Yarnell's: 75 Years And Going Strong (Fifth Monday)

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Jul. 30, 2007 12:00 am  

Some of the faces behind Yarnell's, the 75-year-old ice cream company based in Searcy.

Asked the hardest part of the job, Rogers replies, "The hardest and the best are both the same in a privately owned business like this: the consequences of your decisions and the weight that each of us feels in making those decisions.

"There are 280 families and literally hundreds of thousands of consumers that depend on us to make good decisions on food safety, that depend on us to make good decisions concerning what financing arrangements are appropriate, and it is that responsibility that I suppose I take most seriously. And it's not unpleasant but it's very serious.

"Because we work with so many very large publicly held companies, I see projects that they initiate that are sometimes successful but many times fail, and for a multibillion-dollar company, that's a very small consequence to their bottom line. If any of the three of us in our areas of responsibility make a decision that's just really wrong, the impact of that could be devastating to a privately held company."

Christina: "I guess our business is one that requires perfection and precision every day. And when it's the middle of July and it's hot and you've been running at 110 percent on both sides of your business since May keeping everybody fresh and enthused and excited about coming to work even though by this time of the year they're pretty tired and maintain that precision and perfection, you've got to be extra peppy. As the leaders you've got to be extra motivating. ...

"I try to keep everybody happy with what they're doing because mistakes are very costly. And as lean as we are, you really can't make them."

As for the technology, Albert sums it up: "Ice cream-making was much simpler in 1932. We made essentially five or six flavors and filled 5-gallon cans all done essentially in what you would call a manual system. Nowadays the machinery that makes the ice cream is overwhelmed by the machinery that packages the ice cream.

"All of this is controlled somewhere along the line by computers, so it's people being smart enough to operate the computers, not people being smart enough to operate and know how to manufacture the ice cream."

Down-home Goodness

Yet despite the pressures of playing in the big leagues, the Yarnell family is known for its community involvement, in ways small and large.

Watson Bell, a Searcy lawyer who practiced with now-Gov. Mike Beebe for 24 years, has known the Yarnell family his entire life. He and Rogers started kindergarten together and are close friends, and Bell's daughter and Christina are best friends.

"They've always been progressive," Bell says. "For many years they were one of the very few industries in Searcy, in this region, and they were always willing to share. They were always willing to try to attract industry to this region. ... They realized that in order for Searcy to progress they needed to attract new business. ... One reason Searcy is where it is is because they helped attract new business."

"They believed and demonstrated that what was good for Searcy was good for Yarnell's and vice versa, and not only Searcy but Arkansas. And if everybody prospered they prospered."



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