Charles Hardcastle has taken on a number of roles during his more than 40 years as president of Consolidated Paper Group. “We’re a small company, so I’ve had to do a little bit of everything,” says Hardcastle, who joined the Bowling Green, Ky.-based janitorial supply distribution company shortly after it was founded in 1960 by his sister Lila Greene and her husband, Edward. “I’ve done sales, been a purchasing agent, even a legal counsel.”
While Hardcastle’s responsibilities have led him to wear several hats as the company’s leader, many of Consolidated Paper’s key functions including sales and distribution have long been in the hands of several key staff members. “I try to hire good people to work for me and then stay out of their way,” he says. “I want people to be decisive and take ownership of what they do.
“If people make mistakes, I don’t believe in getting on them for something going wrong, but will got on them for not doing anything at all,” Hardcastle adds. “If my staff uses their very best judgment and something turns out wrong, we’ll fix it for the next time – I don’t want people to be afraid of doing things.”
Consolidated Paper is now taking Hardcastle’s philosophy one step further by going through the process of establishing an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), which would give employees ownership of the company. When the ESOP is approved, Hardcastle, also the company’s current owner, would remain in an advisory capacity only.
Employee ownership would be a natural evolution for the company, as many of its staff members have remained constant for much of its tenure. “I have two vice-presidents who have been here for more than 35 years, and most of our employees have been here a long time,” Hardcastle says. “I’m very proud that we have a good reputation and our employees stay for a long time. We’ve never had a single layoff here.”
“Easy To Do Business With”
Hardcastle has led the company through a number of changes in its markets, offerings and size. The company, licensed in 1960 and later incorporated in 1969 as B.G. Chemicals, initially served full-service filling stations and swimming pools.
“You have to be willing to change if you’re going to be successful,” Hardcastle says. “As industries and markets around us have come and gone, we’ve had to change with the times.”
Today, Consolidated Paper Group serves industrial and institutional customers in Kentucky, southern Indiana and Tennessee.
The company provides its chemical management program through national provider Spartan Chemical Co. Other notable partners include Interplast Group Ltd., Baywest, Georgia Pacific, 3M, Gojo, Technical Concepts, Rubbermaid, Continental and Anderson Matting.
Hardcastle credits its positive reputation and ability to build relationships to one main factor. “Our philosophy is to make it easy for the customer to do business with us,” Hardcastle says. “Many companies have their own, rigid way of doing things, which can make it tough to do business with them. We try to adapt our ways to suit their needs – if they want their deliveries before noon, we’ll do our best to make our deliveries before noon, for example.”
Consolidated Paper also eases business for its customers by ensuring that each incoming call is answered live, rather than by an automated system, he adds.
As a result of this approach, “our customers are pretty loyal to us,” Hardcastle notes. “We try to do what we tell people we are going to do and treat everyone in a fair and reasonable way.”
“Stopping Up The Holes”
The company’s 50-plus years of operation have not been without their challenges, as it has managed its way through a number of national economic downturns, most recently the 2008 recession.
Consolidated Paper has tackled these downturns through a fiscal approach Hardcastle likens to filling a bucket with water. “If you have a bucket and you’re pouring water into that bucket, that’s called sales, and the amount that pours over the top is profit,” he says. “If you have a hole in the bottom of the bucket causing the water to run out, those are your expenses.
“When you’re not filling up the bucket to where it runs over, you better stop up the bottom, and that’s what we did,” Hardcastle adds. “We analyzed what we did and thought that if there’s less water to pour in, we better make sure we don’t have holes at the bottom.”
For Hardcastle, this included looking requesting discounts from suppliers for paying bills on time and looking at every expense, regardless of their size. “The little things all add up,” he says.