The business started with small ribbon pins.
Edmund and Lura Dickson’s company made them for churches to give to visitors, members celebrating a birthday and longtime members. A ribbon was attached to the pin, and the back of the pin was stamped in gold with the company’s name.
That evolved into scriptural reminders on products, from boxes of promise cards to bookmarks to Sunday school and church supplies.
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“They were 100 percent church-focused,” said Beth Stuckwisch, who works in the marketing department for what is known today as Dicksons Inc. in Seymour. “The Dicksons were really into Sunday school and Sunday school attendance. A lot of their early products involved that. Mr. Dickson had this belief that scriptural reminders should be everywhere where people can look at them every day and not just at church on Sunday.”
Stephanie Flinn, vice president of product development and marketing for Dicksons, said Edmund was an entrepreneur constantly looking for the next opportunity from a biblical perspective.
She said it would be interesting to know what he would think of the company now offering thousands of items.
“We’ve worked very hard to continue on with the mission and vision that the Dicksons established and at the same time diversifying with the times and the culture,” Flinn said.
“Things have changed drastically in the U.S. since he started pins. There are not very many churches that do this anymore. In fact, it isn’t even part of the business anymore,” she said. “I think there’s part of that that he would be in shock at the size of the operation that he began. It’s a very large operation.”
This month, the company in the Freeman Field Industrial Park is celebrating 75 years in Seymour.
On Wednesday, a catered lunch was served to employees inside one of the buildings along B Avenue East. Speaking after lunch were Steve Vandivier, the current president; Bill Rinehart, plant manager; Jim Potts, former president; and Tom Thomas, chief financial officer for the parent company, Templeton Coal Co. Inc. of Terre Haute.
Vandivier’s father, David, joined owner Paul Curry as a partner in 1972 and served as vice president of manufacturing. The company had been known as Dickson’s Inc. since opening in two empty Army warehouses from World War II in Seymour in 1953, but it was changed to Curry Industries while continuing to use Dickson’s as a trade name.
When Curry retired and sold his share of the business to Templeton Coal Co. Inc. in 1985, David became president, and the name was changed to Dicksons Inc.
While he never met Edmund, Steve knew from discussions with his father that the idea was for the company to create scriptural and Christian reminders because he thought those should be at the forefront of people’s minds all of the time and help them through their faith walk.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Steve said. “We’re still working on that original mission that Mr. Dickson had 75 years ago today. I think that’s fantastic.”
In 1944, the Dicksons started Better Sunday School and Church Supplies in the basement of their Ferndale, Michigan, Christian bookstore.
With the business growing, the company moved to a house in Royal Oak, Michigan, in 1948 and soon was changed to Gospel Souvenir House.
Even after an expansion, the house could no longer hold the business, and in 1953, it was relocated to Seymour. The company began operations with 12 employees.
Four years later, an addition was built that joined the two warehouses.
The Dicksons retired to Florida in 1970, and two years later, the business was purchased by Curry.
In 1994, Dicksons was named Supplier of the Year at the annual trade show of the Christian Booksellers Association.
Stuckwisch, who is Steve’s sister, said that was a big achievement for their father, who had been president of the company since 1985.
“For him, it kind of realized the dream he and Paul Curry had when they first came here,” she said. “It was very fortunate he lived to receive that because that was 1994 and then he passed in 1995 from cancer. I was so pleased that he got to experience that because he had a huge passion for this company.”
Steve said he recently found a list of the 30 largest companies in the country on the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1944, one of them being the Dicksons’ company. Today, only 11 are still in business, while the other 19 have gone out of business or have been acquired.
“For a smaller privately held company like us to be able to maintain over that time, certainly our Christian market has been our focus over the years,” he said. “It continues to be a strong focus for us today, but we’ve had to change and adapt to be able to survive or we would have gone the same way as some of those bigger companies ahead of us.”
Flinn said cultural changes have led to a decline in every industry, and brick-and-mortar stores are closing because people are going online to make purchases.
That has affected companies like Dicksons, but its employees have worked to keep up with the trends and make changes to keep the business moving forward. That includes purchasing Cross Gifts in 2002 and Cottage Garden in 2018 to diversify the biblically-based product offerings.
“In order to survive and continue to support the foundation or the direction of where Mr. Dickson and all of our leaders have wanted to go, it has required us to diversify into different areas and that we have more general market product, more inspirational product than what he had,” Flinn said.
The challenges of diversification have allowed the company to maintain Edmund’s vision for 75 years, and the diversification will keep it alive for the next 75 years, she said.
“I would say our success is based on the fact that leadership and ownership are still very supportive of the mission and vision of who we are and where we’ve come from,” Flinn said. “It is really the culture of the organization and the faith-based approach that is critical to who we are.”
Potts said when he was looking for a career move in the mid-1990s, he wanted to find a place with good people, products, policies and potential. He found that at Dicksons.
In sharing a story from his time as president, Potts said he was considering getting rid of the small vinyl plaques that had a small Bible verse or phrase on them. He wanted something larger, fancier and sharper.
While waiting to board a plane on a business trip, he found a young woman crying, so he sat down to talk to her. He learned her father was about to die, and she was worried she wouldn’t make it to Texas to see him before that happened.
He then saw she was holding something in her hand. It was a small plaque with the phrase “Prayer changes things.” Potts realized it was the same Dicksons product he wanted to stop producing.
He wound up keeping that product and adding others, and they were strong sellers.
“Our products around the world have great effects on people’s lives at times,” Potts said. “There are so many things like that that affect so many people, and you’re a part of it. … Our lives are examples for other people. Sometimes, you don’t think that, but they are. You have made a difference.”
Today, Dicksons is the largest Christian gift company in the Christian industry. It offers a lot of paper and wood products, including framed art and bookmarks, ceramics, mugs, travel mugs, Bible covers and more.
The most popular product sold is the “Gratitude” framed art by Jack Garren. It was published by Dicksons in 1968, and the company still owns the rights to the image and prints the piece, which is a companion to “Grace” that was created years before in Michigan.
“I think a lot of people have grown up seeing that in their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles’ homes,” Flinn said. “That is something that has been a forever product. That is a very well-known image in the Christian marketplace.”
About 10 years ago, the company began doing local printing for added revenue. That includes silkscreening T-shirts and making prints to frame.
“We had all of the equipment because we’re doing it for ourselves,” Flinn said. “We’re printing the bookmarks, we’re printing the shirts, we’re doing those things for our wholesale market, so having all of that equipment at our disposal, here was an opportunity then to do things for local, as well.”
Moves like that have put Dicksons in position to thrive now and in the future.
“There’s a lot of rich history here, and that was all started by Edmund Dickson,” Steve said. “There have been a lot of positive impacts on people’s lives through those 75 years and will continue to be in the years to come, and that’s exciting for us as a company to be able to share that and contribute to that as we move ahead.”
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Dicksons Inc. is at 709 B Ave. East, Seymour, in the Freeman Field Industrial Park.
The company also has offices in Warrenville, New Jersey, and Bainbridge.