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Business Focus: Primed for upturn

Business Focus: Primed for upturn

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Lean Anchor Paint sees bright future

The name "Anchor Paint" may sound like an odd choice for a landlocked company based in Tulsa.

But to hear Chip Meade -- the chief executive officer of the paint company -- explain it, the moniker makes perfect sense.

Back in 1962 when his mother and late stepfather helped form the company, customers often paid their bills alphabetically. So, choosing a name that fell at the front of the alphabet made financial sense.

The term "anchor" in the paint business also refers to a paint's adhesion -- how well a paint anchors to its surface, Meade said.

Anchor Paint has maintained a firm grip in the industry, churning out on average 5,000 gallons of paint a day.

And if you couldn't guess: White is the most asked-for color.

Making paint is a lot like making a cake because it requires a big bowl, along with a recipe and main ingredients. "You add a pinch of this or a dash of that to get it right where it needs to be. You mix it up and you check its color, weight and viscosity," Meade said.

Ask Meade how many paint colors the company makes, and he says, "thousands." Industrial coatings comprise 65 percent of Anchor Paint's business, while commercial and architectural sales make up the rest.

Industrial paints are used in the manufacturing of products for steel fabricators, heat exchangers, products for the oil industry and construction equipment.

The business also takes orders for paints that are custom-formulated to withstand certain conditions, including hot, cold, salty and foggy environments.

"We'll make about any type of paint, with the exception of automobile paints," Meade said.

Meade's entrance into the family business didn't take place until 1978, after he had graduated from the University of Tulsa with a business degree. As the company's CEO, he "manages the managers and supervisors."

Although he would have liked spending some of his childhood years working at the company, his parents didn't want him to burn out too early, he said.

"I had all these great ideas when I got out of college of how I could make the company more profitable, take it national. They said, 'No, put on your jeans and T-shirt and go learn how to make paint.' And, I'm really glad that they did that."

It's a practice that Meade has continued with his own son, Justin, who three years ago also joined the family business and today helps manage special products. Meade's wife, Holly, works as credit manager.

The family's foray into the business some 40 years ago started when Meade's stepfather, the late Emerson Fowler, left Allied Paint, where he was working after it was bought by a holding company.

It was a risky move, considering that his stepfather was 46 at the time, but he didn't approve of the changes his employer was making. After his stepfather quit, the company stopped payment on his last check, which gave him even more incentive to start his own company, Meade said.

"So, he told them, 'I'm going to start my own company, and you're going to be out of business in three years,' " which ended up being the case, Meade said.

Fowler and his brother, Roy, who also had worked at the paint company, together with their wives formed Anchor Paint.

They started in a building near Third Street and Wheeling Avenue before moving to the company's current site at 6707 E. 14th St. The plant, which has undergone two additions, currently has 60,000 square feet.

Meade's mother, Wanda Fowler, is the only surviving member of the original four founders. She became Anchor's president and chief executive following her husband's death in 1993, and retired from the company almost four years ago.

Today, Anchor Paint employs 120 people, including 65 at its Tulsa plant.

For the future, Meade would like to see the company continue to net 10 percent or more in profits. He also would like to see the company increase its market share where it already has a presence.

"But, I'm not looking to add 20 stores a year or go nationwide," he said.

He noted that the economic downturn has hit the paint industry just as it has any number of businesses, with some companies closing their doors.

Anchor's business, likewise, is down. Sales last year were about $17 million.

"Sales have gone down over the last couple of years, but conversely our profit has gone up," Meade said.

The company adopted a "lean manufacturing" process a few years ago, which helps it operate more efficiently. It produces about the same amount of paint with 120 people that it formerly produced with 145.

"We've never had a layoff in our entire history," said Meade, noting that the company's lower employment number is the result of attrition and retirements.

"We are so primed for the next upturn. We've looked at . . . how we compare with other companies in the industry, and we operate better than most," he said.

In addition to the manufacturing plant on 14th Street east of Sheridan Road, where people can buy paint, the company has branches in East Pointe Shopping Center at 71st Street and Mingo Road, 401 E. Second St. in Owasso, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Denver and Dallas.

Anchor products can be found at Sutherlands, Pixley Lumber in Claremore, Tahlequah Lumber and M&M Lumber, and other independent dealers throughout the region.

Laurie Winslow 581-8466

Anchor Paint

Address: 6707 E. 14th St.

Service: Paint manufacturer

Principal: Chip Meade, chief executive officer

Employees: 120

Established: 1962

2002 sales: $17 million


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