Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
ACR Supply celebrates 40 years in business and looks toward a bright future.
The date was March 18, 1977. It was Troy Meachum’s 16th birthday, undoubtedly an important milestone for every teenager filled with laughter and good times. This was also the day Troy’s father, L.C. Meachum, started the family business ACR Supply in Durham, North Carolina. L.C. rented part of an old, warehouse, that was owned by a local lumber company. He rented out the small space where a single light bulb hung from the ceiling.
“That’s where they started from, and I think they wrote their first invoice in April to Duke University,” recalls Troy, who is now president of ACR Supply.
In those years, the country was hit hard with interest rates above 20 percent and stagflation. As some may recall, the gas lines were horrendous. But through all this, L.C. didn’t falter and decided to open up shop. His first employee was a gentleman named Lee Blakely and the two of them set out in the wholesale distribution business.
Troy joined them in 1980. Having graduated with a degree in HVAC, he had a desire to learn more about the business, the industry, and helping the company any way he could. In doing so, Troy opened the Carrboro store in 1984. L.C. had the building developed and left the rest to Troy, who worked for almost two years by himself doing everything from warehousing to counter sales.
“I earned some stripes there; it was really hard; it was a sink or swim moment for me. Where my dad was like, its time to put up or shut up! He basically said it was time for me to start contributing to the long term success of the organization or go do something else.” The next location was Burlington, North Carolina in 1987, and the location list just kept growing.
Changing with the times
1997 was a pivotal year for ACR Supply. With three locations to its name, the company was going through a bit of an identity crisis. That’s when the first real brainstorming sessions took place. Held in a local hotel conference room, L.C., Troy, and Lee put together business plans and talked about the next 20 years of the business. “We had never done anything like this,” Troy explains. “We began a process of first defining our mission: why are we in business, or what do we do as a business?”
The company began to very intentionally build a work culture where people get up every day and want to come to work, a place where they enjoy what they do and they get fulfillment out of what they do. “We truly believe that we can make a difference in people’s lives,” Troy remarks.
The company began developing programs and onboarding processes. Getting the right people on the bus, so to speak, while also getting the wrong people off the bus. Real systemic change came as a result of that. In 1997, ACR Supply was running a bit under $4 million in gross revenue. This past year, it closed right at $29 million.
“Understanding if we focus on people and creating the right work culture, the numbers will take care of themselves. Even though we’ve really gotten better at watching the numbers as well,” Troy says.
Two significant things happened in Troy’s life that made him realize success was more than numbers on a spreadsheet. “When my dad put me in Carrboro, North Carolina to open up that store, I realized for the first time that I did not want to be a failure. And I did not want to be the stereotypical son of the boss. I began to change my life.”
Four years later, Troy accepted Christ as his savior and became a practicing Christian. That began to radically transform him and plant the seeds in his mind, and in his heart, that he really wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. He looks at ACR Supply as a place to grow leaders who serve other people and the greater community. “We have leadership at every level inside of ACR Supply. We believe we all need to lead, and lead well.”
The way Troy does that is by implementing a culture where everyone cares for one another. He says to care deeply for people while caring deeply about the outcome, is the recipe for success and winning. “This way, they will also make a difference in peoples’ lives along the way,” Troy adds.
Troy admits that his father was gambling on him in the beginning by giving him this opportunity. “We all think it’s a privilege to work at ACR Supply. We pour into the people who work here, professionally and technically, and so they are heavily sought after in our industry. But if we’re not creating the right work culture, where people are drawn to, and enjoy coming to work every day, then that's our fault, Troy says.”
ACR Supply provides a lot of programs outside of the office for their team members. Troy teaches a course called Crucial Conversations Training. The class teaches people how to have the right conversations in any situation. In addition to the course, every new hire at ACR Supply has to go to Financial Peace University, a nine-week personal finance course taught by Dave Ramsey. “That really has made a difference,” Troy says. “I still have people coming up to me today saying how much it’s changed their lives. How they were able to get a solid footing financially.”
Kevin Parsley is the vice president of ACR Supply and another tremendous example of the type of transformative effect the company has had. Parsley worked for a competitor, prior to joining ACR Supply. Part of the market he worked was Durham, where Troy, L.C. and Lee were stationed. He worked that market for 17 years.
“Occasionally I would stop into the Durham store,” Parsley recalls. “I knew L.C., and Lee and Troy. I was just stopping in one day, and Troy said something to the effect of ‘when are you going to stop coming into Durham and taking our business?’ I said the business I take is the business I earn.”
Parsley went to work for ACR in October of 1997 at their new Greensboro location. That was the same year the owners decided what the business needed to look like, and the need to develop a vision for the future. So, that's when they started to expand the company.
40 years of service and ministry
Mark Bray, director of supply chain at ACR Supply talked about the importance the company and it’s legacy has had on him during his 9 years there. “It means that I’m working for an organization that’s been able to stand the test of time. I mean, when you look at the statistics, most businesses don’t get past three years. Working for a company that’s been around so long, it definitely gives me, and others who work here, a secure sense that this company’s been here. We’re established, and we have what it takes to continue for 50 and on. That's a big milestone; it’s fun to celebrate.”
Troy says, “[40 years] makes you really reflect on the fact that what L.C and Lee did, I’m not sure anybody could really pull off today. It’s just phenomenal how they, just through grit and grime, really built this company and made it what it is today. Just the fact that I’m here, and to be able to be a part of something special like this, just really blows my mind. I feel truly blessed.”
Parsley equates this anniversary with a Biblical narrative as the number 40 has great significance. “For any business to survive 40 years is rare, especially in today’s competitive world. And the dynamic change that we have seen, that I’ve seen, is a bittersweet experience as I draw to the end of my career.” He also admits that he’s had the privilege to watch Troy, not only grow as a Christian believer, but also grow as a leader. “Where he was 20 years ago when Parsley came to work for ACR Supply, to where he is today, is a beautiful thing.”
Everything rises and falls in leadership. ACR Supply today had a solid foundation; a very great beginning. But it has been carried to where it is today by a second generation of great leadership.
Parsley chuckles, “I love our team, our people, dearly, and we always want their best. But Troy really deserves a lot more credit than he’s ever willing to take for the success of ACR Supply.”