Carolina Mat Company Inc.: A Family Affair, in Oak
- Written by: Carolina Mat Company Inc.: A Family Affair, in Oak
- Produced by: Carolina Mat Company Inc.: A Family Affair, in Oak
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
Carolina Mat Company Inc. (Carolina Mat) creates temporary roads, helping facilitate uninterrupted industry all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. The company has been in business for 40 years, since Ronald Harrison founded it in 1973. Ronald founded the company after he toiled for 20 years in the woodworking industry, building homes then pallets and boxes until the early ’70s, when he was approached to design a wooden mat that could be utilized by loggers to construct a temporary road into swampy areas.
These regions were known to seize a logging truck and render it immobile – a problem demanding a costly and time-consuming fix. Ronald met the challenge posed by Weyerhaeuser by designing and manufacturing a machine to produce hardwood mats (pallet-like in appearance and structure) that could be laid over dangerously soft, wet, sandy and uneven terrain, allowing loggers to move safely forward in their work.
Today, the technology patented by Ronald produces several styles of 100-percent red and white oak mats that have numerous uses in several industries, not just logging. Carolina Mat products are now used in construction, temporary access roads, house moving, pipeline work, helicopter pad creation, septic tank installation/repair, utility line maintenance, oil field services, mining camps, and even boat launching. Carolina Mat’s temporary roadways are still produced by a company that remains family owned and customer satisfaction focused.
A Small-town Feel with Big-time Capabilities
Ronald’s daughter, Margaret Harrison, began her work as the company vice president in 2006. Previously, Margaret had been working with her father while still in high school, answering phone calls for Carolina Mat. After Ronald passed away in 2010, the company transitioned fully to the capable hands of both Margaret and her mother, Susan Harrison, who acts as president.
Leadership may have changed at the company, but little else has in terms of how the business is run. “We’re a big company, but we don’t operate as one,” says Margaret. With 26 employees, Carolina Mat is not huge, yet is not a boutique operation either – still, everyone is considered family. “We fit into the large corporate world, as far as volume and sales,” explains Margaret. “But we’re a very small-business, small-town, small footprint-type place.”
Being headquartered at the same location in Plymouth, N.C., for 40 years has helped Carolina Mat cultivate its culture as a company deeply rooted in the community, and also in the lives of its employees. “We have some really great people working for us,” says Margaret, paying tribute to the people she depends on daily in order to run a successful and conscientious business.
“I’m quite pleased by this little factoid: We have people who have been working for us for 40 years,” smiles Margaret. Some have even been working on site and with the Harrison family for over 40 – longer than Carolina Mat has been a company. How is that possible? “We had a company previous to Carolina Mat on the same site: a pallet-factoring operation [run by Ronald] in business since the ’50s,” laughs Margaret.
Although Carolina Mat has no plans to expand the size of its operation or its manufacturing location, the company does keep these employees busy by looking to grow sales and tweak a few mat designs in order to accommodate some new environments and industries that haven’t been tapped yet.
Superior, One-of-a-kind Product
As far as uses go, there’s barely a limit to Carolina Mat product. Margaret explains, “Our mats can be light enough to be lifted by helicopter to access remote areas of Alaska. They’ve been used in mining camps, as pathways between cabins, as protection from blasting in Alaska. We’ve had people use them, as a ramp, to launch boats into the water, and to access power line and pipeline right of ways, for protecting sod at golf courses and subdivisions [and so on].” Carolina Mat designs base mats and then works with clients to customize styles to accommodate a certain price range when needed. “I try to redesign them to make them more economical for customers on a need basis,” says Margaret.
It is these quality products, produced with patented machinery, which set Carolina Mat apart from its competitors. There is plenty of interest from other mat companies that want to access the company’s unique technology – to get their hands on a prototype of Carolina Mat’s machinery, or buy a machine outright – but the company has not gone down that road.
Margaret stresses that Carolina Mat doesn’t compromise on quality, while some other companies try to cut corners to save the bottom line, especially in a down economy. Sourcing quality raw material at a reasonable price can be difficult, yet it’s always worth it to ensure the integrity of the mat. All Carolina Mat product – made from 100-percent oak and bolted – is built at and shipped from its sole manufacturing location (also company headquarters) in Plymouth. The company also has a resell yard in Alaska.
Ending on a Good Note
“We [ship to customers] all up and down the Eastern Seaboard, from Florida to Maine, with a lot of business in the New England area,” says Margaret. The company will ship mats to customers far outside its geographic area though – to Canada, the western U.S. and Alaska.
Shipping the sturdy racks of finished mats is the final part of the puzzle for Carolina Mat and is usually outsourced to common carriers. It is still an aspect of the business that is taken seriously to ensure a good customer end experience. “It’s very important to have a professional truck driver,” explains Margaret. “It’s important how they handle themselves, [and that we have] on-time deliveries. The truck driver is the only face that the customer gets to see when our mats are delivered.” That driver is associated with Carolina Mat’s product, and that association must be positive. Product must also be delivered on time and in good shape.
A positive, proactive attitude is ingrained throughout the company’s supply chain. Margaret adds, “We also have very good relationships with all of our suppliers and our vendors down to where we buy our safety glasses and equipment to our lumber and bolts.” A quality beginning means a quality end product for Carolina Mat Company.
In the end, what ultimately sets Carolina Mat apart from its competitors, assures Margaret, is “… our quality and consistency due to our mat machine and our high-quality red and white oak lumber, plus the fact that we only use bolts to fasten our product together. Because our product is made on our [patented] machines, our mats are very consistent.” Building roadways to success for four decades, Carolina Mat Company Inc. has laid the foundation on which to continue a strong family legacy.
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