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Business Cheetah 9-10
New plant enjoying smooth sailing
Seth Wright photo illustration--Local residents are encouraged to build a wild and crazy boat to participate in next weekends Last Splash Summer Bash organized by Smooth Rapids Outfitters. The editors of Business Cheetah have been contemplating design options.

A new manufacturer has floated into Warren County waters and started production of pontoon boat trailers. Benchmark Tool & Machine Trailer has located in Morrison at the old Tennessee Warehouse building and has made about 125 trailers thus far.
The business is an expansion for Pelham-based Benchmark, which was founded 12 years ago by partners Robbie Dickerson and Jeff Hendrix. That plant has about 75 employees now.
Seven people work at the new Morrison facility, including Kirk Mullican, who has moved his business, Vervilla Machine, to that location in a merger of sorts. The goal is to expand the workforce as sales increase.
“When we started in July, we had zero customers. Now we’re up to 10 dealers so we’re happy about that,” said Robbie. “We’ll start to increase trailer production as we have more sales. Right now, we can build them faster than we can sell them.”
Robbie took the time to show me around the facility Wednesday morning and explain the process from start to finish. He said the business is a way to provide a different type of work for Benchmark, which manufactures shipping containers for the automotive industry.
“We deal with a lot of automotive companies and it seems they all run on the same cycle,” said Robbie. “That leaves us with a three-month window where we’re always struggling to find work. If you don’t have work, you have to lay people off so this is something we’re doing to try to remedy that. The idea actually came from one of our salesmen. He came to us and said, ‘I think I can sell 300 to 1,000 of these trailers a year if you can find a way to make them’ so that’s what we did.”
The process starts with steel beams which are cut, welded, shaped, sandblasted and painted. All the engineering is done on site with trailers capable of towing pontoon boats from 14 to 28 feet in length. After painting, the trailers are placed in an oven where the finish is baked on at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.
“The guy who installed the oven says it’s the largest oven in the South,” said Kirk. “It’s 20 feet wide by 40 feet deep. We can fit up to eight trailers in there at a time.”
The trailers go from the oven to assembly where axles, brakes, and padding are added. Because of stacking issues, the trailers aren’t usually transported with the tires. They are attached when the trailers arrive at the dealer.
Robbie explained that there’s a good market for pontoon boat trailers because those type of boats are commonly sold without a trailer. He said many other boats are sold with trailers because they are transported via road, but pontoon boats are often left in water year-round.
Robbie said ideally he would like to work directly with a pontoon boat company to make trailers that can be sold along with the boats and he said such discussions are promising. Trailers can also be custom made. If you’d like to contact Benchmark about a trailer or any other item of business, the local number is (931) 808-1455.

United Diamond has new owners

It’s been a sparkling, 36-year career in the jewelry business for United Diamond Brokers owner Greg Yates. But his career has gone to that giant necklace in the sky as Greg has sold his business and entered the relaxing realm of retirement.
United Diamond Brokers is now owned by Rick and Leslie Hayes in a deal that was finalized Sept. 1. The store will remain at Plaza Shopping Center, its location for the past 25 years, and keep the same name, hours and phone number.
Before taking ownership, Leslie had been a satisfied customer for 21 years. She said the first thing she ever bought at United Diamond was a diamond band and she’s been a regular ever since thanks to the quality and customer service.
“Greg had talked about retirement for a while, but I never knew how serious he was because everyone wants to retire,” said Leslie. “When I came in here in mid-August, he told me he was going to retire and close the store. That’s when we really started talking.”
Tina Higgins has worked there for 23 years and she will remain on staff. So will Gina Higgins, who has been an employee for six years.
“The thing about United Diamond Broker is we’ve always stayed on top of all the trends and that’s going to continue,” said Tina.
Added Leslie, “We have a huge selection of watches coming in and we’ll be getting new inventory daily for the next few weeks. This store has a great clientele and we want everyone to know we’ll still be catering to that clientele while also trying to reach out to some new customers too.”
Tina said the jewelry business has experienced change over the years. Customers used to focus on quality first and foremost. Now cost is more of a concern.
“We have items for all different price points, including earrings that start at $25,” said Tina. “And if we don’t have it, we can get it.”
Leslie wants to stress that Hayes Fire Protection, the business she and her husband have operated for more than 20 years, is still blazing. She says Hayes Fire Protection is still available for all your fire equipment needs.
If you’d like to say farewell to Greg and send him into retirement with a cupcake, a reception will be held in his honor Sept. 28 from 4 to 6 p.m. at United Diamond Brokers. The phone number is 473-3163.

Cumberland Caverns still negotiating

Officials at Cumberland Caverns are still negotiating with Bluegrass Underground in hopes of reaching a long-term solution to keep the popular concert series in Warren County.
Regardless of the outcome of those talks, Cumberland Caverns is branching out and exploring new entertainment options, including a magician who will appear at the cave Friday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m.
“We are confident there is a bright future ahead for concerts and other special events at Cumberland Caverns for many years to come,” said general manager Robby Black.
Since the news of Bluegrass Underground’s departure, Black says there has been an outpouring of support from the community. He says the plan at Cumberland Caverns continues to be facility upgrades and a focus on attracting visitors from around the country.
“We want you to know of our determination to keep the forward momentum of tourism alive and thriving in Warren County and leave a legacy of good stewardship to future generations to come,” said Black.
Cumberland Caverns emphasizes “preservation through commercialization.” That means Cumberland Caverns is open to visitors in a capacity that allows the cave’s natural splendor to be preserved.
For more information about Cumberland Caverns, call 668-4396.

Get ready for a boat parade

Summer has disappeared before our very eyes, but the staff at Smooth Rapids Outfitters has one final celebration planned next weekend.
The Last Splash Summer Bash Float is this coming Saturday, Sept. 16. It will begin at Pepper Branch Park at 10 a.m. and end at Smooth Rapids.
“We want this to be like a parade where people make something, anything, that floats,” said Jimmy Barker, one of the Smooth Rapids owners. “There will be prizes for best single float, best group float, most spirit, and most bizarre float.”
Participants are being encouraged to unlock their creativity to make a boat that will be talked about for generations.
“I’m anxious to see some of the entries because I’ve talked to some people who have some really good ideas,” said Smooth Rapids employee Tracy Martin.
A panel of distinguished judges has been established that will view the entries at the start and around the midway point as they float down the Barren Fork River.
The fun won’t stop once the float is over. There will be a UT-Florida viewing party that starts when the football game begins at 2:30 p.m. Immediately after the game, there will be a concert featuring Seth Davis and Noah Smith at the Smooth Rapids Campground.
“We’ll even be cooking some alligator,” said Tracy, who indicated real alligator bites with a special dipping sauce will be available since the Vols are squaring off against the Gators.
For more information about this, or any other Smooth Rapids event, call (931) 4-KAYAK-1.

Medley’s Diner not expanding

Word on the street was that Medley’s Diner in Morrison was considering an expansion into McMinnville to add a second location. Since I don’t put much stock in word on the street, I decided to call restaurant owner Laura Medley and get the scoop directly from her.
“That’s not true at all,” Laura told me on Friday. “We have this new store in Morrison and that’s enough for us. We’re not expanding. There’s also a rumor that we’re going to Manchester and that’s not true either.”
So to answer the question about Medley’s Diner coming to McMinnville, I’m getting no indication that’s happening.

That’s all folks

In between the pageantry and cotton candy of the Warren County A&L Fair, remember to keep Business Cheetah in your heart and phone in tips at 473-2191.