Parks Sausage aiming for upturn Haysbert hopes new products can overcome recession.

October 11, 1991|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Evening Sun Staff

These are heady times for Raymond V. Haysbert Sr., chairman and chief executive officer of Parks Sausage Co.

A year and a half ago his company moved into its new $16.5 million plant on Parks Industrial Circle in northwest Baltimore. Then, on Sept. 25, Haysbert received the award of Minority Entrepreneur of the Year from President Bush.

"Shaking hands with the most powerful man in the world since Desert Storm was quite a thrill," Haysbert recalls. "That recognition has to be a high point. Now all I need is some more business."

To improve that business, Haysbert has to grapple with a $6 million debt -- the result of the move to the Park Circle area -- the lingering effects of the recession and changing consumer tastes.

Parks, the nation's 35th largest black-owned business, left its old headquarters at Hamburg and Russell streets at the end of February 1990 to make way for the new downtown baseball stadium. Along with the building, 23 years of the company's 40-year history also were left behind. "It just wasn't a question of bricks and mortar," Haysbert says, noting that videotapes were made on the last day there. "That building encompassed the hopes and dreams of so many of our employees."

Now the site of the old plant is part of the parking lot around the new stadium. For old times' sake, Haysbert tried to get the concession to sell Parks hot dogs on the parking lot, but was turned down by stadium authorities. "They froze us out," he says.

The new plant is three times as large as the old one and capable of producing $50 million worth of meat products a year -- enough to satisfy the company's expansion for the foreseeable future. "It's about tomorrow, not about yesterday," Haysbert says about the plant's size.

However, the market did not cooperate. Sales dropped from $27.5 million in 1989 to $26 million in 1990. As a result, the company laid off 25 workers in February, reducing its work force to 215.

Haysbert attributes most of the drop to the recession. "It showed up long before anybody wanted to acknowledge it and it's still here," he says. People are still eating sausage, "but they eat less," Haysbert observes.

Another reason for declining business is the move away from pork sausage by health-conscious consumers who are concerned about fat. To counter this, Parks in May introduced a new chicken sausage that is now one of its top 10 best sellers, Haysbert says. The company is even experimenting with a fish sausage and is now test-marketing it in Philadelphia, he says.

Along with the new plant and the new products, the company got a new president, Richard L. Carnal, 18 months ago.

Parks is exploring expansion in the Southeast and Midwest. The main plant will stay in Baltimore, Haysbert says. "Everything is made in Maryland with pride," he says.

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