The Chickasaw brand neon sign at Memphis Hardwood Flooring Co.'s Tennessee headquarters.

A view of one of Memphis Hardwood's lumberyards, circa 1920.
What started in 1905 as a way for Southern lumber companies to make good use of the flooring grade wood coming out of their sawmills has evolved into a company that is not just a supplier of hardwood flooring but a venerable champion of the industry.

Even now, as it celebrates its 100-year anniversary, Memphis Hardwood Flooring Co. continues to make good use of a slogan that dates back to the `50s: "Your feet will never be sore as long as you walk on a hardwood floor." The mantra beams brightly in neon lights on a sign outside the headquarters building just a stone's throw from the Mississippi River in the north end of Memphis. The same sign also includes the distinctive Indian head profile that is closely associated with the company's famous Chickasaw brand of classic oak unfinished strip flooring.

Some of the seven lumber families that helped start the company stayed with it in the generations that followed. The company today is lead by Tom Cathey, whose family has been an integral part of Memphis Hardwood for three generations.

Memphis Hardwood is now split into two entities. The lumber side of the business runs four sawmills in Mississippi and processes a variety of species that are then sold to other companies.

The high profile side of Memphis Hardwood operates two flooring mills dedicated to producing the Chickasaw brand. One is in Mississippi and the other is situated at Memphis Hardwood's home base.

According to Jim Duke, who oversees sales and marketing, the Chickasaw brand has grown on the strength of loyal customers who appreciate the consistency and simplicity of unfinished strip flooring. Although Duke recalls that the brand dabbled in pre-finished flooring when "wax finishes were big," it was ultimately deemed to be inconsistent with the company's true pedigree. "Once those types of finishes fell out of favor, we felt that polyurethane and solid finish production was a fairly risky business, and we chose to stay out of it." says Duke. "We continue to do so."

Duke, who has been with Memphis Hardwood for nine years, says the company's respect for tradition does not mean it is unwilling to adapt to change, or persevere in hard times. "We've weathered flooring storms for many years," he says, referring to tough times in the flooring business. "We're strong and will continue to respond to them."

Still, he stresses that whatever changes are embraced, the company's core values remain as solid as oak. "That's the thing about us," says Duke, with evident pride. "We haven't changed a whole lot. We stay with what we know. Because of this, we have a lot of loyal customers and not a whole lot of turnover in our customer base. It's one of the advantages of remaining consistent, and being around as long as we have."