The year 1885 was historic by any measure. Grover Cleveland was sworn in as the first Democratic president since the Civil War and the book “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” written by Mark Twain was published.
In Northeast Arkansas, the town of Jonesboro had just incorporated two years earlier and it was experiencing strong growth. P.C. Barton owned and operated a grocery store in the bustling new town, but there was something in his store that sold better than the food stuffs on his shelves. P.C. was building a house and customers were constantly asking about the stacks of wood he kept in his shop meant to be used in the construction of the house.
He closed the grocery store and started Barton Lumber and Brick. His son, E.C. Barton expanded the business by acquiring several more lumberyards. Eventually, the company would become E.C. Barton & Company, and to this day it still operates in Jonesboro, company Marketing Director Kathryn Baker told Talk Business & Politics.
“He (P.C.) realized the lumber side was more profitable than the grocery side,” Baker said.
E.C. Barton is 100% employee-owned and employs more than 700 people across 17 states, Communications Manager Danial Reed told Talk Business & Politics. Those range from the deep South to New England. It’s operated by a board of directors and Steve Brimner serves as the company’s president and CEO. Few businesses are owned by their employees, Baker said.
“It’s not something you’re going to find in a lot of communities,” Reed said.
Employees with the company are referred to as partners. The company has 102 stores. Four businesses – Barton’s, Bargain Outlet, Surplus Warehouse, and ECB Brokerage – operate under the E.C. Barton & Company name.
Through the years, the company has acquired other businesses, but the company’s biggest move was when it bought Grossman’s Bargain Outlet which has 56 stores in 2006. Grossman’s operates in several states in the Northeast. There are 111 employees in the Jonesboro area, and 195 in Arkansas.
The company focuses on housing remodels, Baker said. In addition to lumber and other building supplies, it offers a wide array of kitchen, bathroom, flooring, and other products. People take a lot of pride in their homes and will continue to invest in them even in tough economic times, Baker added.
The home remodeling market is a massive economic sector in the United States. It’s estimated that homeowners spent $340 billion on renovations in 2018, a 7.4% uptick from the previous year, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. JCHS predicts the growth rate will drop by about 1% in 2019, based on several factors.
“Rising mortgage interest rates and flat home sales activity around much of the country are expected to pinch otherwise very strong growth in homeowner remodeling moving forward,” JCHS Managing Director Chris Herbert. “Low for sale inventories are presenting a headwind because home sales tend to spur investments in remodeling and repair both before a sale and in the years following.”
The new home sales growth in 2019 is expected to slow as compared to 2018, according to Realtor.com. Sales are expected to decline by about 2%. New home construction is expected to grow about 7.7%, and values are expected to rise by a paltry 2.2%.
New home growth is another focus at E.C. Barton’s and Jonesboro might be unique in bucking the national trend downwards, according to Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin. The mayor noted that in 2018 $57.344 million in single resident permits were issued, and almost 400 new homes were built. Developers are planning to build thousands more in the coming years, he said.
E.C. Barton plans further growth during 2019, Baker and Reed said. A new store was opened in Augusta, Georgia in late-summer 2018 and another store is slated to be opened in Jacksonville, Fla. this year. An effort is underway to expand the company’s e-commerce channel.
“Our employees take a lot of pride in the work they do,” Baker said. “When you’re talking to one of our employees, you’re talking to an owner. I know they take pride in that.”