Monday, May 27, 2024

Western: Tanner tale

The Tanners and Rutherfordton fit together like Belk and Charlotte, Cone and Greensboro — apparel-related families that have played key community roles for generations. That makes the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by Tanner Cos. in January particularly disappointing.

The Tanners helped start textile mills in Rutherford County in the early 20th century and led the incorporation of Spindale in 1923. Bobo Tanner Jr. and his wife, Millie, were investors in the Lake Lure Inn, which opened in 1927, according to a history authored by retired professor Anita Price Davis. The couple lost money in the 1929 stock market crash but rebounded two years later by starting Doncaster Collar and Shirt.

Since then, two more generations of Tanners have run the business, which evolved into making and selling women’s apparel through private appointments typically at customers’ homes. At its peak, more than 2,000 consultants sold Doncaster wares, which are aimed at well-heeled women who prefer the social aspect of home-shopping parties.

The family also has made a philanthropic impact. Since 1952, dozens of UNC Chapel Hill professors have won stipends sponsored by the Tanner family to reward outstanding undergraduate teaching.

Tanner officials wouldn’t discuss the filing beyond a statement by Elaine Rudisill, a Charlotte consultant whose title is chief restructuring officer: “The plan is to reorganize and continue to operate for another 85 years.” She works for turnaround specialist The Finley Group, based in Charlotte.

Tanner had sales of about $29 million last year, an 18% decline from the previous year, the filing notes. The main lender, with secured claims for $9.7 million, is Salem Investment Partners, a Winston-Salem-based small-business investmentcompany that made loans to Tanner starting in 2012, operating partner Mark Gillis says.

Overall, Tanner has total liabilities of $18.1 million, while assets including real estate and inventory total $4.3 million, according to the filing. Chinese manufacturer Ningbo Tanner Garment has the biggest unsecured claim, $1.6 million, while James, Pell and Michael Tanner have combined claims of $2.9 million. Longtime CEO Pell Tanner no longer holds that post.

Difficulty in selling women’s apparel by appointment isn’t unique. The parent company of Doncaster rival Carlisle Collection filed for reorganization in 2012 and is now owned by Hong Kong-based apparel manufacturer Royal Spirit Group.

“Tanner’s hope is to come out of this as a stronger organization, and we’re supportive of that,” Gillis says. “The whole point of this filing is to restructure.”

MORGANTON — Duralee Fabrics will lay off 82 employees at its local textile plant. The company in March merged with Massachusetts-based The Robert Allen Group. Affected employees can apply for jobs at the company’s plant in Gaffney, S.C.

NEBO — Taylor Stave will add 28 jobs and invest $395,000 at its local plant, where it makes components for wood barrels used for aging bourbon and wine. Jobs will pay an average annual wage of more than $31,000.

MARION — Baxter International will add 90 jobs and invest more than $7.4 million in its local plant, where it makes IV solutions. The Deerfield, Ill.-based company is McDowell County’s largest employer with about 2,000 workers. The new jobs will pay an average annual salary of $45,556, higher than McDowell’s $32,986.

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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