State's Largest Private Companies Book Revenue of $28.6B

(To see the list of the largest private companies in Arkansas, click on the appropriate page number: 1 2 3 4 5 or 6. A spreadsheet version is also available.)

(To see the highs and lows of the top private companies since Arkansas Business began compiling the list in 1995, click here.)

Call it a trailing economic indicator: The price of admission to Arkansas Business' 2008 list of the state's 75 largest private companies dropped 5 percent from 2007.

Truman Arnold Cos., which is actually headquartered on the Texas side of Texarkana, continues to top the list with a modest $50 million increase in revenue during its 2007 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. (Fifty million dollars is modest when your total revenue is pushing $2 billion. And since TAC is in the fuel business, it's safe to expect a much less modest increase in revenue during fiscal 2008.)

Squeaking in at No. 75 is Riverside Furniture Corp. of Fort Smith, which reported $99.5 million in sales during calendar 2007, a 14.2 percent decline from 2006. Declines in revenue weren't unusual last year; at least a quarter of the companies that made the top 75 had negative sales growth in 2007 compared with 2006. And sales declines sent three companies from last year's list - Hytrol Conveyor Co. Inc. of Jonesboro, Carco Capital Inc. of Fort Smith and Latco Inc. of Lincoln - into the category of also-rans.

The rules of engagement for the private companies list are these: The company must be privately owned and headquartered in Arkansas (or on either side of Texarkana). That means that No. 71 American Management Corp. is making its last appearance on the list since it was sold in February to First Mercury Financial Corp. of Southfield, Mich.

It also means that Ranger Boats of Flippin, the subject of a Page 1 feature this week, isn't eligible for the list because it isn't actually owned in Arkansas, and that last year's No. 32 company, Technisource Inc. of Little Rock, was dropped from the list because it was sold to Spherion Corp. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at the end of 2007.

Private companies are under no obligation to reveal revenue or employment data, but 64 of the companies that made the list (and many others that didn't reach the cutoff) did so voluntarily. Eleven companies, including Stephens Inc. of Little Rock and the Stephens family holding company, SF Holding Corp., are ranked using estimates or revenue figures reported by other media or research services. Figures that were not provided by the company are footnoted.

The 75 companies represent total reported or estimated revenue of $28.6 billion in 2007, an increase of more than 8 percent from the list's total in 2006. Winners and losers were generally predictable: Petroleum purveyors like Truman Arnold Cos., No. 9 E-Z Mart (also of Texarkana, Texas), No. 20 Coulson Oil Co. of North Little Rock and No. 46 Crackerbox Food Stores of Hot Springs reported significant revenue growth.

The highest-ranked newcomer on the list, at No. 18, is Flash Market Inc. of West Memphis, a chain of convenience stores led by Harold Patterson. It reported $512.7 million in revenue last year and undoubtedly should have been on the list for several years.

Housing, Food

Companies whose revenue depends on the housing market were not so lucky. Sales at Cooper Communities Inc. of Rogers were off more than 21 percent in 2007, although marketing manager David Bean said the company has cautiously restarted its spec-home building program in 2008. Ridout Lumber Cos., the 36-year-old Searcy building material wholesaler, recorded a revenue decline of more than 23 percent in 2007 and dropped from No. 41 to No. 44 on the list. Revenue at No. 43 National Home Centers of Springdale, another seller of building materials, was off almost 19 percent. (See story, Page 19.)

Inflation in food prices is headline news in mid-2008, but it wasn't so obvious when Affiliated Foods Southwest Inc. finished its fiscal 2007 on June 30. While remaining at No. 8 on the list of private companies, the Little Rock grocery wholesaler and retailer actually saw a slight decrease in revenue in fiscal 2007, to $763.2 million from $773 million in fiscal 2006.

Affiliated Foods spokesman Al Miller said fiscal 2008, which will end in about five weeks, would be another "flat" year in terms of revenue. But the closing of some nonproductive stores and other operations during the past 18 months had executives expecting "much improvement" during fiscal 2009.

Harps Food Stores Inc. of Springdale, which closes its fiscal year in August, reported a better 2007 with sales up 5.3 percent to $400 million. Forrest City Grocery Co. enjoyed sales growth of almost 9 percent in 2007, reaching the half-billion-dollar mark, but still moved down from No. 16 to No. 19 on this year's list.

Among the businesses whose revenue was estimated is Wehco Media, the parent company of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a growing roster of newspapers as well as cable TV operations. Wehco has never volunteered its revenue figure to Arkansas Business, but Advertising Age magazine in 2006 ranked it among the "100 Leading Media Companies" with 2005 revenue of $301 million. In 2007, Wehco slipped off Advertising Age's list, which had a cutoff of $301 million, so Arkansas Business has revised downward its 2006 estimate to $300 million and maintained that estimate for 2007.

Similarly, Stephens Media, which is part of the Stephens family's SF Holding Corp., slipped off Advertising Age's 2007 list as well. The 2005 figure that Advertising Age listed for Stephens Media, $274 million, is still used in this year's Arkansas Business list. SF's ranking at No. 36 is the least reliable on the list since no independent estimate of revenue by Stephens Production Co., the family's Fort Smith natural gas production company, or other SF holdings was available.

Two companies, however, provided revenue figures for the first time in recent memory, making their rankings vastly more reliable:

• Mountaire Corp. of North Little Rock, which reported 2007 revenue of $1.15 billion and moved from No. 6 to No. 3 on the list; and

• No. 72 Russell Chevrolet of Sherwood, which corrected our 2006 estimate of $115 million to $101 million and provided a 2007 revenue figure of $106 million.

Returning to the list this year after one or more years of hiatus are:

• No. 70 May Construction Co. of Little Rock, with $108 million in revenue last year;

• Schmeiding Enterprises Inc. of Springdale, which is ranked No. 73 based on a $101.4 million estimate of 2007 revenue by Hoover's Inc.; and

• No. 74 ERC Properties Inc. of Fort Smith, which is still estimated at $100 million although the company has not provided a revenue figure since 2005.