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July 21, 2020 | Tom Ballard

PART 2: Patricia Bible praises team for near 50X growth at KaTom in the past 18 years

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the second in a series featuring Patricia Bible, President and Chief Executive Officer of KaTom Restaurant Supply Inc. Her company has made Inc. Magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest growing companies in America 11 consecutive years. The accomplishment by KaTom and 10 other local companies was the point of a celebration earlier this year that was organized by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and sponsored by PYA, the power behind teknovation.biz.)

“It’s not about me, but it’s about the team,” Patricia Bible says early in our interview as she noted the near 50X growth at KaTom Restaurant Supply Inc. in the last 18 years.

The company’s President and Chief Executive Officer describes her role as “guiding them through the I can’t to the I can. It’s always bigger, better and brighter the next day.”

As we noted in the first article in this series, it is that optimism that has served the Morristown native so well as she assumed leadership for KaTom after her husband’s unexpected death in 2001 and has led the business to making Inc. Magazine’s list of America’s 5000 fastest growing companies for 11 consecutive years.

Now, she has her sights set of an even bigger goal – $1 billion in revenues.

For the engaging Bible, it is just the latest proverbial hill to climb. The company was founded in 1982 with Tim, her late husband, and Patricia selling smallwares – glassware, flatware, dinnerware, pots and pans, table top items, bar supplies, food preparation utensils and tools, storage supplies, service items and small appliances – to Western Sizzlin’ Steakhouse franchisees. After five years of operating out of their garage, they moved into what she describes as a long, narrow, 27,000 square foot warehouse in Russellville.

“We (she and her late husband Tim) bought a growth site near that facility,” Bible says. “After his death, I knew I had to expand, but I had a gnawing feeling that expanding there was not wise.”

That uncertainty was further fueled when her two children – Paula and Charley – returned from college and wanted to live in a more urban area with the amenities they had come to expect – Greenville, SC in the case of her daughter and Atlanta in the case of her son.

“Selfishly, I wanted to put it in Hamblen County, but I decided to locate close to Knox County,” Bible explains. Some of the deciding factors included a location more convenient to the suppliers, the presence alongside I-40, and issues like telecommunications reliability.

The search for a better location was not easy. “It was a two-year journey working with five different economic development groups,” she says.

Bible recalls a day when she was driving I-40 and felt something tell her that she needed to exit and head down a road on the north side of the Interstate that runs behind the Bass Pro Shop. That fateful drive led her to the 20-acre site of a former log home manufacturer, and she immediately knew that was where KaTom needed to relocate. Unfortunately, it took repeated offers from Bible before the landowner was willing to sell.

And, for good measure, there was abandoned logging equipment left on the site that she was able to sell for $1.1 million, helping offset some of the cost of the new 100,000 square foot facility.

“It’s how I learned to overcome fear,” she says. “At every step, all these pieces kept falling in place. It came together like pieces of a puzzle.”

Yet, there’s a phrase attributed to William Shakespeare that reads as follow: “All that glitters is not gold,” and Bible learned that fact as the move was occurring.

NEXT: Change can offer disruptive opportunity.