Lanny Woods entered the surface finishing industry in 1974 and has never looked back. He learned things from the ground up and eventually started his own company, Pro-Kote Powder Coating, in Jackson, Tenn., the home of legendary singer Carl Perkins. Lanny’s friends know he enjoys fine cigars and great-tasting wine, and we caught up with him on an afternoon when he was enjoying a Dominican corona and a fine red.
You’ve been in the powder coating industry for almost 40 years. What’s the biggest difference between when you started and today’s operations?
LW: One of biggest differences in powder coatings has been the continued developments of thin-filmed coatings, the spectrum of colors, and variety of textures and special finishes available.
How did you get into the powder coating business?
LW: I got into the powder coating business by accident. Fresh out of high school, I interviewed with Armstrong Products in Warsaw, Ind.. When asked during the interview process if I knew what they did, I said either floor tiles or tires. They said, “Close enough,” and I was hired. This was the beginning of my education in the powder coating industry and subsequent life-long career. In 1987, I relocated to Jackson as product manager for Reliable Coatings, which was acquired by Valspar in 1991. In 1996, I transitioned from manufacturing to custom coater when I started Pro-Kote with my wife, Donna.
Back in 1999, you lost your entire business when a tornado ripped through your town. How hard was it to get things back in operation, as well as to keep your customers?
LW: The morning after was the toughest. I sat in my truck in front of the mountain of debris that was our business and I realized I had to secure the interest of our customers to keep their businesses from coming to a halt. I started calling my competitors to secure line space and coordinating the transition for our customers. This meant providing paint specs, pricing, etc. Once the customers were secure, the process of cleanup and rebuilding began. We were able to maintain our employees during the entire rebuilding process. After eight months of working tirelessly to build a new facility from ground up and installing a powder system, we were ready to call our customers to see who would be back. We were thrilled and blessed to have every last customer return.
You’ve travelled extensively overseas with other powder coaters to visit plants and observe powder coating operations. What’s the impression you get of how the Europeans run their lines compared with in the U.S.?
LW: I found the operations to be very similar to the U.S. They seemed to be ahead of the curve on a few applications. I was personally intrigued seeing the operation of vertical lines.
You live in Jackson, well-known as the home of rockabilly singer Carl Perkins. Any close encounters with the singer?
LW: I never met him personally, but was able to see him perform on several occasions.
We know you are a connoisseur of fine cigars and fine wines. Any recommendations for a good smoke and fine drink for our readers?
LW: A Monte Cristo cigar is always enjoyed. I do have a personal favorite that I enjoy sharing with customers and friends: our private label “Pro-Kote” from the Cigar Factory New Orleans. For wines, I prefer a robust, full-bodied merlot. Shot Fire, an Australian syrah, was recently recommended to me by a friend in Miami.
What’s the best advice, personal or professional, that you’ve been given in your career, and who gave it?
LW: “Pick your fights.” This advice was given to me by my insurance agent during the rebuilding process after the tornado in 1999. Rebuilding, insurance claims and the overall chaos reminded me to step back and think, “Is this worth fighting for?” I use this in decision-making daily in my professional and personal life.
Family: Wife: Donna. Children: Steve, Brittney and Ryan. Granddaughters: Alli, Lilly and Savannah.
Favorite hobby: Travelling, weekend chef and spending quality time with granddaughters.
Favorite movie: Days of Thunder and It’s A Wonderful Life
Favorite book: I recently enjoyed reading Willie Nelson’s Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die thatI received as a Christmas gift.
What’s playing in your car CD/radio: On my CD is Willie Nelson. On the radio I enjoy classic rock and talk radio.