Furniture industry veterans chart new courses
Thomas Russell -- Furniture Today, November 13, 2013
Bill Cubberley is showing product geared for the U.S. market at Nathan Furniture USA.
John Wampler stands in the High Point Market showroom of his newly launched JGW Furniture.
HIGH POINT — Industry veterans don't fade away. They just form their own companies.
That's what's happened with several former case goods executives who spent their earlier years at companies such as Pulaski, Stanley, Bassett, Drexel Heritage, Excelsior Designs and Vaughan-Bassett.
Now they are running startups that made their debuts at the October High Point Market, offering product lines built on their years of industry knowledge and experience.
Gene Clark, a former Bassett, Vaughan-Bassett and Ligna USA executive, has formed youth furniture resource My Home Furnishings with James Millner. Millner has years of experience in youth furniture at resources such as Stanley, Opus Designs and Lea Inds.
Clark said he saw a window of opportunity to create fresh styles in youth furniture. My Home's line includes four new collections in youth and second bedroom, with three-piece groups retailing from $799 to $999.
Clark said his team has more than 90 years of collective industry experience, a factor he believes will help develop and service the youth category well into the future.
"We have the right people, and there was a void in the market we went into," he said, adding that he still has a passion for the industry and likes the idea of controlling his company's destiny.
John Wampler, who worked for Pulaski for about 30 years, said he believed the timing was right to start his new company, JGW Furniture. His focus is to provide design-driven case goods and upholstery at affordable prices.
JGW's initial launch of about 125 SKUs included upholstered beds, dining sets, curio display cabinets, occasional tables, benches, sofas and ottomans. Fully upholstered beds start around $169 and top out at $799, while dining tables retail from $299 to $899.
"We are still very price-conscious, but the customers we talk to are price-conscious," he said. "I think we have some things that you will not find in other showrooms."
James Millner is vice president of merchandising and design at My Home Furnishings.
Gene Clark is president of My Home Furnishings, a new youth and second bedroom furniture resource.
Wampler also said his years in the industry, including time at Progressive and Lifestyle Enterprise as well as Amelia Home and Urban Classics, two sister companies, have prepared him for this move.
"Sometimes it takes you a while to get a skill set that prepares you for what you want to do," he said. "I didn't feel that I had the tools to put this together before now."
Steven Kayne, president of the former high end Italian-made contemporary case goods line Excelsior Designs, recently started ExStra Design with Alfred Birnbaum, a former president of Casa Stradivari. Kayne said Excelsior ceased operations in 2010 primarily due to the rising value of the euro, which made his Italian-made goods 20% more expensive in the U.S.
After closing Excelsior, he and Birnbaum began talking about forming a new company together that would combine the best elements of Excelsior and the former Casa Stradivari, which originally offered a more traditional European line that evolved into transitional and contemporary designs sourced in Asia.
ExStra Design is a contemporary resource that offers five-piece bedrooms from $4,999 to $8,999 and seven-piece dining sets from $2,999 to $5,499. Finishes tend to lean toward lower sheen satin looks rather than the high gloss finishes seen in the former Excelsior line.
"We are trying to give a softer appearance that can appeal to the transitional and high-end consumer," Kayne said, adding, that he was happy to return to High Point, where the customer could see the level of quality and workmanship being put into the product. "We are able to offer tremendous values in the marketplace that the customer is looking for at this time."
Other longtime industry executives are leading new U.S. divisions of foreign-based companies that are looking to expand their reach into the U.S. That includes Rob Casey, a former Henredon executive who has been named president of Decca Home, and Bill Cubberley, a longtime Stanley executive who has been named president of Nathan Furniture USA.
"This is the first time they have sold in America," Cubberley said. Nathan Furniture USA's parent company, Nathan Furniture, is a case goods producer that was formed in the United Kingdom in 1916 and sells mostly into that market.
Cubberley said the move is timely given the company's Scandinavian-inspired looks in teak veneers. In addition, he said, the product will be warehoused in Eden, N.C., allowing it to be shipped quickly to customers across the U.S.
"This is the first time I have done something out on my own," Cubberley said. "I think there is a very good opportunity for me to make this work and I am looking forward to the challenge."
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