DOBSON – All the bad economic news caused in these regions over the years by NAFTA, COVID and perhaps other misfortunes with acronyms can obscure the fact that there are success stories to be told.
One such story unfolded Friday at the 26th annual meeting of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership around a local business, Leonard Buildings and Truck Accessories.
“You walk past Leonard almost every day,” Partnership Chairman Todd Tucker told about 120 businesses, local governments and other officials gathered at the Surry County Service Center, referring to the Mount-based company. Airy.
“Do you really know what they are doing?” Tucker added.
That question was fully answered by Leonard General Manager Mike Pack, Friday’s keynote speaker. Annual meetings typically include these people talking about how their businesses thrive in chaos while positioning themselves for growth, along with insights into how it’s all accomplished.
“We love to say great things are happening at Leonard, and we love to share our story,” Pack said of his success.
Since its inception in 1963, Leonard Buildings and Truck Accessories has grown into a leading manufacturer of storage sheds, trailers and of course truck accessories, as the name suggests, including being the largest stockist of truck covers in the United States.
“Pretty cool, huh? Pack pointed out. “I’m biased, but I think we have a pretty cool story.”
Even those unfamiliar with the company may be familiar with the Leonard label often seen on trailers or truck covers traveling the highways near and far, all made in Mount Airy, with 41% its activity consisting of accessories for trucks.
Leonard Buildings and Truck Accessories employs 560 people in five southeastern states, including 70 stores.
“We’re going to cross the 600 threshold this year,” Pack announced to the audience on Friday in Dobson.
Sold on Surry
The late Tyson Leonard started the operation in the 1960s and he and his wife Sandra sold it in 2015, when the company had 400 employees – 150 of them locally – and 56 outlets.
It is now owned by a private equity firm.
Pack joined Leonard Buildings and Truck Accessories in 2017 from Denver, Colorado after spending 22 years with the Advance Auto Parts retail chain as a division president before taking on his new role locally.
At first he had the idea that the business should be relocated to Charlotte or some other big city, but then two things happened.
“I fell in love living in Surry County,” a transplant Colorado resident said of one.
The other was a realization of what Pack called an “incredible” amount of talent the Surry company was able to attract, including many people with MBAs.
Operating in a county with relatively low taxes compared to high-population, high-tax metropolitan areas also gives Leonard a competitive advantage, according to its CEO.
Leonard’s closest competitor in the United States has only 17 locations. “So we think we’re kind of on an island,” Pack said.
These factors have convinced Leonard leaders that they can and should expand further south and west.
“We believe we can build a national organization from here in Surry County,” Pack said of the operation which already enjoys a leading position in the South East.
That includes building more stores and acquiring existing businesses toward a goal of 150 locations as part of its long-term plan while growing into an industry in its own right, Pack said.
Leonard opened 10 new outlets last year and five acquisitions are now “in the pipeline”, he revealed.
One factor that has bolstered its storage shed segment is the result of the unfortunate pandemic with more people stuck at home and wanting to engage in DIY projects.
“It really plays into the storage area,” Pack said of the need for more space that it created.
All about the basics
No magic is responsible for the growth of Leonard Buildings and Truck Accessories, Detailed Pack.
It mainly starts with good people and a business philosophy reflecting a local flavor based on customer service and quality products.
“Character matters with Leonard,” Pack said. “We expect results.”
At the same time, the company’s employees have the latitude to shape its operation by being encouraged to come up with what the CEO called “creative solutions”.
Other keys include upgrading production equipment and an agile supply chain.
“We have a great model,” Pack summed up.
He thinks the future is bright, not just for Leonard, but for other properly aligned companies.
“We believe there is going to be a post-COVID economic resurgence,” Pack explained, offering challenges with technology, personnel and other ingredients, but also opportunities for great success. “We believe the companies with the best culture will win this battle.”