ITS: It's all about family

HISTORY in The Making

The three generations of Thornhills behind ITS are not just makers of high-quality textile products. They are makers of meaningful, long-lasting relationships. Whether it’s relationships with the employees who put everything into their work and find a home at ITS, sometimes for decades – or with the customers who come back again and again for dedicated service and innovative problem-solving – ours is a story that truly is all about people.

A Thornhill with a dream

It all started in 1936, when our founder, Glenn Thornhill, Sr. brought his new bride to Salem, VA to run a company that he had just purchased out of bankruptcy. Glenn was originally from South Georgia, and he and his wife didn’t know a soul in Salem. It wasn’t long though, before they filled the building with eager employees and started a fledgling company called ‘Maid Bess’.

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A call to serve.

Then, in 1941, Glenn Sr. was drafted to Ft. Benning GA for WWII basic training. We’re not sure how it came about, but not too long after he arrived, he returned back to Salem to begin much-needed war production. Glenn Sr. was charming and he was smart. He knew how to get his point across, so we suspect he convinced the top brass that his talents could best be used to serve the war effort by returning home and making the best possible products for his country. And like most people on the other end of his reasoning, they agreed. Glenn ran a tight ship at his factory, which was mostly employed by women as the men were off fighting the war. Just like the famous WWII-era Rosie Riveter poster said, ‘we can do it’! And they did!

Fast food and fast growth.

As the company moved into the 1950s and 60s, we entered a period of rapid expansion. Pretty soon we were making uniforms for just about every fast food chain in America, and America had fallen in love with fast food. Together with other extended family members and colleagues, we formed a string of factories around SW VA and NC and worked overtime to meet the demand.



Enter a new Thornhill.

At some point in the late 50s, 15 year old Glenn Jr. starting working in the factory. His dad made sure he worked hard from day one, sweeping floors after work, and after college in 1965, he started as Plant Manager in Salem. He was also instructed to drive to the other factories around the region to learn how things were done, and he was expected to arrive between 6:00 and 7:00 AM, driving at least an hour each way. So, the days were long, the work was challenging, but Glenn Jr. quickly found his path and continued to grow the business steadily, earning the love and respect of workers and customers alike.

Meanwhile, back home

another future leader was earning her stripes as a mother of 6(!). Glenn Jr.’s wife, Joanne, who would many years later step into ownership, was busy raising a new generation of Thornhills and watching in awe as her husband took the company to new heights. She would sometimes drop into the factory, children in tow, and was amazed by the piles and piles of uniforms in and around the shop floor. Little did she know that someday she’d be deciding what kind of piles they would be! But for the moment, she had her hands full.



A shift of global proportions.

It had been smooth sailing for a while as we came into the 1990s, and then NAFTA came along and changed everything for domestic manufacturing. We were no exception. We watched as much of our work went initially to Mexico, and later to all parts of the world, landing mostly in China. Many factories had to close. But this new period of uncertainty gave way to new kinds of ingenuity for our company, and Glenn Jr. learned to pivot and change course. This ultimately helped us become better innovators for our customers, to get us where we are today.

The magnificent ‘Mom’ to our pioneering ‘Pop’.

It was during the tough 90’s era that Joanne emptied her nest and rolled up her sleeves. ITS became a woman-owned company when Joanne stepped in as 51% owner, and put her considerable talents to work alongside her husband. When asked to reveal her secret to success, Joanne is quick to admit that it was finding and learning from a series of very smart experts (many of them women) in a variety of areas, from OSHA to HR. She even found someone to help her procure the finest new cutter available. And she made it a priority to diversify the company’s offerings.

Diversification, diligence and David.

The present era of our company has proven to be one of adaptation, innovation and growth. Much of this has been handled by yet another Thornhill at the helm, Glenn and Joanne’s son, David. Both Glenn and Joanne light up when asked about, David Thornhill's leadership abilities; they believe his vision has solidified the growth of the company over the last decade.