Work ethic: After 50 years at Taylor Clay, Burt Benfield still going strong

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 8, 2014

SALISBURY — Employees at Taylor Clay Products took a break Wednesday for a catered lunch in honor of Vice President of Operations Burt Benfield.
The date, June 4, celebrated to the day Benfield’s 50 years with the company. He graduated from South Rowan High School June 3, 1964, and started work at Taylor Clay the next morning.
“Isn’t that something,” Benfield says, “and I’m only 24.”
When you work at one place this long, it’s hard to surprise a guy with something such as a barbecue lunch.
“That was nice,” he says. “I kind of knew up front.”
Benfield’s tenure with the company long exceeds that of his father, who worked for Taylor Clay for only 38 years.
“My dad had a great work ethic, and he instilled that in all of us,” says Benfield, whose family included two brothers and a sister.
The family grew up about a mile-and-a-half from the Taylor plant on Peeler Road. Burt’s brother Reid worked a year or two at Taylor Clay, and Burt’s son, Mark, was employed at the plant 18 years before moving to another job. His daughter, Melissa, now works for the company, founded in 1949 by the late Charles “Chuck” Taylor.
Today Taylor’s son Charles runs the company, which specializes in architectural brick and tile, and Benfield says Charles has become like a brother over the years. He can’t say enough good things about the Taylor family overall.
“They treat you like you are somebody,” he says. “… You’ve got a good team of people you work with — they’re like friends.”
While still in high school, Burt Benfield worked two summers with Eddleman’s Cycle Shop in China Grove before going to work full-time for Taylor Clay in 1964. He started in the manufacturing plant’s extrusion room, pushing wheelbarrows and driving truck.
After a month, a job opened in the sample room, and Benfield claimed it. He stayed connected to that side of the business for 27 years, while seeing his duties expand year by year.
By the mid 1990s, he was named vice president of operations and today he addresses any problems and cleaning technicalities on job sites. He also handles company purchasing and is always in on developing new products.
Over 50 years, Benfield has seen Taylor Clay weather all the periodic downturns in the building industry, including the most recent recession that hit in 2008-2009.
“What’s kept us going,” Benfield says, “is excellent leadership from Charles and people who pull together to develop new products. Diversification, it’s phenomenal. It’s the people who make it all work for us.”
The company’s line of thin bricks has especially been carrying the day in recent times, but the company always has found ways to offer lots of color, coatings and textures in its bricks to keep it competitive.
Taylor Clay has distributors of its products generally from the East Coast to as far west as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. So its architectural products are everywhere, but the company also has believed, when possible, that a local company should do business locally.
Taylor Clay bricks are part of Rowan County buildings such as the new Rowan Animal Clinic; the new Integro building downtown; Nazareth Children’s Home; the Salisbury Medical Building; Sacred Heart Catholic Church; Love’s Truck Stop, Discount Tire, Bank of North Carolina; and on the Catawba College campus, the Student Union, Hurley Press Box and Fuller Residence Hall.
That’s only a few of the local examples.
Taylor bricks also enhance the new Charlotte Knights baseball stadium, Hotel Sierra in Charlotte, a University of North Carolina at Charlotte parking deck, Baptist Children’s Hospital, the Cincinnati Civic Center and many other hospitals, schools, grocery stores and the like.
Additional products have been added recently for the residential market aimed at giving homeowners a lot of choices in colors and textures.
Benfield has been involved in it all from one aspect or another.
“Charles is wanting me to hang around another five years,” Benfield says, making it clear Wednesday’s barbecue lunch wasn’t a retirement affair. “It will be up to what the Lord’s willing.”
Benfield says he never dreamed, when he was a kid out of high school starting at the brick plant, that he could make it such a long career.
As you can tell by now, Benfield seems to know something about love and devotion. He and his wife, Carolyn, have been married 49 years.
Fifty years on the job, 49 years married. That’s not too bad for a guy who’s only 24.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or