Parkdale Mills founded in 1916 by J. Lee Robinson and J.H. Separk, is located in Gastonia, Gaston County, NC, just west of Charlotte. This was but one of many small, combed cotton yarn mills founded by entrepreneurs in the county. As the various families opened mills and grew the business in the 1920s, everyone was prosperous. The Great Depression beginning in 1929, however, brought hardship. Many sought help by merging. Parkdale operated successfully until the merger of several mills to form Textiles, Inc. in 1931. Should Parkdale participate or not? The stockholders fought. Lee Robinson committed suicide. The Robinson family secured control and fought merger. Fred L. Smyre, Sr., a brother-in-law of Lee Robinson became manager. Duke Kimbrell, the son of a Duke Power employee who was proud of the accomplishments brought by the power company, named his son for the company. After visiting the local mill and begging to help, Duke began working as an errand boy at age 14, after one of the managers saw him working as a volunteer to install electricity in the town. After high school, he joined the mill and then went to war along with many others at the time. After the war, he was encouraged to keep on with his education. He graduated from the College of Textiles at NC State (1949) and later rose to the highest office in the company (President and CEO).
After Robinson died, the board agreed to let Kimbrell acquire and revamp the mills with the help of a silent partner. He also moonlighted for BVD, the large underwear manufacturer. “Stockholders can’t say too much about what you do on the side if you’re making them money,” Kimbrell laughed. He used these ventures to help acquire a 50-50 ownership with the George Henry family in 1982.
When Kimbrell took over Parkdale, There were 150 employees. Business improved under Duke’s management. Forbes magazine was impressed with his acquisition skills they ran a feature story in the November 2, 1987 issue. During 1986, Parkdale acquired Perfection Spinning Company, Linford Mills, Rowen Cotton Mills, and Acme Spinning Company. These acquisitions increased Parkdale’s production to 3.5 million pounds weekly and sales to more than $300 million annually, making it the largest yarn spinner in the United States. 1
In 1991 the firm employed over 2,900. The company had 18 plants, produced 250 million pounds of yarn and had annual sales over $400 million. Anderson Warlick joined the company in 1984 from Milliken and rose to CEO. 5
Parkdale Mills, the world’s largest independent cotton yarn manufacturer. Prior to serving as board chair, Kimbrell was CEO of Parkdale Mills; during that time, Kimbrell helped transform the company from a 200- employee, $11 million company into a 3,600-employee firm with $934 million in sales
Kimbrell became involved in the industry and was named the second most influential person in textiles in a 1999 survey by Textile World magazine.
Over the years, Parkdale grew internally and occasionally bought other mills as they became available. Rather than operate their own mills, people like VF, Jockey, Fieldcrest and Dominion chose to sell to Parkdale and allow them to supply the best yarn available. VF and the others wanted to concentrate on their core businesses. Avondale Mills closed in 2006. Parkdale bought three spinning mills, Rockford, AL; Alexander City, AL; and Graniteville, SC. 2, 5
Typical of the improvements was shown when Parkdale installed 48 500-position R 40 rotor-spinning machines at Plant #26 in Walnut Cove, NC. This is currently the largest single R 40 order to date and represents one of the largest single orders ever by a sales-yarn manufacturer. Capacity in the same space will increase approximately 250 percent. The 200,000-square-foot plant employs approximately 80 people and manufactures 100 percent cotton yarn according to Anderson Warlick, Parkdale CEO. 3
The company currently has 24 plants at 20 domestic locations and three international locations (Mexico, Colombia and Honduras). 4
- Andrews, Mildred Gwin, The Men and the Mills – A History of the Southern Textile Industry. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1987.
- Southern Textile News, December 10, 2007.
- Textile World, July/August 2008, p24.
- http://www.parkdalemills.com/plant_loc.php Accessed October 18, 2008
- ATI Award for Innovation, ATI, February 1997.