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Never say never.
That's a valuable lesson Rick Goodin learned years ago after saying that he would never come back to live in his hometown of Lebanon or work at his family's business - Lebanon Oak Flooring.
But, as Goodin can attest, sometimes it's good to be wrong.
It's apparently paid off for Goodin, who was recently named Outstanding Businessperson by the Lebanon-Marion County Chamber of Commerce.
As the plant manager for Lebanon Oak Flooring, which has been a family-owned business since the early 1900s, Goodin gets his hands dirty in all aspects of the operation, which is a clear indication of why he won his recent award.
But before he was getting his hands dirty with sawdust and wood products, he was behind a desk, dressed in a suit and tie.
After earning a bachelor's degree in business administration at the University of Kentucky, Goodin began working for the Mercantile Corporation in Nashville. That job led him to becoming the youngest superintendent of operations in the company and moving to Augusta, Ga., to work at J.B. White, a Mercantile store. He was 23 years old.
While working there, he did it all. He was the human resource manager. He was in charge of security. He was responsible for shipping and receiving. And those endless responsibilities taught him a great deal that would help him when he came back to his hometown.
"It was a wonderful experience to get out and see how the other half lives," he said.
But, there were a few downfalls to the job. He was working 80 to 90 hours a week and that was taking a toll on him, and his wife, Judy. When the need to be closer to family became overwhelming, Goodin realized it was time to return to Lebanon. So, he wrote his dad a letter and asked if there was any opportunity for him at Lebanon Oak Flooring. They discussed it on several occasions and in 1982, Goodin returned home to Lebanon with his wife and began working at Lebanon Oak Flooring.
The change from being in a corporate environment to a small, family-operated business took some getting used to, Goodin said.
"It was hard," he said. "I'm the boss's kid and I had to learn it from the ground up. It was a slow learning process. I was used to a very structured environment. Here, things were much more laid back."
Goodin worked at Lebanon Oak Flooring a few summers during college, but he didn't know the intricate details of what the company did and how they were done. Since 1935, Lebanon Oak Flooring has manufactured a diversified mix of wood products, including hardwood flooring, stairs treads, risers, handrails and mouldings. As the times have changed, so has the business.
"I had to learn it just like the new guy coming in the door," he said. "That was a challenge."
Goodin had also become accustomed to working in a suit and tie. When he came back to Lebanon he was working in jeans and work boots.
His first day at Lebanon Oak Flooring was a bitter cold day in February.
"I thought, 'What have I done?' he said.
But Goodin doesn't regret his decision, and what he's learned at Lebanon Oak Flooring about running a business has been immeasurable. He's learned that, to run a successful business, you have to have teamwork, treat people with respect and know how to make money.
"You don't tell people what to do, you do by example," Goodin said. "There's not a job over here that I haven't got involved with. I'm going to get my hands dirty just like they do."
Another crucial part of running a business is to learn from those around you, Goodin said.
"I'm not above asking for advice," he said. "I don't claim to know it all. I learn something every day."
Goodin said he's learned a great deal from his father, Robert, and his uncle, Charles, who are the owners of the company. He said their vision is what has kept the business alive, especially during hard times.
Marion County Economic Development Director Tom Lund said Goodin and his family's business have had a large impact on Marion County.
"He certainly seems to be carrying on the Goodin family tradition," Lund said.
Aside from learning from his father and uncle, Goodin said he's also learned a great deal from Porter Bright, who retired from Lebanon Oak Flooring a few years ago after working there for at least 50 years. Goodin worked with Bright in the factory portion of the business.
"He was a tremendous influence on me," he said. "I learned how to work from him."
Now, Bright's twin sons, Keith and Kevin, have taken their father's place and run the production side of the business.
Having quality employees, such as the Brights, is what has helped Lebanon Oak Flooring remain a successful business, which sells its product all over the United States and Canada. Having dependable employees has also enabled Goodin to be away from the office and be actively involved in professional organizations, such as the Kentucky Forest Industry Association. He served as a board of director for 10 years and also served as KIFA's president for two years.
"To lead the organization was a thrill for me," he said.
Goodin has also devoted a great deal of his time volunteering for local organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, the Marion County Junior Miss program, the Kentucky Junior Miss program and the St. Augustine Parish Council.
He credits his wife of 30 years for helping him juggle his hectic schedule of work and volunteering.
"I have a wonderful wife," Goodin said. "She has been a rock for me."
Goodin and his wife have three children - Richard, 26, Lauren, 23 and Mallory, 19.
And, while managing a business in this tough economy can be difficult, downright scary at times, Goodin and his family are a prime example of what can happen if you have a good product and the know-how to sell it. The key for Goodin is being able to see and understand all aspects of the business.
"You need to have great peripheral vision," he said. "You have to be able to see the whole ball of wax."