly. “My daddy’s daddy’s daddy was a sawmill man.” Translated, my great-grandfather (JR Tubb) was a woodworker. James Tubb could say the same thing. JR Tubb had a dream in 1896, he planted the seed, it became Sparta Spoke Factory, and today it has grown into SWW.
Today, I’m not going to tell our history, I’m going to tell our story.
Our story is not about maximizing profits, beating the competition, or exploiting people. Our story is much more noble – it’s about being useful to society. Our story is about helping neighbors solve problems – specifically woodworking problems.
Since April, my LinkedIn posting received 1,060 views. I said,
Sparta WoodWorks celebrates its 125th birthday this year. That is 1.25 centuries of woodworking excellence – from wagon spokes to a world of wonderful creations from wood.
I am often asked about the secret of our longevity. After all, 80% of new businesses never survive their 10th birthday. I believe the secret is summarized in the “7 P’s”: unchanging principles, skilled people, quality products, flexible processes, healthy profits, hardy perseverance, and God’s providence.
Our quest is to continue finding new ways to be useful.
Today, I would like to elaborate on the 7 P’s. Maybe these thoughts will help another organization, or a person, live a little longer and better.
What is the secret of SWW’s longevity? Here are possible reasons.
P1 - unchanging principles.
Today I will at times quote from my article in Heritage of White County, TN, 1809-1999.
“In a continually changing world, a company must be steered by a compass of ageless principles. These include quality, service, value, doing what’s right, doing the best one can, and treating people the way one wants to be treated.”
Our founder, JR Tubb, had a deep commitment to Christian principles. In 1913 he wrote to his customers, “As in the past we shall continue to do business on high and honorable lines observing as best we can the Golden Rule.”
I agree. I believe the best source of business principles is the Bible. I have read many business books, but I have found that Proverbs is the best business book ever written.
It is good to have my favorite aunt, Pinkie (Tubb) Hill, here today. Her daddy’s daddy was a sawmill man. I asked Aunt Pinkie why this company has lasted 125 years. She said it was because both management and workers were honest. She should know. She is the oldest surviving employee, having been connected to the company for 98 years. Talk about longevity.
P2 - skilled people.
“The abundant supplies of skilled woodcrafters (we don’t call them employees) from this area have always been a competitive advantage. A long-term company must know and respect its people.”
Many exceptional people are included in the SWW’s “Hall of Fame.”
JR Tubb III once described the people of SWW: “They came from the stock who came over the mountains with a rifle, a Bible and an axe, and carved out homes from the towering hardwood forests of the Highland Rim. They know and love fine woods. They and their ancestors harvested it, used it, worked it into useful and beautiful things with simple hand tools and a skill that has passed down from generation to generation.”
Today, we stand on the shoulders of hundreds of great woodworkers whose accomplishments have gone beyond SWW.
This is a small sample of the exceptional people that have contributed to SWW’s success over the past 125 years. People truly are our most important asset.
P3 - quality products.
In 1939, before WW2, JR Tubb Jr wrote. “For the past 43 years we have consistently maintained a superior quality of merchandise at fair, but attractive prices. At the same time we have also rendered to our customers prompt and efficient service.”
In 1943 the company was visited by the largest delegation of government officials to ever visit Sparta. Fifteen officials from the US Lend-Lease Division, War Production Board, and US Treasury Department held a clinic and studied the company’s manufacturing methods to learn why it was the only company in the nation to have a perfect inspection record during the war.
“A company must make quality products that people want to buy and that serve a useful purpose to society. Companies must know their customers and adapt to the ever-changing needs of the marketplace. All products have life cycles and advance through the phases of growth, maturity, and decline. SWW has been flexible enough to adjust its product line from spokes, then wagon/carriage parts, then TV dimension, then director chairs, then custom furniture components, and now hummingbird houses – actually we now make a variety of specialty wood products.”
P4 - flexible processes.
“A successful company must wisely use its means to accomplish worthy ends. Methods must be improved continuously to satisfy customers with minimal waste of land, labor, and capital. “New today, obsolete tomorrow” is certainly true. Continually renewing processes keeps an old company young and healthy.”
Don’t judge this company by its old, rusty buildings. (Dad’s philosophy was to exercise caution with new buildings & equipment. He had seen too many competitors with pretty facilities go bankrupt. It’s smarter to invest in people.) Inside these rusty buildings is a remarkable woodworking operation. It is a diamond in the rough. Rough in appearance, priceless in performance.
May I brag about what our team of woodcrafters have achieved under the leadership of Jay Dee Hanna? Jay Dee is a trusted friend and very effective top manager of the company. For years, this old company has maintained a performance record unequalled in the woodworking industry. Our quality product performance is 99%; our on-time shipment performance is 99%. Thank you, Jay Dee. Thanks to you team.
P5 - healthy profits.
“Profits are essential to survival, but must not be the goal of a long-term business. Profits are a by-product of doing the right things well. The real bottom line of a business is its top line – have we lived by our principles. Profits must be gained honorably and used wisely to balance the current and future needs of a business. A company must know its costs, keep debt low, and store up in the years of plenty to survive the inevitable years of famine.”
P6 - hardy perseverance.
“A long-term company must be skilled at turning stumbling blocks into steppingstones. In the face of trouble, a company must be optimistic about the future and have the attitude that when one door closes, another door will be opened.”
Ernest White observed how people handle problems, “Some look for an excuse; others look for a way.”
SSW has always found a way to deal with its countless obstacles, such as depressions, recessions, burn outs, or pandemics.
P7 - God’s providence.
Here is the real reason for our longevity. God’s grace.
“God is the source of all blessings, including those that have allowed SWW to exist for 125 years. He is the source of the quality people that have positively shaped the company, the prime hardwoods that were transformed into prime products, and the energy that powers the machinery. Any company will end when it has served His purposes. A successful company acknowledges its true Hero and keeps an attitude of gratitude.”
These 7 P’s help to explain why SWW’s timeline has now touched 3 centuries.
I want to conclude by pointing out one more essential element.
A business is like a tree. A tree lives within an ecosystem. A tree in downtown Nashville will live 15 years. That same tree in Sparta will live 150 years. A tree’s longevity depends on its ecosystem.
A business lives within an ecosystem. Their ecosystem includes owners, customers, woodcrafters, suppliers, competitors, a community, & God. The more supportive its ecosystem, the higher the probability that a business can live a long time.
SWW is thankful that it has had a supportive habitat in which to practice the 7 P’s. And we are thankful that we have been able to support that habitat by being a good neighbor.
What is the SWW story? Our story is about being a good neighbor – about helping neighbors solve woodworking problems. Helping neighbors is the best strategy for longevity.
I am tempted to conclude with, “Like a good neighbor, Sparta WoodWorks is there.” But someone might sue me.
Maybe it’s better just to say “Thank you” for being a good neighbor to us. And thanks for being part of our story today.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here