In the mid-1980s, Bob Barker was looking to expand his small prison supply business. Hoping to stay in Apex, he set his sights on 36 acres of land on NC 55 just south of the town limits.
But the business owner soon ran into some obstacles. Since the land was outside of Apex limits, there was no water or sewer on the property.
Then something else happened, according to Barker. The town’s elected officials showed no interest in working on a solution for his problems.
It turned out to be quite a missed opportunity for the “Peak of Good Living.”
Today, the Bob Barker Company is the world’s leading supplier to correctional institutions with more than 200 employees and 500,000 square feet of warehouse space.
And it’s all located down the road in Fuquay-Varina.
Barker details the origins of his company as well as the story of his life in his new book “I’m In Cells: The Captivating Story of Bob Barker and the Bob Barker Company.”
A former mayor of Apex, Barker has deep ties to the town. He was even the owner/publisher of The Apex Herald for several years before making the wise decision to pursue a much different line of work.
Born in Cherryville, N.C., to a struggling family in the middle of the Great Depression, Barker and his six siblings were raised to have a strong work ethic. Never forgetting those early lessons learned in childhood, he dedicated the book to his parents, Nally and Bell Barker.
Barker acquired his first paying job at the tender age of 5, and hasn’t stopped working since. During high school, Barker could be found in the boxing ring, on a baseball field, or working the night shift at a nearby cotton mill. With the addition of being senior class president, he rarely found time to sleep.
Barker credits his vigorous adolescence and tough parents for making him the savvy businessman he is today. He says growing up in a poor household was “a great influence” and taught him to “see how things can be done and done better by treating people right and giving back.”
In his book, Barker constantly displays perseverance and determination, something he adopted from his father. Nally Barker’s driven persona even inspired the Company Code of Conduct.
“My dad always felt that there was a way to do something, even if it looked impossible,” said Barker. “I picked up that attitude and feel like that’s the way to look at everything.”
Barker’s “can-do” attitude has served him well. Having served as mayor of both Apex and Fuquay-Varina, Barker knows what it takes to run a company, and run it well.
Along with running a flourishing company, Barker strongly believes in giving back to the community. He is a frequent benefactor of his alma mater, Campbell University, having contributed the Bob Barker Residence Hall and the Barker Lane Football Stadium.
He was previously president of the Fuquay-Varina Area Chamber of Commerce and began the Bob Barker Company Foundation, which attempts to reduce recidivism and change the lives of incarcerated individuals.
“We want to be good corporate citizens. Wherever we are, we want to be a part of the community and help as much as we can,” says Barker. “I like to be involved and we encourage our employees to be so.”
Today, the Bob Barker Company boasts over 10,000 products, international success, and a multi-million dollar corporation. While his children, Nancy and Robert, are currently the major share holders, Barker remains a key component of the company’s day to day functioning.
“I didn’t start out thinking I was going to go into the jail business,” says Barker, “but I’ve really got a passion for this.”
The book “I’m In Cells” is available at Elliott’s Pharmacy, the Lazy Lion Book Store, David Anthony’s Gifts and the Fuquay-Varina Chamber of Commerce, all located in Fuquay-Varina, as well as Amazon.com.