SPIRIT OF STANLY 2023: Industrial Products Conveyors and Drives makes a name for itself in Stanly County

Conveyor systems are critical pieces of mechanical handling equipment that help move materials from one location to another, a critical component for many businesses, especially those that deal with heavy objects, such as quarries or lumber yards.

While many people know about conveyor belts — think of the famous “I Love Lucy” chocolate factory scene — there are tons of other less-known conveyor systems critical to the success of industries across the country, including screw conveyors and chain conveyors.

But have you ever thought about how these many systems, and the components needed to produce them, get made?

That’s where a company like Industrial Products Conveyors & Drives is so critical. Founded in Albemarle as Industrial Products by Jack Phillips in 1976, the company has gone through several iterations over the years, but has never lost sight of Phillips’ original vision of “Taking Care of Business” and “Taking Care of the Customer.”

The company changed to IPCD in 2011, when Bill Harvey, a well-known figure within the conveyor pulley manufacturing industry, purchased the business and moved it to its current location in Richfield, along N.C. Highway 49, about two miles past Richfield Park.

IPCD has been located in Richfield since 2017.

“We’ve been in Stanly County since day one,” Harvey said, noting that with so many of its employees from the area, “we’ve never really thought about going to Charlotte or anywhere else.”

IPCD is one of the leading stocking distributors in the Southeast region, specializing in conveyor pulleys, screw conveyors, conveyor idlers, belt scrapers and many other components critical to conveyor systems.

“We service any type of industrial company around, whether it’s a cement plant, or a chicken plant or a paper mill or a rock quarry or a coal mine or a power plant,” Harvey said. “Any type of operation that has moving parts are potential customers for us.”

IPCD stores much of the inventory it has purchased from manufacturers inside its headquarters for all to see.

Originally from Michigan, Harvey moved to North Carolina in 1987 while working for Browning Manufacturing. Shortly after leaving Browning to work for one of its distributors, Harvey, who was in his late 20s, decided he didn’t want to continue working for others.

Having sold conveyor pulleys for the mining industry, Harvey leveraged his experience and, with the help of several investors, opened Conveyor Components Incorporated in 1992 in Albemarle. What began as a small operation eventually grew over two decades into the second largest supplier of conveyor pulleys in the nation.

“We were the manufacturer and we had a network of distributors all around North America, Mexico and Canada and down into the West Indies,” he said.

CCI quickly stood out among its many competitors with its focus on manufacturing products, such as conveyor pulleys, for companies dealing with heavy machinery and doing whatever it took to satisfy its customers.

“In the past, if a cement mill was down, they would call the manufacturer and say, ‘Hey, we’re down’ and the manufacturer would say, ‘Well, you’re just going to have to wait,'” Harvey recalls. “We didn’t take that attitude. We said, ‘When do you need it?’ and they say, ‘We need it now’ and we say, ‘Okay, we’ll stay all night.’ ”

He also created new techniques, such as color-coding certain products, which similar companies have since adopted.

Under Harvey’s leadership, CCI built a “pretty awesome reputation” in the industry for over two decades, before they sold the business, which had about 120 employees at its peak, to Martin Sprocket & Gear in 2008. Harvey stayed on as a vice president for the next decade, overseeing the pulley conveyor division and traveling the world as new plants opened.

Being away from his wife and three young children for long stretches, though, took a toll on Harvey.

“It was brutal,” he said. “I was gone a lot and just got tired of it.”

Similar to how he felt as a young kid working for Browning, Harvey again felt the itch to change things up. So he acquired Industrial Products and Power Transmission from Dan Phillips in 2016, who was Jack Phillips’ nephew, and moved the site a year later to Richfield. He also changed the name to reflect his background with conveyor systems.

“I wanted to have my own business and I wanted to make decisions,” Harvey said about the decision to purchase the company. “I just wanted to have a small business, have fun and be able to use the skills that I learned through all those years.”

Bill Harvey examines some wing pulleys.

Though IPCD’s influence extends well beyond North Carolina, many of its customers are based in Stanly County, including the City of Albemarle, Aquadale Quarry, Dean’s Ready Mixed, Fiberon and Culp Lumber Co., and the surrounding area, including Duke Energy, Hedrick Industries, Vulcan Materials and Martin Marietta.

“We’ve focused on what the customer’s individual needs are,” Harvey said. “Instead of us telling the customers what they were going to get, we listened to what their needs were and we found a way to do what they’re asking and what they needed in order to get their manufacturing facilities running.”

Coming from a manufacturing background, there was a bit of a learning curve for Harvey, as he was now on the “exact opposite side of the supply chain.”

