Native American woman owned Jasper company sets $1.2 million sales goal
Last year the Keesee Box Company – located in a warehouse off of Confederate Avenue in Jasper - produced nearly $1 million worth of boxes, with a goal to bump that figure up to $1.2 million for 2014.
But rewind back to 2001 and you’d find owner Loye Keesee and her friend Bob Nosworthy with box cutters and rulers in hand, running the fledgling operation out of the kitchen in his Alpharetta apartment.
“We eventually moved up to five or 10 clients, but that’s how we did things for over a year, right there in that kitchen,” Keesee said. “And when I got into this I didn’t know anything about boxes. I had one friend tell me I should go into the box business, and then two weeks later someone different mentioned it to me in a chat room. That’s when I said, ‘okay, let’s sit down and talk about it.’ Bob had the knowhow and I had the financial backing.”
Keesee was looking to change career paths in 1997 when she got out of her salon/ day spa business in Buffalo, NY, which she said “was just awful.”
Then after a year cutting corrugated cardboard by hand in Bob’s kitchen, the Keesee Box Company – which produces custom shipping supplies for both military and private sectors – stepped it up and hired two employees, moved into a small warehouse and purchased their first industrial machine.
Since 2004 the company has grown through warehouses in Woodstock, Canton, Holly Springs, and now is located in Jasper.
“And now we’ve outgrown this space,” said 57-year-old Keesee, who is looking for another warehouse in town to accommodate both the box company and a future business venture – a disposable paper cup company.
Even though the business of box making doesn’t sound thrilling on the surface, Keesee reminds us that most of what they produce are spec boxes with high grade foam lining, custom cut to ship goods for the military.
Keesee pulled out a detailed spec sheet for boxes that would carry M-16s, while back in the production room workers sprayed in military spec adhesive and lined boxes with thick foam and padding that could possibly ship equipment worth thousands of dollars.
Sam Port, a front office employee, remembered shipping boxes directly to Kandahar, Afghanistan over the summer.
“That was really memorable for me,” he said.
To-date the most expensive box they’ve produced at Keesee cost upwards of $100.
“When you’re shipping a piece of equipment that costs $13,000 to $14,000, they want to spend more on the packaging,” she said.
The Talking Rock resident said her company does accept smaller, private-sector jobs – including a few from businesses here in Jasper – but she estimates that 85 percent of her orders comes through the military. They have contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Royal Saudia Arabian Government, Government Service Award contracts and others. While Keesee said she is no stranger to long, hard work weeks and good work ethic - having at times held down two jobs on top of running the Keesee Box Company or going without pay so she could pay her employees – she credits her Native American heritage and military contracts as her greatest contributors to success.
“We’re the only woman Native American-owned military spec company in the United States,” she said. “People who have [these contracts] get tax incentives by using a small business, then they get more for using it from a woman, and more because I’m Native American.”
Keesee said her father, All Pine, was full-blooded Cherokee and her mother was European.
“They met when she worked in Washington printing money at the U.S. Treasury,” she said. “A motorcycle accident immobilized him for a long time. It was really bad. Then he got on pain pills and my mother eventually divorced him for his addiction problems.”
When Keesee was seven, her mother was left to raise her and her four siblings on one income and, ironically, with the help of the government surplus food program.
“My mother was very good about teaching us leadership,” Keesee said. “And working hard. I would say that my upbringing really kept me out of trouble. I mean, I never owned a bicycle so I couldn’t go get into everything. Over the years I’ve worked a lot of jobs, including delivering pizzas a few years ago, but I was determined to get this business off the ground.”
Learn more about Keesee Box Company at www.keeseeboxcompany.com.