Fifty years ago, In July of 1964, I was paying my way through the University of Alabama cutting yards and cleaning offices at night. One day after I had put out my cutting crews on the various homes and city parks, I stopped by the Hotel Stafford in downtown Tuscaloosa to see whom I could run into that I might procure some business from, who were drinking coffee and discussing the normal past Saturday’s break down of Coach Bryant’s juggernaut football teams’ conquest. Sitting at the coffee bar was Lewis Manderson, Jr. who owned the local billboard company, Creative Displays. Those were the days before interstate highways in Alabama, and the DOT allowed cutting of weeds, bushes and general vegetation along the rights of ways. I asked Lewis if he would hire my crews to cut in front of all his billboards coming into town on those major arteries and after a brief negotiation, of which he was the master, we ‘cut’ a deal to hire my crews.
After I completed my work, I went by his office to get my pay and began discussing with him how he sold billboards and what all was involved etc.; being as I knew someday my type “A” personality would hopefully take me beyond being everybody’s yard man, don’t you know. Well, after about an hour of his presentation, if you will, of the merits and benefits of outdoor advertising, and meeting with his chief artist, the affable and most creative Jack Andrews, I became enthralled with the possibilities of my potential in this industry as a career. I asked Lewis if would he give me an opportunity to try my selling skills and he told me to check with him in about a year when I finished the University, as he did not have a part time sales job. I thanked him and left. The next morning at 7 AM when he arrived, I was sitting in front of his office drinking my third cup of coffee and he walked up and asked me if he had not paid me the day before; “Yes I said, but I’m here to talk with you about selling billboards again; I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about how great I thought I could be.” He very kindly, but forcefully told me to come back when I was out of school as he did not have a part time job, turned, and walked into his office.
After the third morning of me sitting in front of his office at 7 AM when he pulled up, he came over to my truck and said, “I guess I’m either going to have to hire you or kill you?” I said “yes sir, that’s about it”. Nine years later in 1973, Lewis, after acquiring and developing over 25 companies in the East and South East, and all of Ted Turner’s companies, and me learning to the third power, the selling, developing financing, hiring of sales, operational and office personnel, my wife Patty and I, decided that our best financial opportunities were to own our own company. I had developed a great friendship and trust with a young bank executive in Gadsden, Alabama where Lewis had sent me 4 years previous to manage that market, named Tom Stinson; CEO of a large local bank. I wanted to acquire my own company but obviously did not have the funds to do that, so I approached Tom and asked if he would assist me; “Absolutely he said.”
The bottom line of that entire story is that Tom hocked his family bank stock, personally got on the notes to a bank in Galveston, Texas and thus began the “Outdoor West” billboard company and story. The Galveston company had 155 poster panels and no bulletins on the Island, but was 45 miles from the 5th largest market in America; Houston, Texas, straight down I-45.
Seven years later in 1980 I sold that company; 550 poster panels and 45 bulletins from Galveston to downtown Houston, to a national firm, Foster and Kleiser and with the proceeds purchased: Tri-Cities,(Johnson City, Bristol, Kingsport) and Clarksville, Tennessee; San Angelo, Texas and Macon, Georgia. (I was able to repay Tom Stinson 30 times his original investment in the Galveston Company!) Beginning in 1985, when I purchased the largest record archives company in Atlanta, sons Chuck and Scott came to work in the sales and operations of that business and in 1994 when son Jed graduated from college (Auburn) came to work in our Tennessee outdoor division in sales. When we sold that in 1996 to the Lamar Company, Jed moved to our Macon, Georgia Company until we divested that to Lamar in 2000. Since then we have built our Georgia Company from scratch under the Renfroe Outdoor banner that Jed is the President of.
I am proud to say that today, 50 years later, my entire family, including daughter Christa, and now 3rd generation granddaughter, Emily Renfroe Wright; billboard sales in Tuscaloosa, is involved in the day to day managing and operating of our Renfroe Enterprise family of businesses of billboards, self-storage mini-warehouses, and industrial business parks: from McDonough, Macon and Savannah, Georgia, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama; where it ‘’all started with a lawn mower!”
Charlie Renfroe/CEO-Founder: July, 2014