By Sharon Myers
Original owner Ray Fletcher has repurchased Fletcher Machine Industries seven years after he sold the company to R.P. Machine Enterprises of Statesville.
Fletcher said he bought the business, formerly named R.P. Fletcher Machine Co., on Nov. 21 mostly to save the jobs of approximately 50 employees and family members.
“I’ve got several nephews and long-time friends here; a lot of people have been here for almost 40 years,” Fletcher said. “The biggest thing I wanted to do was just save the jobs. Hopefully we can get this thing turned around. … You feel like you owe the people that have stayed here through all of this something, if you can.”
Fletcher, 74, started the woodworking machine manufacturing company on U.S. Highway 64 East in the early 1960s. He used his maintenance background with furniture companies to start his own machine manufacturing shop, geared toward the furniture industry. Although it started as a company of one, in its heydays in the 1980s Fletcher Machine Co. employed up to 120 people.
In 2008, the collapse of the furniture industry in Davidson County deeply impacted the business, and its main customers began moving production overseas. Fletcher said these difficult financial times led to the original sale of the company.
“The economy really took a downturn,” Fletcher said. “It basically just stopped. When we sold it I don’t believe we had an order in the house, or if so it wasn’t much.”
Fletcher said he sold the company at the time to R.P. Machine Enterprises because he wanted to save the jobs of the approximately 50 employees. The new owners changed the name of the business to R.P. Fletcher Machine Co. and continued to look for customers. In the meantime, Fletcher began another business, R.F. Enterprises, a tractor and lawn mower business, which is still in operation.
Carolyn Smith, vice president of Fletcher Machine Industries, said when Fletcher discovered last year the company he had started was having financial difficulties, he began to consider repurchasing it to save the jobs, the reason he sold the company in the first place.
“They (R.P. Machine Enterprises) were supposed to come in and keep our employees and bring more business, which ended up not happening,” Smith said.
In November, Fletcher bought the approximately 50-year-old company back and began working to improve the financial health of the business. Brian Dunlap, general manager and vice president, said the economic outlook of furniture manufacturing in the area is improving and hopefully will continue to do so.
“At the time we sold, many of these companies went overseas,” Dunlap said. “A lot of the businesses have started to come back, and that’s what we’re hoping will continue.”
Although the company designs and builds woodworking machines used by furniture companies, it also has several departments to diversify areas to serve its customers including gear and parts repair, rubber products for industrial use and diamond tooling.
Fletcher said although he is in his 70s, he is excited to be back with old friends and is looking forward to returning to business.
“You got to do something, I guess, until you die,” Fletcher said. “It’s about like starting all over again, although you don’t have the stamina you had then. It’s not easy, but we’re excited.”
Sharon Myers can be reached at 249-3981, ext, 228 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Sharon on Twitter: @LexDisptachSM