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Parents, Sam Walton Helped Duck Tape Maker's Success

Kahl went from newspaper route to company with $315 million in sales

By Lana F. Flowers
The Morning News

BENTONVILLE -- Jack Kahl is not a household name, at least not like Wal-Mart’s Sam Walton or Microsoft’s Bill Gates.

But Kahl built a business that made its mark with the introduction of Duck brand duct tape in 1984 and grew into a company with more than $500 million per year in sales.

Kahl said he learned how to be a businessman by stealing the best strategies from others, including lessons learned from his parents. Kahl said he also learned valuable business lessons while selling Manco products, including duct tape, to Wal-Mart.

Kahl spoke Thursday night at NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville about his business life and his friendship with Walton.

Jack Shewmaker, a former Wal-Mart executive who still consults for the company, said he and Kahl have been friends for more than 30 years. Shewmaker said Kahl is successful because he has many of the same attributes Walton had.

" He took a company from very small beginnings to a very successful stage," Shewmaker said.

Kahl took his first job at age 7, when his dad was in a sanitarium with tuberculosis and his mother declared Kahl the man of the house and told him to get a job.

Kahl ran into the Cleveland street to ask a passing newspaper carrier about a job. Kahl then got a paper route and contributed to the household income. Then, his mom taught him how to open and manage a bank account.

" She never did it for you. She made you learn how to do it and be a businessman," Kahl said.

His father survived the bout with tuberculosis, eventually leaving the sanitarium and returning to work. Kahl said his father got his real estate license and started making more money working nights and weekends than at his regular job.

His father then quit the regular job and sold real estate full time. Kahl said that was a risk, because his dad went from a guaranteed salary to working for commissions while trying to support a wife and children. Kahl recalled that risk in later years, when he and his wife had just moved into a new house and had $10,000 saved up for new furniture.

Kahl said $10,000 didn’t furnish the house, but it bought his business that became Manco, the Duck tape maker.

Kahl started as a salesman in 1963, bought the Melvin A. Anderson Co. in 1967 with the $10,000 down payment, changed the name to Manco in 1971 and sold it to Henkel Group in 1998.

Kahl said he used Walton’s technique to motivate employees by posting signs on the walls. Kahl said the first sign at Manco was "Successful people invest in themselves."

Wal-Mart and Manco began a partnership in 1976, when Kahl met buyers at a Dallas trade show.

Kahl met Sam Walton at Wal-Mart in 1976. The day he met Walton, Manco had $4 million to $6 million in sales per year. Within a few years, Manco soared to $21.5 million in sales and then grew to $315 million in sales per year, largely because Wal-Mart buyers liked Duck brand tape and other Manco products, like drawer liners, office stationery supplies and bathtub mats.

Manco sold to Henkel a few years ago and Henkel now has sales of more than $520 million per year. Kahl said his sons work for Henkel and still are growing the company he founded decades ago.

Kahl said that the sign of a true leader is building a legacy that outlasts the person.

" It just gives you great joy to see the team doing what the team has always done," Kahl said.

Copyright © 2005, The Morning News; a Stephens Media publication.