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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Edward L. Gruber, November 11, 1985. Interview C-0136. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Establishment of powerful business relationship

Gruber describes how his business alliance with B. Everett Jordan of Sellers Manufacturing Company was forged in the early 1930s. When Gruber began to take over Spring City Mills, he made the decision to begin manufacturing women's underwear. Gruber explains how this necessitated experimentation with different mercerized yarns, which Jordan supplied. Following the establishment of their business relationship, Jordan began to give Gruber advice regarding the finer subtleties of buying and selling and the two solidified a business relationship that lasted for several decades.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Edward L. Gruber, November 11, 1985. Interview C-0136. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

We needed some pink 60/2 mercerized yarn. The only mercerized yarn that we used was maybe 2 cases a month; I believe it was 30/2; it was used as a curving thread for flat lock machines. That was the only mercerized yarn that we used and the only mercerizer that I knew was Everett Jordan. I'd never met Everett other than that summer up at the house. I called him on the phone and told him that I needed some 60/2 dyed pink and asked if he could get it for me. "Oh yes," he said; so he shipped me up a case of 60/2 mercerized yarn and I made up the samples and I figured it out -
Was it dyed pink?
Oh yes. I don't know whether he had a dyeing plant at that time or not, but he sent out to somebody and had it dyed. I think I remember that, because I remember when he put in the dye plant there. I figured out that the 60/2 mercerized pink - I believe that was around 64¢ a pound at that time. Oh I don't think it was as high as 70¢, I believe it was 62¢ or 64¢. I took these samples up to New York and the only ones that I could find anyplace were at Burgoff-Goodman's where my mother-inlaw had bought them for my wife at $4.50 a pair. So I asked them how much we could sell these for; I said I could make them for $2.25 a dozen. My cost came out to about $1.98 - just under $2 a dozen. So I figured if I could get a quarter a dozen (25¢ profit) I'd be in clover because we were used to making a cent and a cent and a half a dozen or maybe two cents. This guy said, "Hell matey, I can get $4.50 a dozen for them as easy as I can $2.25 a dozen." He went out and sold them for $4.50 a dozen - to make a long story short. But then in two or three weeks we had enough orders to run the mill full time for a whole year solid at $4.50 a dozen.
What year was this now?
This would be the spring of 1932, because I got out of college in '31 - this would be the next spring of '32. My father had never done a half a million in sales a year; that year we did $850,000 worth of business and had $490,000 profit. My father got out of the hospital and went down to Florida - first time he was ever in Florida - and he bought a house down in St. Petersburg - He'd come once a month to tell me what to do and so - but we made so much money that first year - he couldn't believe the figures. As a matter of fact he came home and shut the mill down for three days to take inventory. I told him he had better not take inventory for if you do you're going to increase the profits by another $100,000. But we took the inventory and I showed him the results - and he still said there was something wrong. I had pulled out everything I could; there were sheets of goods that had been around there two or three months or more I'd just write "no value" - a lot of yarn we were having a lot of trouble with, I'd just write "no value" on it. He just couldn't believe we had made that much profit. After that he wouldn't go into the mill for three years. He said the mill's there, you run it, and as long as you don't lose any money it's yours to run. I don't understand your way of keeping books and figuring cost so you run it. For one year we kept two sets of books. We kept books and cost sheets made his way and another set made my way. Finally he said to stop making two sets; that I was wasting my time.
Did he say do it your way or his way?
He said do it my way - the University of Pennsylvania way. So Everett started making all this mercerized yarn for me, and got to using so much of it that Everett couldn't make enough of it. So I got Ewing-Thomas over here - owned by Cannon mills at that time I think. We used nothing but mercerized yarn for about two and one-half years. Everybody else got into the act - when you're making that kind of money everybody wants to make it too. I started to make $2 or $3 a dozen - we had been lucky to make 25¢ or 40¢ a dozen. Everett was charging me for the 60/2 mercerized - Ewing Thomas wanted like 10¢ a pound more, so I asked Everett - this is where Everett starts becoming Everett Jordan. He is probably - well not probably - he was the most honest man that I ever met in my life. We were sitting over at Spring City one day and he said, "Well I'm gonna tell you all about the Durene Association." He says, "We have a meeting about once a year up in New York, and someone would get up and say, 'Well it costs so much to make 60/2, etc, and anybody that sells for less than that would be a damn fool wouldn't they? Is there anybody in this room that is going to say that he is a damn fool, or that he is gonna be a damn fool.'" Of course no one said they were, so that set the price of yarn and nobody would undersell that price; it was a fixed price. So Everett explained this whole thing to me. He said He didn't want me to tell anybody nothing, but you just pay him whatever it is and whatever help you need on it I'll help you. I told him that if I had to pay him 10¢ more a pound that I was going to be in bad shape. He told me that he was doing all right and that maybe he could sell to me for 5¢ a pound less. If you buy two pounds from me and one from them you're ahead of the game. That's how I got into the mercerized yarn business with Everett.