Atlanta Attachment’s Price is a master of reinvention

Elvin Price has never been afraid of big dreams or hard work.

“When you’re raised in Bishopville, S.C., there are not a lot of opportunities,” he says. “You have to learn how to be entrepreneurial in order to survive.”

Price began working at age 12 and soon discovered his own entrepreneurial spirit. At 16, he was an apprentice garment factory technician and by 23, a service technician at Wilcox & Gibbs, a manufacturer of sewing machines for the apparel industry. By that time, “I had already decided to go into business for myself, but put my plans on hold to get more experience,” Price says.

It didn’t take long to discover where the next opportunity lay. During the 1960s, apparel manufacturers were beleaguered by an increasingly broad product range and ever–shortening lead times. And modifying equipment to meet those requirements was beginning to overwhelm established sewing machine manufacturers. Price saw an opening.

In 1969, he founded Atlanta Attachment Co., setting up shop in the basement of his house to make specialized sewing equipment.

“I had a wife, three kids and about $100 from my last two paychecks” he says. “That was the sum total of all the money I had in the world.”

Price worked tirelessly by himself for almost two years before renting a building and hiring help. For 30 years, dreaming big and working hard paid significant dividends. Between 1969 and 1999, Atlanta Attachment grew at an average annual rate of 36%, ultimately posting $30 million in annual sales.

Things began to change in 1997, when the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement began to take hold.

“The month after Fruit of the Loom announced that it was moving production offshore, our sales dropped by $1 million,” Price recalls. “All of our customers stopped buying and started making plans to move offshore, too. It was like falling off a cliff.”

At about that same time, mattress major Sealy recruited Atlanta Attachment to build several automated workstations. Price knew little about the bedding industry but saw opportunity, believing “the industry was underserved in terms of the level of sophistication of its equipment.”

Still, Price was at a crossroads. With annual sales in 2000 down by almost two–thirds, he considered closing the company.

“Instead, I decided to do it all over again and went back to working umpteen hours a day,” he says.
Atlanta Attachment began building machinery on spec for what Price describes as “a skeptical bedding industry.” But by 2008, the company was again posting $30 million in annual sales, 70% of which came from mattress machinery.

And then, in 2007, the Great Recession hit.

“Sales nose–dived again,” Price says. “We went from 170 employees to 90.”

Throughout the layoffs, Price kept the company’s research and development department intact. With engineers working six days a week, the company was able to show 14 new machines at ISPA EXPO 2010 in Charlotte, N.C., in March.

Ambitious goals and drive have once again made the difference for Price.

He says the company is “geared for the future” and expects 2010 sales to be back to the $30 million mark.
“It’s an ever–changing world and I like that,” Price says. “Change is where your opportunities are.”

Building better lives To understand Price, it’s important to understand how he conceptualizes his company. “Atlanta Attachment is seen as a machinery manufacturer and that’s not what we are. We make wonderful equipment, but that’s not our end– product. The people are our end–product. (The company) is a vehicle so that people can have wonderful lives—me included,” he says. “I started with nothing. I think that it’s important to share success with the people who made that success for you.”

Aid through aviation For 35 years, Price has been volunteering with Angel Flight, a nonprofit group of private pilots who fly sick and injured children to hospitals to receive care. Jim Loewen, Atlanta Attachment’s corporate pilot, participates in Angel Flight, as well. Together, Price and Loewen average about eight flights a year, shuttling children and their families to Cincinnati for treatment at the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

King of the Kindle Price reads 50 to 60 books a year, mostly nonfiction. He’s particularly interested in history and in biographies of people who have overcome obstacles to become successful. “It reinforces in me that you don’t have to have all the resources you think you do in order to be successful,” he says.

The open road Price and his wife, Janet, enjoy exploring the country in their motor home. They take their time, checking the Internet for points of interest along the way. “I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was a teenager and there’s a lift on the motor home for my Harley,” he says. “You feel involved with the journey and part of the countryside on a motorcycle.”

Bio in brief

Name Elvin Price
Age 71
Company Atlanta Attachment Co.
Title Founder & chairman
Location Lawrenceville, Ga.
Family Price and his wife, Janet, have been married for 25 years. They have six adult sons in their blended family.

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