The Royalty Carpet Mills plant in Porterville, which has been open for more than 30 years, suddenly closed last week, leaving 140 jobless.
Written by David Castellon
Belinda Patterson said she never saw it coming.
About a week before Royalty Carpet Mills informed its employees it was shutting its four plants, including its yarn mill in Porterville, Patterson said a saleswoman for the company was in her Portervillle store — Rainbow House of Carpets — touting a new line of carpet that Patterson was excited about offering to her customers.
Aaron Jeffries, a mechanic at the Porterville plant for nearly three years, said he was no less caught off guard when he and most of his 139 co-workers gathered the morning of June 14 at the Porterville plant for a special meeting scheduled by their bosses.
“The first thing that they said was that the plant is closing down for good, and they gave me a packet with stuff about what to do with my 401(k) and stuff, but they never told me why they were closing.”
And when employees asked what had happened, their supervisors “kind of got off the subject,” Jeffries recounted.
Not that they had much time to ask questions, as the workers were told they had the day to gather their belongings — a tool chest and his tools, in Jeffries’ case — and leave.
“We had not clue at all,” said Jeffries, adding that the plant was shorthanded and looking to hire people, and he knew of no financial problems for Royalty.
Jason Ridenour, economic development and housing manager for the city of Porterville, said he met with the plant manager and other Royalty officials about six months ago, and “they said business was better than it had been during the recession, and they were building back up.”
As such, he said, “As far as we knew, development was up, so things were better” for the carpet company.
After hearing about the closure and layoffs last week, Patterson said she called the saleswoman to offer sympathy, and the woman — who had been in her job just three months — said she was in the dark about what happened.
“Nobody knows. It’s very strange. Everyone was very surprised,” Patterson added.
The closure announcement also applied to Royalty’s facilities in Santa Ana and Irvine — the latter its headquarters — where yarns woven in Porterville were manufactured into carpets under the Royalty name and those of its subsidiaries.
Attempts to call the headquarters office yielded only a recorded message, stating that “Effective immediately, Royalty Carpet Mills; Camelot Carpet Mills; Moda, LLC; and Pacific Crest Mills are closed and will not reopen.”
Floor Covering News, a trade publication, reported on the closure on its website but provided no information what happened to the carpet maker that had been in business nearly half century.
The Orange County Business Journal reported that Royalty ranked as one of Orange County’s larger privately held companies, with an estimated 400 workers there and $100 million in yearly sales as of a few months ago.
The newspaper also cited undisclosed sources as stating that a deal already is in place to sell the Orange County carpet plants.
Real estate sources contacted in the Valley knew of no such deals in the works for Royalty’s Porterville mill at 600 S. E St., nor has it been listed for sale. The facility, which opened in 1986, has a 200,000-square-foor building sitting on 13 acres.
Jefferies said the last full work day in Porterville was on Friday, June 9, when employees were told not to come in the following Monday and Tuesday and instead come in at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, June 14 for a meeting.
No reason was given, and in retrospect Jeffries said he should have been suspicious, because only one mill was running on the Friday, “and we usually have 30 or 40 machines [running] at the same time.”
As people left for the day, some speculated a merger might be in the works, but there was no talk of a closure.
A phone call this week to the Porterville plant was directed to the voicemail of Dennis Johnson – identified on his Linkedin profile as vice president of manufacturing — who didn’t return the call.
Efforts to contact Royalty’s president and CEO, Andrea Greenleaf, were unsuccessful. She took over in 2013 after her father —the company’s founder — Mike Derderian died.
Prior to that, Greenleaf had run the company’s Pacific Crest division — a commercial carpet maker — for 20 years. Floor Covering New reported that within 18 months after taking over the top spot, Greenleaf reportedly purchased new equipment and oversaw the start of 50 new carpet lines.
Royalty wasn’t one of the nation’s largest carpet makers, as it focused on making high-end carpets instead of cheaper, more affordable ones, Patterson said.
Days after the closure, some carpet retailers were waiting to see if their final orders from Royalty would come in, among them Patterson, who is scheduled to install a roll at a house next week.
One positive is that the Porterville employees received 60 days pay as severance for their job losses, Jeffries said.
Still, the 24-year-old is the primary provider for his girlfriend and their 3-year-old son, and he said the severance — along with pay from his side job cleaning an auto mechanic’s shop — isn’t enough to get by very long.
And the jobs lost mostly weren’t minimum-wage jobs, as most of the people who worked at the Royalty mill were skilled workers, Jefferies said.
So far, his former employer isn’t offering him and his former co-workers any assistance to find jobs or get retrained for other careers, he noted.
“They just told us to go to the unemployment office. [That] they would help us out.”
The city of Porterville, working with Tulare County Employment Connection, attempted to help Wednesday by putting on an event to educate the displaced Royalty workers about the services available to them.
For his part, Jeffries said that it’s highly unlikely he’ll find a job requiring his skillset anywhere in the Valley or in California, so “I probably will have to leave the state to find another job working with textile machines.”