With A Lot Of Faith, Hard Work, Couple Builds Business

Black History/a Celebration

February 10, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

WHEN IT ALL BECAME TOO MUCH — the agony and stress of losing a dream airline job, of building a business from scratch, of dealing with subtle, yet real, racial discrimination -- James Price has always recalled what his grandmother taught.

"In this business, you have to draw your strength from someplace," says the executive vice president of J & K Distributors. "All thepain you go through, you could go to the doctor for treatment. We put our maker, the Lord, first."

That faith has helped Price, 49, and his wife Kay, 42, turn a business they started in their Annapolis dining room 10 years ago into aprosperous, nine-truck, 25-employee operation distributing janitorial products.

Price, a high school dropout who returned for his diploma as an adult, says the childhood years he spent with his grandmother gave him the fortitude to deal with tough times later.

The Washington native left home as a youngster, when family problems promptedhis mother to send him and two brothers to his grandmother in Greensboro, N.C. She took them to church and taught them right from wrong, not to mention patience, discipline and respect -- for one other and all people, Price recalls.

Years later, he drew strength from his upbringing after losing a job with Trans World Airlines. As manager of airport operations, he was responsible for the ticket counter, rampservice, cargo maintenance and on-ground planes.

It was a job he'd worked toward while in a previous position as a Greyhound bus driver, transporting passengers from Dulles International Airport. But with no high school diploma, he'd had no shot at an airline job.

Soonafter getting married in

1971, Price returned to high school. He attended an adult education program three days a week and worked nights for Greyhound.

His hard-earned diploma helped land him a job with TWA in 1972. He rose from cargo loader to the manager's job. But in 1980, furloughs cost him his job.

After trying to sell Amway products and making various other stabs at becoming self-employed, Pricestarted a janitorial products distributorship out of his home.

Each day before sunrise, he'd start making rounds to potential customers. Each evening, he'd report to his part-time customer-

service job at TWA.

His wife, a former county mathematics teacher who has taught elementary, middle and high school, kept the books for her husband. Meanwhile, he generated sales and made deliveries.

From the start, he faced obstacles as a minority.

"If you follow behind a minority who has failed, it's looked at as, 'Oh, you're one of those minorities.' You're not looked at as a business person," he said.

Butthe company persevered by being competitive.

"You work hard and stand behind what you say," Kay Price said.

Through competitive bidding, the company got its first big contracts, one with Fort Meade and another with the federal General Services Administration. Price traded in his Ford Escort for a van.

Eventually, J & K hired its first employee and opened a small office in Washington. Soon the company needed a larger delivery van and more storage. The Prices rented space in a warehouse.

From there, J & K moved to Millersville for warehouse space. Since 1986, it has operated from the Annapolis Business Park.

It now employs 25 -- warehouse supervisors, truck drivers, clerical workers and administrative assistants. A few years ago, J & Kbegan distributing institutional food products, frozen and canned food and disposable items.

Its philosophy -- offer good quality and service -- has allowed it to grow, Kay Price said.

Now, J & K has contracts with the state, the county, Annapolis, Baltimore County, Washington, the Department of Defense, Fort Meade and private businesses.

But the years haven't been without their difficulties.

"The first five years we were dealing with one particular bank, and it appeared as if they did not want us to grow," Kay Price said.

After five years of running a successful business, the couple applied for a larger line of credit. The day they were to sign the papers, the bankturned them down. The company had grown too fast, the bank said.

"I felt discrimination was involved, but I wasn't going to let that hold us back," Kay Price said.

She called loan officers until one said, "Come over now. We want to meet you.

"We started banking withthat bank," she said.

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