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Trail blazer in the Delta: minority businessman seeks niche in established oil industry.

WEST HELENA NATIVE James Bailey has not waited for opportunity to find him. Instead, he's made a habit of creating it, which is no easy task in the state's impoverished Delta region.

Over the past decade, Bailey, 30, has been a restaurateur and caterer. He's been involved in logging and trucking ventures.

In July, he took on another challenge.

With $7,000 he had socked away from his previous job with a major oil distributor, Bailey started Delta Products Inc., a company that distributes petroleum-based products to industrial plants in the Delta area, Louisiana, Mississippi and Memphis, Tenn.

There's no shortage of similar companies in the region Bailey serves. What makes his company something of an anomaly is that he is the first black owner of a petroleum business in the Delta.

Bailey says the toughest challenge he faces in the entrenched oil industry is trying to get buyers of industrial oils to give his upstart company a chance.

"We're often competing against people who have been in business 65-75 years," he says. "It's very hard to compete with these businesses because they are so established, and that weighs heavily when you are trying to make a sale to some of these companies."

But Bailey says he's not afraid to be persistent.

That has paid off.

Delta Products has accounts with large companies such as International Paper Co. and the Adolph Coors Co.

"It is hard to get in the door, but you just have to find a way," Bailey says. "We never give up on them. We've called some customers for eight or nine months and we can see each time we're gaining a little.

"I think you have to realize in this business it's a people game and if you stay with it and at least get these people to get to know you, it gets you in the door."

Slim and Trim

Delta Products has four employees. Bailey owns the company and also acts as a salesman and distributor; his nephew and another man have similar job responsibilities; and Bailey's wife serves as bookkeeper and office manager.

"We're slim and trim," Bailey says, explaining that the company has a carefully calibrated business plan he hopes will allow for future growth without sacrificing customer service.

Bailey says Delta Products expects to turn a profit in the next 12 months.

By the end of 1997, he projects the business will reach $1 million in sales and grow to seven people.

He says he hopes the company will enable him to give something back to the community. Bailey says he's not the type to reach a certain level of success and forsake his roots.

"I want to stay here forever," he says. "I like the people in this community. They're all very friendly people and I want to do something to try to create jobs for these people and show them there is a way out. That's one of the reasons I'm still here. I'm very committed to doing something to help out."

One of 11 children, Bailey attended Phillips County Community College in Helena with degrees in business and accounting. He studied at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro before he and one of his brothers started a trucking company to haul freight across country.

Bailey still has that business, though now the fleet is used to transport logs or carry petroleum products.

He also is involved in a mostly family-run logging business and in buying office furniture from failed savings and loan associations and reselling them to rural companies.

Bailey says more Delta residents should consider self-employment rather than waiting and hoping for large industry to move in.
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Title Annotation:James Bailey's distribution of petroleum-based products in the Delta region of Arkansas through his firm Delta Products Inc.
Author:Walters, Dixie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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