Kingsmore Keeps Textiles Alive in Easley
Aug 31, 2017 08:25AM ● Published by Emily Stevenson
Photography provided by Devin Steele
Palmetto Finishing Co. in Easley can rightly be called a survivor of the U.S. textile industry. It is largely a commodity producer, providing bleaching, preparation and framing of goods for textile converters.
Mike Kingsmore, who grew up in textile manufacturing, is president and COO at Palmetto Finishing, a commission dyeing and finishing house. He and his father, Doug Kingsmore, bought the plant in 2006, resurrecting a business that was on the verge of closing. At that time it was known as Falcon Dyeing & Finishing and was owned by Hanes. Mike Kingsmore was familiar with the operation, having called on them as a chemical salesman.
The elder Kingsmore was an executive for several textile firms before retiring.
“I’m kind of a textile brat,” Mike Kingsmore jokes.
Most of the fabrics Palmetto finishes go into sheeting for mid-range hotels such as Holiday Inn Express or Comfort Inn. Other end users include hospitals and prisons. Thread count ranges from 210 to 350. About 20 to 30 percent of the company’s business goes into lightweight sheer curtain linings.
“You don’t see as many curtains in houses today, but there is still a market for it and we supply one of the major suppliers,” Kingsmore says. “We also do some chefs’ aprons and hats. We’ve proven we can run some nonwovens here although we haven’t had many orders. We will have to find other avenues in addition to bed sheeting long term and grow some customers.”
“We are basically a commodity manufacturer,” Kingsmore says. “Our advantage is the poor water quality in other countries such as China, Pakistan and India. Manufacturers there have problems with producing a good, bright white because of the water there. That service is more than 90 percent of what we do and that’s why we are still here.”
The cost of production compared to the low-wage countries has also leveled out somewhat, further helping Palmetto. Manufacturing costs have risen in China, and Kingsmore says Palmetto is at least in the same ballpark now. He notes that about eight years ago, 90 percent of raw fabrics were foreign made. That has fallen to about 65 to 70 percent. The remaining U.S. manufacturers can also offer a quick turnaround advantage over offshore producers.
“What makes me proud is that we are one of the few wide fabric finishers left,” Kingsmore says. “Plants have closed everywhere, but we are still ticking. We’ve found a way to survive.”
Palmetto is not a highly automated operation. In fact, Kingsmore describes it as pretty simple. The company, which employs about 30, runs two 12-hour shifts per day and either 4.5 or 5 days per week.
Kingsmore realizes Palmetto needs to diversify its customer mix for the long run. He says a major challenge is the company has three major customers, and if any decide to leave, the company will be in jeopardy. They are supplemented with about eight small and medium-sized customers, and Kingsmore wants to grow that mix.
Kingsmore says he has mixed emotions about the future of the textile industry, but he’s mostly optimistic.
“I feel better about it than I have for quite some time,” he says, “but it will never be as vibrant as it once was. The industry is moving more toward niche operations. I am optimistic for the industry in general because we’ve seen positive signs over the last two to three years. The key will be how the political environment unfolds.”
Kingsmore predicts his company will expand into more niches. He notes a recent inquiry about finishing fabrics with silver embedded.
Kingsmore has long been active in industry group. He currently serves as chairman of the Southern Textile Association. Groups such as the STA help keep camaraderie alive in the industry with their annual conferences, he says, helping to fill a void created when textile machinery shows concluded a long Greenville run in 2004.
So what else is in store for Palmetto Finishing?
“I’m 58 years old and I’d love to see this thing continue for at least another seven or eight years. It’s fun. This industry is a family, there’s no other way to put it. It’s a family that has decreased in size, but as far as unity toward each other, it’s as strong as ever. Maybe some people wrote our obituary too early.”