My July trip took me back in time. Not the Back to the Future type of time traveling, although that would make for a really great blog, (and that movie does predict a Cubs World Series win in 2015.) My trip back in time took me to North Carolina; a bit of time travel in a couple of ways.
If you read this blog monthly, you may remember that I was in both North and South Carolina just a few short months ago. So why the trip back so soon? Well, of course, the southern hospitality is always a draw, but more importantly, Jim Smith at McMahon Truck Leasing, a NationaLease Member, asked me to attend a meeting of their operations management team and share some of our training with them. Their group met in Charlotte at the company headquarters, and I was happy to spend a few hours with the operations staff and review the NationaLease Reciprocal Service system with them. Reciprocal Service is truly the cornerstone of NationaLease and the very reason the organization began in 1944. Because of the importance of Reciprocal Service, I am always willing to give a refresher to our members and remind them how NationaLease is uniquely able to provide best-in-class service to all of our customers through this system.
After meeting with the McMahon team in Charlotte, I headed north to Winston-Salem. My hotel was in the Old Salem area of town, and I could see by the signs and structures that it was a very historic area. In fact, all of Winston-Salem has a very interesting and unique history.
The origin of the town of Salem dates to January 1753, when missionaries for the Moravian Church selected the area as a settlement site. The town was later given the name “Salem” from the Hebrew “shalom” which means “peace.” In 1849, the Salem congregation sold some of their land to the newly formed Forsyth County for a county seat, which was named for a local hero of the Revolutionary War, Joseph Winston. For its first two decades, Winston was a sleepy country town, but in 1868, Thomas Jethro Brown established the first tobacco warehouse in Winston, and Pleasant Henderson Hanes built his first tobacco factory a few feet from Brown’s warehouse. In 1875, Richard Joshua Reynolds, built his first tobacco factory a few hundred feet from Hanes’s factory. By the 1880s, there were almost 40 tobacco factories in the town of Winston. Hanes and Reynolds competed fiercely for 25 years, each absorbing a number of the smaller manufacturers, until Hanes sold out to Reynolds in 1900 to begin a second career in textiles. The two towns were officially incorporated as “Winston-Salem” in 1913.
The early industries of tobacco and textiles continued to be the primary economic drivers for the town for many years. By the 1940s, 60% of Winston-Salem workers worked either for Reynolds or in the Hanes textile factories. In 1929, the Reynolds Building was completed in Winston-Salem. The building is well known for being the predecessor and prototype for the much larger Empire State Building that was built in 1931 in New York City. In fact, every year the staff of the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day card to the staff at the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem.
When I arrived at the Brookstown Inn, I could see it had plenty of history itself. The building began as the Salem Manufacturing Company, one of the first cotton mills in the south to utilize electric lighting, and was later retooled into Wachovia Flour Mill. Today, it is a lovely inn, but it retains the character of its historic origin. My very spacious room had and expansive lofted ceiling, exposed brick walls, and was decorated in keeping with the history of the building. Of course, it offered plenty of southern hospitality, too. In addition to the nightly wine and cheese reception with wine from local wineries, they also offered freshly baked cookies with milk before bed and a complimentary hot breakfast in the morning.
I had time to settle into my room and even stop by the wine and cheese reception, complete with sommelier and live music, before I left the hotel to meet some of the folks from Salem NationaLease for dinner. Ray Keller, Steve Teague, and Ken Teague met me at the delightful Milner’s American-Southern. It certainly lived up to its name with clever twists on classic dishes that made them uniquely southern. For example, I ordered the Moravian Cookie and Pecan Crusted Salmon. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Moravian cookie (I certainly wasn’t), it is a delicacy dating back to the early Moravian settlers of the area. Traditionally baked as treats for family and friends during the Christmas holiday, these thin, crispy cookies are flavored with molasses, ginger, and cloves. Other southern treats on the menu include Pimiento Cheese Grits and She Crab Soup. However, even more delightful than the food, was the company. What could be better than having dinner with three southern gentlemen?
The next morning I had a chance to meet with several more of the Salem folks at their offices. Dennis Giff, Doug Chase, Ray Keller, Mitzi Keller, and I discussed everything from our National Rental Program and the new rental customers we are acquiring; to the partnership we have with Universal Technical Institute to help our members recruit diesel technicians. Steve Teague met with me to discuss our Supply Management programs and some of the other services available to NationaLease members, like our Webinar series. Around lunchtime, Steve decided that I couldn’t leave North Carolina without having some proper barbeque. In this part of North Carolina, proper barbeque means pork and only pork in a sweet, tangy sauce. Steve and his whole team crowded around the table with me for an absolute feast of barbeque sandwiches, hush puppies, banana pudding, and of course, plenty of sweet tea.
From Winston-Salem, I was able to avoid the highway and take a much more scenic drive to Thomasville, NC, for my next stop at Old Dominion Freight Line. Thomasville is known as a furniture manufacturing town, and in fact claims to have the World’s Largest Chair, although Fanning, MO and Marzano, Italy dispute that claim with big chairs of their own. Not surprisingly, Old Dominion has a link to that furniture business, as they relocated their headquarters from Virginia to North Carolina in the 1960s, when they merged with a large furniture carrier in the area. I had the opportunity to meet with some of the Old Dominion team to review a number of the NationaLease programs, including Supply Management programs, the resources available to members on NationaLease.com, and the initiatives we have in place to help our members recruit drivers, technicians, and any other open positions they may have.
So my trip back in time was, of course, figurative, not literal. I went back to North Carolina and back into the rich history of an area known for tobacco, textiles, and furniture. Watching the History of NationaLease video with the McMahon group also took me back in time. (If you didn’t watch the video, go back and click on it. It’s worth it!) With some members tracing the origins of their companies as far back as the late 1800s, when they leased horses and wagons, our story is a remarkable one. Throughout the amazing changes our world has seen since 1944, NationaLease members have radically altered their business models and maintenance practices, built and rebuilt shops, added more and more facilities, installed increasingly complex technologies, and hired people with job titles and skill sets that didn’t even exist in 1944, but through all of this, have never wavered in their commitment to serving their customers. It’s such a good story; maybe someone should make a movie. Too bad the title, Back to the Future, is already taken.