Universal to continue with Paula Deen line

Heath E. Combs, July 24, 2013

HIGH POINT — Case goods importer Universal Furniture plans to continue with its celebrity chef Paula Deen Home licensed line despite negative publicity surrounding past use of a racial slur.

Deen was dropped by several business partners including Wal-Mat, Target, Home Depot and Smithfield Foods - among others - after a story broke in June that she admitted in a court deposition to using a racial slur.

A racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit suit was filed in 2011 against Deen, her brother Bubba, and the chain of restaurants they operate. In the wake of the story's subsequent public relations mess, Deen fired the legal team handling the case and her longtime agent.

Universal said it plans to continue to market Deen's line as the Paula Deen Home Collection from Universal Furniture. Additionally, it plans to continue introducing product in the Deen line at future markets.

In a July 24 letter dealers, Universal President and CEO Jeff Scheffer said: "Several factors contributed to this decision - our belief that Paula is not the person portrayed by the media, our confidence that the brand will continue to have significant retail value, and most importantly the feedback that we have received from you, our customer."

Scheffer noted that the company has observed Deen as "kind and one who treats those around her with respect."
The letter said many dealers expressed "passionate support" for Deen, while others have de-branded the line, removing her banners, tent cards and hang tags from floor displays.

"What everyone seems to agree on is that the product design is strong and her collections continue to sell well," Scheffer said in the letter.

"As with many other furniture brands in your stores, we realize how the product is displayed and marketed is your decision. You know what is best for your business. Whatever your views, we want you to know that our team will continue to work hard to earn your business."

Paula Deen Home has been a successful brand for Universal. The line includes master bedroom, dining and occasional furniture along with two Paula Deen Kids youth collections.

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