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Application-Oriented TSI Enjoys Growth

An entreprenurial spirit gets Malcolm Forbes' seal of approval on its new air-texturing plant.

Jim Phillips

Texturing Services Inc. (TSI), Reidsville, N.C., purveyor of air-jet textured yarns, has enjoyed a growth rate approaching 20 percent per year for the past six years in both sales volume and production.Thats not bad for any company, says Sandy Tillman, president and founder, but it is especially remarkable for a company that was formed just 13 years ago on a tight budget and in a marginal economic environment.But then, not many companies get the full backing of both Malcolm Forbes and the Cabbage Patch Kids of Hasbro Toys, said Tillman.Today, TSI churns out 280,000 pounds of high-quality air-jet textured yarns per week, using 520 positions on Ste air-jet texturizing machines with SSM take-ups. The installation is the largest by Ste in the Western Hemisphere and one of the two largest in the world. TSI employs 150 people in four production shifts to meet an ever-increasing demand for innovative products in the automotive, upholstery and apparel markets.But this thriving operation barely got off the ground. Tillmans wife, Gail, found herself in that most unenviable position of bringing a daily dose of realism to her then 50-year-old husbands dream of starting a yarn mill."All I was going to do was risk our lifes savings in a risky and uncertain market," Tillman chuckled, "and all I heard from Gail were the many reasons why I shouldnt do it. It got to the point where the two things I enjoyed most were getting out of the house and going to bed. Those were the only two times I didnt hear her complaining."Then one day in 1987, Tillman came home for what he thought would be more of Gails anti-entrepreneurial harangue. To his surprise, he found her waiting at the door for him and, of all things, smiling."She looked at me and grinned," Tillman recalled, "then she gave me a thumbs-up sign and said, Malcolm Forbes says go for it."Not sure of what he was hearing, he asked Gail to repeat herself. "Malcolm Forbes says go for it. If he says do it, you should."Tillman, skeptical of course, thought she was joking. How had Gail managed to get an audience with the publishing magnate/business guru to get his input about starting a small yarn mill in central North CarolinaGail had been surfing stations on TV when she happened upon "Sonia Live," a talk show on the West Coast. Sonias guest that day was Malcolm Forbes, and unbelievably for Gail, the topic was starting businesses in middle age. She called the show and, against all odds, got through to Forbes. After laying out the situation to the publisher just as Sandy had presented it to her, Forbes told her to tell Sandy to give it his best shot. "Go for it," he told her.Just a short time later, TSI opened a 7,000-square-foot facility in Greensboro, N.C., with six employees. The original business plan for the company called for TSI to supply textured polypropylene yarns to the upholstery industry. "We came into this business all excited and ready to make our mark, just as the bottom fell out of the polypropylene market," Tillman said. "It seemed the day we opened the doors, everybody just stopped buying it."For the first several years, TSI struggled, staying afloat on the drive of Tillman and his management team. Then in 1990, one of the companys salespeople returned from a cocktail party in Providence, R.I., where he had encountered a Hasbro executive. Hasbro was in the process of preparing a new line of toys and needed a yarn sample."This was veiled in secrecy," Tillman recalls. "We had no idea what they needed the sample for. We didnt hear anything back for weeks and weeks. Then I get a call one day asking if I could meet a group of Hasbro engineers at the airport." When Tillman arrived at the airport, he found six Hasbro engineers disembarking from the companys jet. After lengthy tests, Hasbro decided to use two ends of TSIs 300-denier polypropylene for the hair component of the Cabbage Patch Kids line of dolls. Later that year, Cabbage Patch Kids became the hottest selling doll worldwide and maintained that position for several years."I tell people all the time that I spent untold hours constructing business plans, studying the market, meeting with financial institutions and many, many other things to try and make this company work," Tillman said with a smile. "But in the end, what made us was a phone call to a TV program and a cocktail party."Steady Growth
TSI moved from its small plant in Greensboro to Reidsville in 1992. The company has grown from its original 7,000-square-foot plant to a modern 100,000-square-foot facility."We stay on the cutting edge and continue to maintain a steady growth because we commit a tremendous amount of resources and manpower to research and development," said Ken Norman, executive vice president. "Were always trying new things and working with our customers to find the right solutions for their needs."Norman and Tillman both say the relationship with Ste has been a cornerstone for the companys success."Obviously, we looked at a lot of different machinery when we opened," Tillman said. "We chose Ste because of its single-drive construction. Theoretically, we could run an entirely different product on each of our 520 positions. Coupled with the SSM take-ups, this gives us a tremendous amount of flexibility."TSI is currently on its third generation of Ste air-jet texturing machines. Each new machine is completely compatible with past generations. The Ste offerings are installed at TSI in both 12-and 24-position configurations.Tillman will be traveling to Germany shortly to work with Ste on yet another design to enhance TSIs productivity.Production throughout the plant is monitored for efficiency and quality by an in-line system from Barco. "We are as modern and forward-thinking about quality as anyone in the industry," Norman maintained. "Our quality procedure is, we think, second to none. "We have developed an outstanding reputation in the industry as a manufacturer of quality yarns, and we are looking every day for ways to make improvements."Market Segments
TSIs largest market segment is contract and commercial upholstery, which accounts for about 55 percent of the companys business. Automotive yarns, primarily for seat covers, account for 25 percent. The remaining 20 percent is in yarns for apparel. The company makes nylon, polyester and polypropylene yarns.TSI is also a major supplier of interlaced and draw-interlaced yarns. This process combines ends of yarns with different properties to create unique effects."The mission of our company is to be as flexible as possible to meet the demands of a changing market place," Tillman said. "We arent afraid to try new processes; we arent afraid to take chances. If our customers need a yarn with particular properties and/or different from what is available, well find a way to make it for them."TSI also has a Spandex air-jet texturing process for apparel and godets on machines that need to produce zero-shrinkable yarns for the automotive industry and other applications."We are application-oriented," said Norman. "We make yarns that achieve a specific benefit for our customers. Thats the premise upon which we were founded and the premise upon which we will grow."  Editor's Note: Jim Phillips is the director of public relations at GuthrieandAssociates Inc., Greenville, S.C., which services a broad base of textile and textile machinery advertisting and public relations accounts.

June 2000