Most of us in the auto upholstery community are familiar with Keyston Bros but not Dee Duncan, the owner and CEO who transformed the company into the industry giant it is today.
But Duncan’s story is one of hard work, perseverance and innovation — traits we can all learn from and apply to our own small businesses.
In 1975, Duncan got his first job in the upholstery industry. His father, who worked at Georgia Coated Fabrics / Peach Tree Fabrics, got the 16-year-old a summer job loading and unloading trucks at the upholstery supplies distributor. But he was quickly recognized as a hard worker and began handling other, more important jobs in the warehouse.
Six years later, after graduating college, Duncan joined the company as a full-time associate. “My dad had my life planned in sales, but I jumped at the marketing department,” Duncan told The Hog Ring. “Boy did I start at the bottom — but over the next 17 years, I was able to take over and run all the sales and marketing.”
During his time at Georgia Coated Fabrics / Peach Tree Fabrics, Duncan forged strong relationships with manufacturers and upholstery shops. It was obvious to everyone that he took great pride in his work. But after the owners decided to change direction and focus on e-commerce, he began to look for other opportunities.
Duncan worked for a few years as the national sales manager of Spradling Group before coming across the opportunity to buy Keyston Bros, another Georgia-based upholstery distributor that competed directly with his old company.
Keyston Bros. had a great reputation. It was founded in 1868 as a small manufacturer of whips and lashes, but had since grown to become a regional supplier of upholstery fabrics. With Duncan’s skills and connections, he was confident he could take the company to new heights.
“For about eight hours after I signed the papers, I wasn’t sure if I owned it or was bankrupt,” he said. “But it happened and eight others from Peach Tree Fabrics joined me in an incredible adventure over 22 years ago.”
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Six weeks after purchasing Keyston Bros, the September 11 attack happened — and it changed the United States, including its economy, in a major way.
“But Keyston Bros survived. Not well…but after a few years it all came back to shape,” Duncan said. “We’ve since experienced a lot of ups and downs, including the Great Recession, the Covid-19 pandemic and now a slow-down recession. But all is still great.”
In the two decades since purchasing Keyston Bros, Duncan has transformed it into one of North America’s leading suppliers and innovators of fabrics, vinyls, leathers and textiles — like Partners leather-match vinyl and Street Suede. They even employ more than 200 people across 18 warehouses and branches.
Duncan attributes the company’s success to his entrepreneurial spirit and amazing team, for which he says he’s incredibly thankful.
Of course, he’s also grateful for his loyal customers, who he and the Keyston Bros team keep front and center in all their decisions.