Choctaw-Kaul’s Tubby weathers the storms, reaps the rewards, pays it forward

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Kenny Tubby

With an entrepreneurial spirit and determination, Native American Kenny Tubby started Choctaw Glove & Safety Co. Inc. with friends and tribal members in 1992. On the outskirts of the Mississippi Choctaw reservation, it manufactures industrial work gloves and protective sleeves to distribute throughout the mid-South. Although small and barely profitable, in 1994 the manufacturing company gained the attention of Ford Motor Co. and within a year it was on the move.

“We gained the attention of Ford by offering direct access to manufacturer pricing, and in 1995, Ford awarded Choctaw Glove its first large contract,” President Tubby said.

In the beginning, Choctaw continued to struggle. Ford encouraged its incumbent supplier, Kaul Safety International in Detroit, to assist in the development and distribution of Choctaw Glove & Safety products. That relationship developed into a productive affiliation as both organizations achieved mutual business growth.

“In  1998, Choctaw  Glove  purchased 51 percent of Kaul Safety to combine the manufacturing strength of Choctaw Glove and the distribution capabilities of Kaul Safety International, naming the company Choctaw-Kaul Distribution Co.,” President/CEO Tubby said. “Two years later, Ford invited Choctaw-Kaul to compete in a sourcing initiative aimed at standardizing safety supplies nationally. Choctaw-Kaul demonstrated competitiveness on gloves and all safety-related materials and gained a national safety supply agreement from Ford. The agreement delivered lower prices, a higher service level, product standardization and vendor consolidation from nearly 20 to one. Product usages from multiple vendors were consolidated using a Six Sigma standardization process with Choctaw-Kaul.”

Tubby added, “Choctaw-Kaul competes on a daily basis with big-box suppliers and integrators that have a larger footprint and more purchasing power than a minority company our size. Therefore, CK has to work smarter and harder on leaner margins.”

Despite expansion over the years, the ever-changing economy has brought on industry challenges. “Choctaw-Kaul overcame the automotive industry downturn by diversifying our customer base and by diversifying the products we offer to the market,” Tubby said. “Diversification helped Choctaw-Kaul weather major customer bankruptcies from General Motors, Chrysler Corp. and other original equipment manufacturers that could have crippled our company and displaced our employees. Maintenance, repair and operations materials, such as tools and janitorial supplies, represent a good growth opportunity for us.

“Business expansion realized from our MRO product offering brought its own set of challenges with regard to talent acquisition, warehousing and technical support,” he said. “We took on multiple, large-customer contract launches in the past 24 months, and we were successful in each of the implementations.”

Today Choctaw-Kaul Distribution Co. manufactures and distributes gloves, personal protective equipment, safety supplies, janitorial supplies and hand and power tools. It provides vendor-managed inventory services and integrated supplier management programs.

CK operates manufacturing and distribution centers in 11 communities and has 37 account managers throughout North America. They provide good jobs and benefits to 135 employees, many of whom are located in economically challenged areas. The company’s manufacturing facilities are located in Reynosa, Mexico; Shanghai, China; and Noxapater and Slate Springs, Miss.

Choctaw-Kaul is committed to enhancing its supplier diversity and developmental programs directed towards diverse suppliers, minority and women business enterprises and is the recipient of several awards including Diversity Supplier of the Year and NMSDC Success Partnership Award between Choctaw-Kaul and Ford Motor Co.

“Choctaw-Kaul supports MBEs on a local and national level and attends MBE events to seek out potential MBE suppliers who can displace majority and non-supportive suppliers with MBEs,” Tubby said. “Choctaw-Kaul officially and unofficially mentors MBEs to help them be successful with us and other customers.”

He added, “We are thankful for the growth in sales and employment, and diversification has been our savior in recent years. We worked hard over the past 15 years to successfully diversify our customer base. We have also diversified our products and services to attract new business with existing and new customers.”

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