In the six years since Harvey took over, IPCD has flourished. The number of employees has more than doubled from nine in 2016 to now 20. The customer base has expanded because of Harvey’s connections during his CCI days, and sales have increased about 700 percent.

“We’ve turned into a real force to be reckoned with in this market area,” Harvey said.

But the company is not resting on its laurels. In early 2022, IPCD broke ground on a $3 million manufacturing facility, adding about 10,000 square feet to the facility. IPCD will hire an additional 20 employees within the next several years.

A public hearing regarding the expansion was conducted by the Stanly County Board of Commissioners in early February 2022, followed by the commissioners unanimously approving an economic development incentive grant for the company.

“IPCD is pleased to carry on the legacy of Mr. Jack Phillips who founded Industrial Products in 1976,” Harvey said in a statement after the grant was approved. The expansion was expected to result in approximately $2.1 million in new taxable investments.

The new facility, which should be ready in the spring, will have ample space for the company to perform its own project estimating, engineering, drafting and computer-aided designing along with a warehouse with saws, lathes, milling machines and a plasma burn table to manufacture necessary components.

“Everybody in this industry buys parts from other people…so I can’t make an electric motor and I can’t make an airbox, but I can take all those, design them on our systems and put them together so we have a finished system,” he said.

Eventually the company should be able to fabricate products that they currently have to outsource from various vendors, including the Minnesota-based Superior Industries, which manufactures many of IPCD’s inventory.

“Instead of just handling product, we will be making our own product,” said warehouse manager Scott Bailey.”We will be manufacturing some of our own parts and shipping them out.”

IPCD will expand its operations to include a new manufacturing facility.

Throughout his career, Harvey has made it a priority to make sure his employees, many of whom are from Stanly County, are not only in positions to succeed but also feel valued.

As head of a small company, Harvey has gotten to know each of his workers, inviting them to his property each year on Lake Tillery. He also organizes trips for his sales team, including fishing in Blowing Rock and taking part in Skip Barber Racing School with the Virginia International Raceway.

“Any company is really only as good as the employees that you have and we’ve really tried to hire the right people,” he said. “We’ve got a great team right here and every single person will give you the shirt off their back.

“They’re all super dedicated,” he added. “We’re very lucky.”

A few of the employees have known Harvey for many years, dating back to their time together at CCI. Jason “Buck” Bost, for instance, came to work at IPCD three years ago because he wanted to be part of a growing business, and reestablish his connection with Harvey.

Bailey, the warehouse manager who has known Harvey since 1996, visited the business a few years ago to order a part when Harvey, who Bailey said knew he was not happy with his current job, offered him employment at IPCD.

“Bill is a good boss, that’s why everyone wants to come work for him,” Bailey said, noting he gets the most out of his employees. “You can be demanding if you can be fair and treat people with respect and he’s always done that.”

Harvey also encourages giving back to the community, as IPCD has helped many organizations over the years, including Relay for Life, Dream on 3 and Gateway of Hope, a long-term rehabilitation center being built in New London for people seeking freedom from addiction. As part of a holiday campaign drive, the company in late 2022 raised $1,445 in donations for Gateway of Hope.

“Great Job on your generosity this Holiday Season!” Harvey emailed his team about the money raised.

But while Harvey values his employees’ hard work and commitment to the job, he makes it known that family priorities, especially involving children, always come first.

“Bill has three children of his own and a handful of grandkids that are really important to him and so he knows how important our kids and our family are to us,” said general manager Paul Wilkins.

“If we have an employee that has a kid that’s going to be in a Thanksgiving play, I don’t want them to do the same thing that I did. I missed all those,” Harvey said. “They’re going to go see their kid’s Thanksgiving play because you only get one time around.”

Though he has no plans on stepping down soon, Harvey, 61, has still thought about what the future of the company will look like when he is no longer around.

And that is where his 27-year-old son Ryan, who lives in Los Angeles and is already in the industry, comes into play. Ryan will move back to the area in the early summer to work with his father, with the plan of eventually taking over once Harvey retires.

“It’s kind of all fallen together because he is following almost the same footsteps that I did,” Harvey said, noting that his son currently works for an original equipment manufacturer. “He’s learned all different aspects and now he gets to come be a businessman and learn how this small company operates.”

Bringing in Ryan also aligns with Harvey’s goal of hiring younger people, as the company has several employees over 60 years of age.

“We don’t want to work forever, so we’re really on a mission to bring in youth,” he said.

Looking ahead, Harvey acknowledges big changes are on the horizon, but is excited with the company’s trajectory.

“It’s going to pan out and we’re going to take care of our customers and we’re going to be a good employer for Stanly County and keep doing what we’ve always done,” he said. “It’s fun. I love it.”