Four Join List of 75 Largest Private Companies in Arkansas

The 75 largest private companies in Arkansas generated total revenue — self-reported and estimated — of $31.15 billion in their most recent fiscal years, and the price of entry to the list was $88.8 million.

Both of those figures represent healthy improvements from last year’s list, when the companies generated total revenue of barely more than $30 billion and $76 million was enough to make the cut.

Never an exact science, the list is topped by probably the least reliable figure: an estimate of $2.25 billion for Stephens Inc., the Little Rock financial conglomerate owned by Warren Stephens. But most of the revenue figures — 61 out of 75 on this year’s list — come directly from the companies, including four companies that had never before participated in the survey.

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The companies occupying the first 11 spots on the list are unchanged from last year. Nos. 2 through 8 self-reported revenue of $1 billion or more last year, one fewer than on last year’s list. Bruce Oakley Inc., the North Little Rock bulk transportation company, which barely cracked the billion-dollar mark during the fiscal year that ended in September 2012, dropped back just below that mark with $950.6 million in revenue in fiscal 2013.

Since then, however, Bruce Oakley has acquired the largest private terminal operator on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma. The purchase of Johnston’s Port 33 Inc., which was completed in February, should be reflected on next year’s list.

Bruce Oakley Inc.’s revenue decrease of 5 percent was not typical of Arkansas’ largest private companies in 2013. On average, revenue increased by more than 3 percent, and three-quarters of the companies on the list reported improved revenue when compared with the previous year.

A large decrease, more than 35 percent, was reported by Hickingbotham Investments Inc., and the holding company for various business ventures of Little Rock’s Hickingbotham family dropped from No. 26 a year ago to No. 36 on this year’s list. But there’s a good reason for that, according to Gene Whisenhunt, the company’s chief financial officer: Hickingbotham Ltd., which owned a group of auto dealerships in California, was sold last year.

“Our revenue is down, so we’re looking for opportunities to go in the other direction,” Whisenhunt said. Hickingbotham Investments still has dealerships in California, but is now looking to buy back home in Arkansas and other parts of the South, he said.

Off the List

Allens Inc. of Siloam Springs, the maker of canned and frozen vegetables founded in 1926, had been a perennial entry on the list of the state’s largest private companies, but it is gone from this year’s list. It was sold out of bankruptcy on the last day of February — the end of its fiscal year — to Sager Creek Acquisition Corp., a newly formed entity owned by investment funds managed or advised by Sankaty Advisors LLC and GB Credit Partners.

Allens’ revenue peaked at $746 million in the fiscal year that ended in February 2010, putting it at No. 11 on that year’s list, before sliding to No. 23 last year with revenue of $420 million. A bankruptcy reorganization filed in October would serve as a reminder that revenue and profitability are two different things: Allens’ revenue for the first eight months of its last fiscal year — March 1 to Oct. 31, 2013 — was $227.7 million, but its debt totaled almost $290 million.

QualChoice Holdings Inc., the Little Rock parent company of QCA and QualChoice insurance companies, is making its final appearance on the list of the largest Arkansas-owned private companies. Coming in at No. 54 with $154 million in revenue last year, QualChoice Holdings was sold last month to Collab Health, a subsidiary of Catholic Health Initiatives of Denver.

New Names

Four companies volunteered revenue data that was sufficient to position them among the top 75 for the first time:

• No. 44 Summerwood Partners LLC of Bryant, which does business as Big Red Stores. Owned by David and Doug Hendrix, Summerwood’s convenience and grocery stores generated revenue of $196.5 million in fiscal 2013, and the company volunteered that its 2012 revenue was $186.9 million, suggesting it should have been on our list in previous years.

• No. 52 E. Ritter & Co. of Marked Tree, which produced revenue of $157 million in 2013 (and $139 million in 2012) through two very different divisions. Ritter Agribusiness in Marked Tree is in the business of farm management, grain services, cotton ginning and warehousing of farm products. But in Jonesboro, the company operates Ritter Communications, which has been offering telecommunications services in northeast Arkansas since 1906.

• No. 56 Douglas Cos. Inc. of Conway, a wholesaler of candy and other merchandise to convenience stores. Headed by Steve Douglas and Susie Douglas Munson, the 41-year-old company had revenue of $152 million in 2013 and $148 million in 2012. It employs 95 workers. Douglas Cos. announced last month that it has acquired a Missouri convenience store distribution company called Tri-Com, which is expected to bump its annual sales to about $230 million and move it up next year’s list by about 20 places.

• No. 72 ABC Financial of Sherwood, which hauled in $98 million last year as the contract biller for 4,800 fitness clubs in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. ABC, led by President Paul Schaller, had previously declined to participate in Arkansas Business’ annual revenue survey, but this year volunteered that its 2013 revenue was off by more than 18 percent from 2012’s total of $120 million. Last month, the company, which employs 600 people, announced a reorganization that included merging several departments under Senior Vice President Mike Escobedo.

Pushed Out

The loss of Allens left only one vacant spot among the top 75, so identifying four new qualifying companies pushed off three companies that had appeared on the 2013 list:

• Clark Contractors of Little Rock, which debuted last year with $104.3 million, reported 2013 revenue of $79.1 million — too low for this year’s cutoff. Baldwin & Shell Construction Co., also of Little Rock, which occupies the No. 75 spot with $88.8 million, similarly saw a double-digit revenue decline. It had been No. 69 last year ($98.7 million in 2012 revenue) and as high as No. 51 the year before that ($151.7 million).

• Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton, last year’s No. 74, and HealthScope Benefits of Little Rock, No. 75 last year, also dropped off the list despite improved revenue. Saline Memorial’s revenue grew from $76.4 million to 79.1 million, and HealthScope, an insurance claims administrator, enjoyed revenue growth of 12.3 percent to $85.4 million.

27th Annual List of Arkansas’ Largest Private Companies

Arkansas Business marked its 30th anniversary in March, and a feature introduced early in that history — in 1988 — is continued this week: the 27th annual list of Arkansas’ largest private companies.

In the early years, the list only sought to find the 50 largest. In 1996, it was expanded to 75 companies. It seeks to be comprehensive and authoritative, but the very privacy of private companies assures that it has never been either. There are undoubtedly companies that belong on this list that are flying beneath the radar, and others have long declined to share even their top-line revenue figures, which is the number used to rank the list.

Some 120 companies were surveyed for this year’s list. Of the 75 that made the final cut, 61 volunteered revenue data. The rest are estimates, often from other companies and publications that undertake similar research projects. See list footnotes for details.

If you know of a company that should be on the list — or comes close and should be surveyed for future lists — please contact Editor Gwen Moritz at (501) 372-1443 or GMoritz@ABPG.com.