Entrepreneurs of North Carolina History Exhibit

Shoppers Thank These Entrepreneurs

1888William Henry Belk

BelkGrowing up in Monroe, NC, William Henry Belk knew tragedy at an early age. When he was three, his father was killed by Union soldiers that were looking for a goldmine rumored to have been owned by his grandfather.  He started working in a dry goods establishment where he honed his business skills and in 1877, at the age of 15, he was already managing the store.  In 1888, he opened his first discount store, The New York Racket, which was small in size at only 22 by 70 feet, but big in profits for the time, earning an excess of $3,300 profit in the first seven months.

Belk  was an instant success because he adhered to a simple business plan: he operated a “cash and carry” enterprise that offered inexpensive products, quite a contrast from similar retailers who offered farmers credit and would wait for payment until harvest time.  He also realized the importance of hiring staff who would care about the business, so he offered partnerships to new managers who ran his ever-expanding stores.  The stores would then be named Belk - (Store Manager’s Name) and the chain grew exponentially.  Today, Belk’s is still thriving in the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions with over $3.5 billion in sales the past fiscal year and over 20,000 associates.  It is one of the last privately owned retail companies in the country.

Roses1915Paul H. Rose | Roses Stores

Proving it is never too early to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit, Paul H. Rose began his business career "as a12-year-old entrepreneur who set up a wooden box in front of a Seaboard, North Carolina drugstore, selling bundles of wood, and also lemonade and cookies that were supplied by his mother," according to the Roses Stores, Inc. website

As a travelling salesman, he combined the “Five and Ten” stores’ purchase orders to get better overall pricing, and then decided to venture in to his own retail business. Since opening his first discount establishment in Henderson in 1915,  Rose’s "5, 10, and 15-Cent Store",  was a leader in discount department stores culminating in the 1960s.

1946H. Carl Buchan | Lowe's

Carl Buchan’s vision to expand the successful North Wilkesboro based hardware store truly began in  1964 after the Lowes Sparta Hardware store became successful and “Carl Buchan saw no reason why Lowe's marketplace Lowe'sshouldn't extend far beyond its current perimeter”.  After years of successful business partnerships between Carl Buchan and Jim Lowe, who together ran the hardware business from 1946 to 1952 felt developed a difference of opinion on the future of the brand.  Carl Buchan sought business outside town, and  became the sole owner of Lowe's. On October 22,1960, Carl Buchan, at age 44 died with a massive heart attack, by this time, however, the store that he started was well on it's way to be great in the mark.

“Buchan anticipated the post-World War II building boom and concentrated on selling only hardware, appliances and hard-to-find building materials. By eliminating wholesalers and dealing directly with manufacturers, Lowe’s established a lasting reputation for low prices” (source)

1959 Leon Levine | Family Dollar

Family DollarFew North Carolina entrepreneurs are more successful at carving an entirely new market than Leon Levine.  From birth Levine was raised in a retail family, his father owned a department store called The Hub in Rockingham North Carolina and after a few years of management Levine  soon became aware of a popular Kentucky based store selling products under a dollar.  Levine embraced the idea and iIn November of 1959 opened his own store and named it Family Dollar

Leon Levine’s legacy ventures beyond his successful business and is carried on promoting education, philanthropy and public good.  After retiring from the business in 2004 Levine and his wife have pursed a passion for giving back the community of Charlotte using their amassed fortune to creating the Levine Children’s Hospital, Levine Museum of the New South, and a cultural arts campus in Center City.  Above all the Leon Levine Foundation encompasses the greatest financial force, containing over $300 million in assets promoting the foundation’s core goals, to “improve and advance the human condition in four major areas: Education, Healthcare, Jewish Religion and Human Services."

1976 Joe Louis Dudley | Dudley Products

Joe Louis DudleyBorn in Aurora (near Beaufort), NC, Joe Louis Dudley overcame the childhood label of being mentally challenged and worked through a speech impediment with the help from his mother.  He attended college near Greensboro, where he took a job as a door-to-door salesman with his $10.00 kit of Fuller products.  He stayed on with the company after graduating from North Carolina A&T State University, and quickly became the top producing Fuller Products Branch. 

But the Fuller company was having a hard time meeting customer’s product need, so Dudley and his wife decided to develop their own line of products, in their own kitchen, to fulfill this demand.  The Dudley family learned the intricacies of growing a business by developing and packaging the product, and also acquiring, evaluating and making products.  Joe’s and his sales team would sell the products during the day, and soon he opened his own business, Dudley’s Beauty Center and Salon.

In 1976,Dudley’s former employer, the Fuller Products Company, needed his help as Dudley’s former mentor, Mr. S.B. Fuller, was ailing in health.  Dudley now ran both businesses, Fuller Products Company and Dudley Products Company with Dudley learning how to run a major corporation under the guidance of Mr. Fuller.  In 1984, Dudley purchased the rights to Fuller Products Company and has grown the name of Dudley Products Company in to a world wide brand in the beauty and cosmetics industry and a chain of beauty schools.

Joe Louis Dudley overcame the label “low achiever” as a child to become one of the nation’s most successful entrepreneurs in the 20th century.  He is the President and CEO of Dudley Products, Inc., “one of the world’s largest manufacturers and distributors of haircare and beauty products and provider of cosmetology training.”  (according to Black Profiles: Entrepreneurs and Executives). 

1977Rocky Proffit | Trivial Pursuit

Trivial PursuitIn 1977, after graduating from Appalachian State University, NAPCO Owner and President Rocky Proffit began manufacturing rigid boxes and point-of-purchase displays for Dr. Grabow smoking pipes. The company president, a friend of Proffit’s, was unsatisfied with the quality and delivery of products being produced by another supplier. Proffit, facing an out-of-state move with a job offer to work at Holly Farms, decided to set up shop in a 2,000-sq. ft. basement with his brother, Brady. The operation was bare bones – a guillotine knife, papersheeter, gluer, and cornering machine… and a determination to succeed in this new venture.

NAPCO (an abbreviation derived from National Advertising and Promotional Co.) soon expanded into making game boards. “In the early 1980s, when electronic games first came on the scene, a lot of them had game boards that were part of the package,” explained Proffit. “We started doing more game boards and then Trivial Pursuit came along in 1983. That made us and almost broke us in a short period of time.” NAPCO was one of the original producers of the Trivial Pursuit board game, which has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide and was named to the Games Hall of Fame in 1993. The intense popularity of the game pushed NAPCO to its production limits, but the company ultimately came out on top.

As a result of its success with Trivial Pursuit, NAPCO constructed a new building, bought additional equipment, and expanded into fresh markets. Over the years, NAPCO has grown to specialize in high-end rigid paperboard products and packaging, including complex projects and those with very high-quality specifications. The company moved into loose leaf packaging in the early 1990s, when it began producing custom ring binders, turned edge binders, slip cases, and packaging for software. NAPCO positioned itself as a provider of packaging for the music industry in the late 1990s, and then went after the entertainment packaging market in the early 2000s by pursuing direct relationships with the major home entertainment studios.

NAPCO also is the largest manufacturer of coin storage products, which it began manufacturing for Western Publishing (at that time, Western Publishing owned the Whitman Coin Line) at about the same time as Trivial Pursuit. Most recently, NAPCO has moved into cosmetics packaging.

“We’ve just gotten into cosmetics and that’s where we’re seeing growth,” said Proffit, “but our older specialties are still important to us. We just signed a three-year contract with the U.S. Mint to create coin storage products. We feel like we’ve got some tremendous growth coming down in the next two or three years – good manageable growth.”