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VOL. 126 | NO. 143 | Monday, July 25, 2011

EMPHASIS: Small Business–Minority Owned

Hardy’s Perseverance Runs in The Family

By Bill Dries

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Carolyn Chism Hardy initially thought owning her own business would be as a business consultant. She was a certified public accountant with a comfortable position and a specialty in cost efficiency at the Memphis Coors brewery in 2006 when Molson-Coors Brewing Co. put the Memphis plant up for sale.

Carolyn Hardy, CEO of Chism Hardy Enterprises LLC, has signed a sales agreement for the sale of Hardy Bottling Co. to City Brewing Co., which will create 500 new jobs.
(Memphis Daily News File Photo)

Five years later, she had bought and run the brewery as Hardy Bottling Co., survived a tornado that nearly destroyed the plant, and sold it for $30 million to City Brewing Co., which had competed with her in 2006 to buy the plant.

Hardy comes from a family with a heritage of entrepreneurship from beauty shops to plumbing companies to grocery stores. She was the seventh child of 16. Her father, Sidney Chism Sr., was in the home improvement business.

The combined family, including aunts and uncles and cousins, has owned 25 major businesses locally and across the country over several generations with an estimated $80 million in annual sales. That doesn’t include members of the family who are executives in corporations the family doesn’t own.

“That’s just in our genes. We can go 16 hours a day and we’ll still be plowing,” Hardy said. “My family employs about 300 across Memphis and the United States.”

Three months after the bottling plant sale was announced at City Hall in late March, Hardy gathered more than 250 family members and friends to celebrate not just the sale but the family history of minority business enterprise.

The testimonial dinner honored the three elders of the extended family, Lois Henderson Chism, Hardy’s mother, as well as her aunt, Dorothy Chism-Joyner, who owned an Orange Mound beauty parlor and her uncle, Samuel Henderson.

Roby Williams, president of the Black Business Association of Memphis, calls Hardy’s accomplishments part of “the triumph of an American family – an African-American family.”

‘“They are entrepreneurs. … They are doing something great. This is generational transfer of wealth and values,” he said. “She’s faced the headwinds of racial discrimination, the headwinds of gender discrimination and saw her way right through it. It’s there, but she’ll work right through it.”

Dr. Linda Chism, Hardy’s cousin, reeled off a long list of family-owned businesses including Chism Trail supermarkets, Maxi Foods and restaurants. “You name them, we’ve got them,” she said.

“Those two groups always worked for themselves,” Hardy recalled of the extended group of aunts and uncles. “We don’t care how much time we spend at work on what we’re trying to achieve. In corporate America, you are better off doing it for yourself.”

Her brother, Sidney Chism Jr., cited his father’s example and the family’s emphasis on education.

Like his sister, Chism Jr. doesn’t shy away from talking about the palpable fears that come with being an entrepreneur.

“It’s always scary going in business. First thing you know, you’ve got a little money and you’re trying to make this money go a long way and build this business up. It’s hard,” he said. “You work 24 hours a day trying to make it work. But once you get it to work, you can’t never lay off. You have to keep going.”

Hardy said the fear can be physical.

“You lose a customer, you start hyperventilating, wondering if you are going to make it,” she said. “If you get a new competitor who starts changing prices, you start to get nervous, you start questioning yourself. You don’t sleep at night. When the weather gets bad, I get nervous.”

The Hardy Bottling plant in Hickory Hill was heavily damaged and nearly went under after one of several tornadoes in February 2008 touched down on the plant site. She lost a major customer during the downtime.

“You are going to have more good days than bad days. But you are going to have bad days,” Hardy said, adding that when she gets asked for advice, the questions that follow usually include, “Am I going to have bad days?”

“Your success will be driven by how you handle those bad days. You are going to be nervous,” she said. “You are going to have that knot in the bottom of your stomach. But at the same time, you are going to have extreme highs.”

The comeback from the tornado was so difficult, now-Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said even he questioned why she didn’t give up.

The recovery was followed by talks with the country’s seventh-largest beer supplier, D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. Yuengling executives said the sale was about to happen. Hardy said it wasn’t, and under a non-disclosure agreement has not said any more about what happened in the talks.

When the sale to City Brewing was announced, Hardy said she had a 10-item checklist for prospective buyers that range from whether they are well-capitalized to whether they are trustworthy.

“Don’t ever rush. I hate it when people say I’ve got to make a decision by Monday,” Hardy said last month in response to a general question about making decisions. “When they say that, I’m out of the game. … People need to understand that if one person approaches you with an opportunity, somebody else is going to approach you.”

In her case, she was approached by City Brewing Co.

City Brewing executives now say its 2006 bid was not as well-capitalized as this year’s bid.

Hardy remains with City Brewing as a consultant, and when the plant is renovated to restore its brewing capabilities, it will continue to bottle the non-alcoholic beverage lines that Hardy and her executive team developed when she became the owner.

Her path to owning the plant began by writing a business plan that included research on the beverage industry for someone else who said she should pursue it herself.

“When I finished that business plan, I knew it was the right thing to do. That’s why you do a business plan,” she said. “It will either convince you that it’s the wrong thing to do or it’ll convince you that it’s the right thing to do.”

Her business plan concluded the business was “seriously undervalued” when the other parts of the beverage industry were taken into account.

“When Coors put it up for sale, I knew how much they had invested in it. During my time with Coors, we invested $90 million,” Hardy added.

She took her business plan, collateral commitments and her own down payment and began looking for investors – asking for $15 million to $20 million – “more money than I ever thought I would ask for.” And she was rejected several times over.

“The more I presented the braver I got. I became comfortable with the questions they were asking,” she said. “Every time I would miss … I would update my business plan. My business plan got stronger and stronger. … You are presenting your vision.”

Her persistence paid off when two financial groups out of Oklahoma agreed and committed in the space of a week.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 77 286 16,478
MORTGAGES 95 347 19,032
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 0 0
BUILDING PERMITS 176 569 33,695
BANKRUPTCIES 59 183 10,920
BUSINESS LICENSES 20 77 5,275
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 102 11,446
MARRIAGE LICENSES 27 97 3,964

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