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From Campus to Kitchen

By Bill Dabney

University of Mississippi

University of Mississippi students in a Center for Manufacturing Excellence class practice creating the most efficient and balanced assembly line on the center’s factory floor. Photo by Logan Kirkland/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Keepsake serving boards crafted from the discarded floor of a University of Mississippi gymnasium soon will be used in kitchens across America. And Ole Miss students stand to benefit. 

As founders and hosts of one of HGTV’s most popular shows, “Home Town,” Ole Miss alumni Erin and Ben Napier’s vision for restoring youth to aging homes has enchanted some 30 million do-it-yourselfers nationwide. 

Now, the Laurel couple who became famous for taking old things and making them new has done it again, along with their longtime pals and business partners Josh Nowell and Jim Rasberry. Together, they own a retail store, Laurel Mercantile, and the woodworking brand Scotsman Co.

“Believe it or not, we don’t really like to throw things away here in Laurel,” Ben Napier said. “When I heard this court from Ole Miss was available, I went to Josh and said, ‘What if we could take the wood from this court and produce something special? Something Ole Miss fans would love to have and use.'”

Scotsman Co. purchased the wood to construct a custom table on “Home Town.” With more than enough left over, the company decided to fashion the extra flooring into serving boards, promote them on the show and sell them through Laurel Mercantile.

The boards range from $90 to $225, based on size. But what to do with the proceeds?

Impressed by the university’s Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence, the group decided to fund scholarships for Ole Miss CME students from Mississippi. Proceeds from sales of the limited-edition boards will establish a $50,000 endowment.

Last year, Scotsman Co. donated and installed a custom bar top at McCormick’s Grill inside The Inn at Ole Miss. 

“Ole Miss means the world to these folks who became best friends during their time in college here, and we are so thankful for their long-term commitment to making a transformational impact on the university they love,” said Jason McCormick, executive director of development. “Their gift will benefit many of our students in the School of Business Administration, the Patterson School of Accountancy and the School of Engineering.” 

Equipping aspiring manufacturers is important to Scotsman Co., said Nowell, a 2006 UM graduate, Napier’s college roommate and the company’s CEO. 

“So what better way to do that than to team up with our alma mater?” he said. “We had heard about the manufacturing program at Ole Miss but we were blown away to see it in person.

“To meet the professors who have real-world industry experience training the next generation of leaders and innovators for Mississippi’s future is something very exciting for us at Scotsman Co. – something we wanted to be a part of.”

Company chairman Rasberry echoed his business partner’s sentiments.

“We started Scotsman Co. with the goal of creating and manufacturing some of the finest wood products in America while providing job opportunities in our community,” Rasberry said. “We manufacture in Laurel because we are passionate about creating a better place for our next generation of leaders and makers. 

“We are so excited to be part of the educational experience the CME offers, and we want to do whatever we can to support its mission.”

The serving boards, available through the Laurel Mercantile Co. website, feature a clean cutting surface with the branded Scotsman logo for daily use. The back displays the engraved and epoxy-filled Ole Miss logo proudly juxtaposed with original nail holes showcasing the wood’s former life as an athletics court. 

“We took the floor apart, removed nails and resurfaced it,” Nowell said. “It’s hard maple, tongue-and-groove. So, in the manufacturing process, we remove the tongue and groove and turn it into an edge grain board. We leave the outside board, which makes a really nice product.”

The project not only supports the Laurel community, but also helps train manufacturing leaders for the state, he said.

“For factory men and women to be able to turn that old wood into a product that will support future factory men and women … that’s a pretty cool story in a long nutshell.”

Ben Napier, a 2007 UM graduate, agreed.

“Here at Scotsman Co., we believe that manufacturing is the heartbeat of America and the American workforce,” he said. “These serving boards support small-town America and the future of manufacturing while also reflecting the ambitious spirit of Ole Miss.”

The CME provides students with academic and real-world experiences in modern manufacturing.

“I’m envious that the program wasn’t in place when I was there,” Nowell said. “It’s such a hands-on program, not only for the engineers but also for the business-minded individuals. To see these students do real-world work to model higher efficiencies inside the factory is really special. 

“The objective is to see robust manufacturing coming back in Mississippi. To be strong in manufacturing, we have to be strong in efficiencies in manufacturing.”

For example, CME students recently redesigned the process flow for a Mississippi manufacturing company, increasing its production from five products per week to 15. 

“That gives me bright hope for Mississippi’s future, and our objective is to be able to see more of those goals accomplished,” Nowell said.

To purchase one of the Ole Miss serving boards, visit Laurel Mercantile.

For information on supporting the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence, visit https://give.olemiss.edu or contact Jason McCormick, executive director of development, at jason@olemiss.edu or 662-915-1757.


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