Sometimes you have to jump.
Texsource founder Robert Bolin learned that mantra early on as a paratrooper serving with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division from 1979-1986.
It's also a lesson he remembered years later when he turned a wave of layoffs - and a personal pink slip - at a former employer into an on-the-spot pitch meeting that funded the launch of Texsource Inc., his Kings Mountain, NC-based screen printing supply company.
As the United States prepares to celebrate 246 years since the signing of The Declaration of Independence, Texsource is marking 25 years since its founding in the summer of 1997.
"We've got a lot to be thankful for," Bolin said. "We've survived multiple recessions, massive shifts in the industry, and a worldwide pandemic."
The company's foundations, however, were laid in turmoil.
After leaving the Army, Bolin moved into manufacturing and sales roles within the textile and screen printing industry, ultimately finding a home within Wilflex Flexible Products in 1993.
He had a company phone, a multi-state sales territory, and a Dodge Intrepid - until he didn't.
One morning in 1997, Bolin said he knew he and many other employees might be in trouble when he attempted to check his company voicemail and found it inactive. He was soon in his manager's office, flanked by a company attorney and a security officer.
He was one of 19 employees terminated that day as the company restructured.
With little left to lose and his walking papers in hand, Bolin pitched the people who'd just fired him on the idea that the company was missing badly on unexploited opportunities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
They needed a distributor who knew the market, he argued, and he was that guy. They gave him a line of credit and a distributorship and just like that he was in business for himself.
He knew the screen printing industry and understood the market but Bolin said it was lessons learned during his military service that underpinned the most critical aspect of running a business - the team of people you train and trust to run it.
A Kings Mountain native, Bolin initially fought hard to leave his hometown after graduating high school. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and completed its Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning before assignment with the All Americans at Fort Bragg.
The training was grueling and the standards exacting but Bolin said his service also provided lessons that remain invaluable more than four decades later.
Master your job, hold yourself and others accountable for their actions - or inaction - look after your teammates and trust they'll look after you, and never forget that it pays to be a winner.
"You train every day towards a goal, to learn to be at your best in a wartime situation so that you can get the job done and bring the people with you back home," Bolin said. "Everything flows from that."
The other great lesson Bolin said he learned as a paratrooper? Put your people where they're most likely to succeed.
"You're only as strong as your weakest link, so you look at someone's strong suit and put them where they'll be at their best," Bolin said. "That's true in the Army and that's true in business."
Texsource's longest-serving employee, Sales Representative Ronnie Cannon, agreed with Bolin's take on getting the most from your employees. He's been with the company almost from its start.
He said he sometimes struggled early on with the responsibilities of what was, at the time, a part-time sales role.
"Robert came to me one day and said, 'You've got it,' turned me loose and trusted me to do my job," Cannon said. "That's something you have to earn and part of what makes something last for this long."
Dwayne Collins, a longtime Texsource sales representative, said he's known Bolin since the pair were in fourth grade. He said building and sustaining that working relationship over the long term comes down to respect.
"That doesn't mean you're not trying to get the most out of people but you've got to start with respect," Collins said. "That's been a very big thing here."
Over 25 years, Bolin said Texsource has grown because it's been focused on finding and acquiring the tools necessary for growth. In the company's beginning, that meant launching with Wilflex products.
Later on, the company acquired three competitors that gave Texsource distribution rights to other key brands, like Ulano, Union Ink and International Coatings to meet specific demands from a growing and changing screen printing customer base.
Texsource has expanded its sales and shipping footprint to locations in Texas in 2010, Indiana in 2014, and most recently, Georgia in 2016. It has also launched a series of introductory and advanced screen printing classes in both North Carolina and Georgia.
The company has become one of the nation's leading distributors of screen printing equipment and supplies and has been recognized by Cleveland County's business community for its sustained success.
That last point matters to Bolin. He said he fought to leave Kings Mountain as a young man, but fought harder to return when he launched his venture.
"Everything comes full circle," Bolin said. "This is where I was born and raised. To run something successfully you've got to believe in it, commit to it. Owning your own business you fight every day to do the right things. To make sure that you and the people that are around you can go home and survive and their families can prosper. This is where I wanted to make that happen."
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