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  • Thomas Lester

Honesty, business acumen have served retailer Harold Hart well

HIGH POINT — Ask anybody in the trade about furniture veteran Harold Hart and the first words you hear will likely be "honesty" or "integrity."

Hart, who died Oct. 10 after a battle with leukemia, owned Hart Furniture in Siler City, N.C. The longtime distributor and retailer was known as one of the industry's most sincere voices and had a knack for turning closeouts into big business.

 Longtime furniture distributor and retailer Harold Hart, third from left, with son Brad, wife Faye and daughter Lisa, is the owner of Hart Furniture and has been a fixture in the Siler City, N.C., community for decades.Longtime furniture distributor and retailer Harold Hart, third from left, with son Brad, wife Faye and daughter Lisa, is the owner of Hart Furniture and has been a fixture in the Siler City, N.C., community for decades.
 The company name on the side of a tractor was a main fixture of Hart Furniture’s advertising.The company name on the side of a tractor was a main fixture of Hart Furniture’s advertising.

"He would sell (closeouts) and furnish them for retail stores to have events with, at tremendous values," said retired furniture executive Max Garner. "He would buy a lot of it at big discounts and pass it along. His margins were very slim. The people who dealt with him got good value."

Retail and sales veteran Gary Woodham said that when Hart promised something, his words were as good as money in the bank.

"Harold's one of the few people in the industry you can do handshake deals with and not worry about it," Woodham said of his longtime friend. "His word is his bond."

Hart's memory for good deeds and repaying them in kind stands out, too.

"I was in the San Francisco market years ago. There was a long cab line, I was near the front and Harold was near the back. I told him to come on. His hotel was first and he was trying to get money out and I told him not to worry about it," said Roy Hester, senior vice president of Planned Furniture Promotions. "He said next time I was in Siler City he'd get me lunch. I was in there a year and a half later, Harold heard my voice and came out and said he owed me lunch. That's classic Harold."

Hart and his businesses are part of the fabric of the small town southeast of High Point. His home and store are located on Harold Hart Road in Siler City. As Hart's reputation grew, he found he didn't have to put his message in front of the masses - instead, he opted to let customers speak for him.

"They've never advertised, except the name is on the side of a tractor and jeep or in a high school program or yearbook," Hester said. "It's all been word of mouth."

Hart started his career buying, repairing and selling secondhand furniture while in high school and later became active in his parents' upholstery business, buying and selling chairs, rockers, and Sealy mattresses. This led to the establishment of Hart Furniture in 1969, which occupies approximately 37,500 square feet of showroom and warehouse space in Siler City.

Through the years, Hart forged friendships with a number of people in the industry. Woodham, a University of North Carolina fan, said he and Hart, a fan of N.C. State University, good-naturedly needled each other when it came to college sports.

Often, they traveled to the Tupelo Furniture Market together. Woodham said that once they landed, he knew Hart's first stop.

"Every time we would get off the airplane in Memphis, there was a barbecue restaurant, Corky's, there where we would get off," Woodham recalled. "We would have to go get a sandwich there. He loves Memphis barbecue. If we caught the right flight, we would catch lunch going out. That was always his first stop, get some barbecue."

When his health declined, Hart turned the reins of his retail business over to his daughter, Lisa Hart Stout, who has been involved in the business for years.

Woodham said the industry is better for having counted Hart among its ranks for years.

"There's not another Harold Hart. When Mickey Mantle retired from the Yankees, who played center field? I don't remember who it was; he didn't have a prayer," Woodham said. "He was following a legend. You couldn't follow in his footsteps and look good no matter what you did. He's just that good."

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