• Larry Thomas

Watkins & Shepard to take over Lane's trucking unit

TUPELO, Miss. — Lane Furniture is shutting down its trucking subsidiary, Action Transport, and turning its furniture transport operations over to Watkins & Shepard, the nation's largest specialized furniture carrier.

The change, which takes effect Monday, comes just days before a Nov. 20 deadline to submit bids for the assets of Lane's bankrupt parent company, Furniture Brands International.

A Furniture Brands spokesman confirmed the move and said it wouldn't require U.S. Bankruptcy Court approval. Officials at Watkins & Shepard confirmed the company is hiring more than 50 Action Transport drivers - virtually the entire driving staff - and will begin transporting furniture from Lane's Mississippi factories to retail furniture stores on Monday.

"With the driver shortage we have today, the chance to hire more than 50 highly qualified drivers was a real coup for us," said Ray Kuntz, chairman and CEO of Watkins & Shepard. "This will enable us to provide better service to all of our retail furniture customers from our Mississippi terminal."

He said the Mississippi terminal, located about 30 miles northwest of Tupelo near the town of Myrtle, currently handles furniture shipments to 38 of the 48 contiguous states. However, the addition of the former Action Transport drivers and an undetermined number of tractors and trailers to the Watkins & Shepard fleet will enable the carrier to service retailers in all 48 states from there, he said.

Many of the new drivers will continue to deliver Lane products to the same retailers they visited as Action Transport employees, but others will deliver furniture produced by the many other factories in northeast Mississippi, said Kuntz.

"Adding these drivers and equipment to our fleet will help us make sure that we don't miss a beat," he said.

The states being added to the Mississippi terminal's service area are Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Kuntz said customers with questions or concerns about the changes should call Watkins & Shepard's customer service department at (800) 824-0913.

Bids for the assets of Furniture Brands are due by 9 a.m. Nov. 20. A bankruptcy court-supervised auction, if necessary, will begin at 10 a.m. the following day, and a hearing to confirm the sale is slated for Nov. 22.

KPS Capital Partners has been installed as the stalking horse bidder with a $280 million offer for all of Furniture Brands assets, including Lane.

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