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Six nominated for American Furniture Hall of Fame

 Image of Howard G. HaasHoward G. Haas Image of Jena HallJena Hall Image of Clement M. Lange Jr.Clement M. Lange Jr.
 Image of Kevin M. O’ConnorKevin M. O’Connor Image of Melvyn L. WolffMelvyn L. Wolff Image of Thomas E. WrightThomas E. Wright

HIGH POINT — Six industry leaders in manufacturing, retail and design are candidates for election this year into the American Furniture Hall of Fame.

The nominees, who will be made Industry Fellows at the Oct. 14 Hall of Fame banquet here, are Howard G. Haas, Jena Hall, Clement M. Lange Jr., Kevin M. O'Connor, Melvyn L. Wolff and Thomas E. Wright, the American Furniture Hall of Fame Foundation announced.

"This year's slate of nominees is a very impressive group representing a wide cross section of the industry and individuals who have made groundbreaking contributions to their companies and the industry," said Randy Ford, president of the foundation. "These six individuals have each demonstrated great leadership, innovation and generosity throughout their long careers. They are true industry giants whose achievements have earned the respect of their colleagues and competitors alike."

Foundation members will vote between July 9 and Aug. 3 on which nominees will be inducted into the hall. Under the new selection system, the inductees will be determined by the combination of the voting and a points-based rating system of each nominee by the Foundation's Industry Fellow Selection Committee.

At the Hall of Fame banquet, which will take place during the fall High Point Market, each nominee will be recognized and presented with a Hall of Fame pin and plaque. New inductees will receive the "Affie" award.

Officials said the candidates were selected from open nominations and by the Industry Fellows Selection Committee based on their contributions to the growth and development of the furniture industry in America with a focus on four standards: enduring excellence, superior accomplishments, innovation and creativity, and philanthropic generosity.

Here are summaries of the official Hall of Fame bios of the nominees:

• Howard G. Haas was president and CEO of Sealy for 19 years, increasing revenues from $32 million to $550 million without the acquisition of a competitor or supplier. He integrated a group of 34 independent licensees into a unified entity, achieving new efficiencies and consistency across factories in production and service. A leader and mentor to many in the bedding industry, three of his young executives now lead Simmons, Sealy and Serta. Under his leadership, in-store displays showcased Posturepedic bedding, sleep shops made their debut, and Sealy became the first bedding company to run national television advertising. A retired adjunct professor of Strategic Management at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, Haas co-authored the best-selling book, "The Leader Within."

• Jena Hall has created successful licensing programs, including Jena Hall's Inspirations from the Old Country, which included thousands of SKUs in 22 product categories. A five-time Pinnacle Award winner, she is passionate about bringing features and functions formerly reserved for the interior design trade to the mainstream market. Hall has developed licensed and private-label products for leading furniture producers and retailers, including Nichols & Stone, Johnston Casuals, DMI-Wynwood, Vanguard Furniture, JCPenney, Robb & Stucky, Macy's, Domain, Aspenhome, Bassett, Broyhill, Ethan Allen and Pennsylvania House. The founding president of WithIt, the women's leadership and development network, Hall is a tireless advocate of City of Hope and the Anti-Defamation League.

• Clement M. Lange Jr. grew Best Chairs from a five-person operation repairing furniture and truck seats into Best Home Furnishings, a leading manufacturer of residential upholstery with five plants producing more than 4,000 chairs, recliners and sofas each day in southern Indiana. To make his company more competitive, Lange was an early adopter of technology and implemented "lean" manufacturing practices long before the term was invented. Under his leadership, the "custom-order/fast-delivery" business model thrived, an approach adopted by many other domestic upholstery producers as a way to successfully compete against imports. Now celebrating 50 years, the company remains focused on producing high quality, strong value and delivery faster than the competition.

• Kevin M. O'Connor worked his way up from sales representative to president of two furniture companies before launching Legacy Classic Furniture in 1999. Partnering with Samuel Kuo of Samson Holding, he developed a business model that enables customers to mix a wide variety of products on a direct-container basis with door-to-door service from China. This plan, now common throughout the industry, makes it possible for independent retailers to affordably source smaller quantities of imported products. Today, O'Connor is president and CEO of Samson Marketing, which includes Legacy and Universal Furniture. With a long track record of service to the furniture industry and community organizations, he has served in leading roles for the High Point Market Authority, the High Point Premarket, American Home Furnishings Alliance, the American Furniture Hall of Fame and the City of Hope.

• Melvyn L. Wolff took Houston-based Star Furniture - a small, low-end, credit-oriented store - and transformed it into one of the country's most successful retail furniture operations. With his sister, Shirley Toomim, he repositioned the company founded by his father to serve a more affluent customer. Wolff established Star as a destination for affordable style and superior service, creating impressive displays that sell a lifestyle rather than a commodity and are backed by superior service in its Different by Design strategy. Now celebrating its 100th anniversary, the business expanded to 10 locations and was sold to Berkshire Hathaway in 1997. Wolff has been involved in the National Home Furnishings Assn., the American Furniture Hall of Fame Foundation and the Home Furnishings Independents Assn., and has served on 14 community and educational boards.

• Thomas E. Wright is the co-founder and former chairman of Wright of Thomasville, a supplier of labels, in-store display graphics, and point-of-sale products to the mattress, upholstery, case goods, floor covering and rug industries. With his brother, the late Bill Wright, he grew their printing company from a small, single location serving one customer in 1961 to a global operation with seven facilities. Their technology to print a black-and-white photograph and later a four-color process image on a satin mattress label enabled customers to clearly develop brand names while building lifestyle stories. A visionary leader of the National Assn. of Bedding Manufacturers (now the International Sleep Products Assn.), he was a co-founder of the Better Sleep Council and an early proponent of the positive impact of a good night's sleep on health. He taught classes at Guilford College and is active in his church and with community organizations.

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