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The intertwined history of 3 leading companies

Cliff Annicelli, Jerry Epperson -- Furniture Today, January 7, 2002

On Dec. 5, the often-heard rumors became true: Furniture Brands is acquiring Henredon, Drexel Heritage and Maitland-Smith. It had been expected since before the October market, but the companies involved were unclear. Was BenchCraft included? La Barge? Beacon Hill?

Henredon and Drexel had a long, inter-related history before Drexel acquired Heritage. Henredon, with a name derived from founders Hen ry Wilson, Ralph Edwards and Don VanNoppen, went public soon after cross-town competitor Drexel was acquired by Champion Paper. Back then, all the paper companies were getting into furniture. Scott Paper had acquired Brown Jordan and Mead owned Stanley Furniture. Drexel Heritage was divested in the mid-1970s to Peter Kennedy and his investors. Kennedy was chairman of Dominick & Dominick, a New York brokerage.

Henredon was one of our industry's most successful public companies, with a record of design leadership from Ken Volz (remember Scene One?) and strong management from Sterling Collett, his brother John, and later from Bill Smith. It had profit margins that others could only dream about, and steady sales growth. Henredon's managers recognized the talent of Paul Maitland-Smith and did a 50-50 joint venture with him in the early '80s.

Who could forget the Maitland-Smith showroom across from Henredon's showroom? It offered an upscale global look using a breadth of woods, textures and materials at surprisingly good values, exuding much of the novelty and creativeness that had been in Thomasville's Four Corners of the World collection for decades.

Meanwhile, Drexel Heritage decided in 1976-77 to take a leaf from Ethan Allen's book and go into controlled distribution with one of the first galley programs. It grew rapidly under industry legend Howard Haworth before he decided to enter public service. Drexel acquired Frederick Edward, the upholstery specialist, and with it the talented duo of Darrell Ferguson and Fred Copeland. Under them, Drexel continued to prosper.

In 1986, the families behind Henredon decided to consider alternatives, including putting it up for sale. There was great interest, and one of Wall Street's most successful companies, Masco Corp., won the bidding.

Best known for its Delta faucet line, Masco had a diversified product line that mostly was related to the home. Soon, plumbing competitor Kohler acquired Baker Furniture and the Baker, Knapp & Tubbs showrooms. Then Masco acquired cross-town competitor Drexel Heritage to add to their furniture portfolio. And the rest is history.

We recently published a list of former corporate owners and found the exercise to be very interesting. History is a great guide and we try to learn from it. Congratulations to Furniture Brands on acquiring three furniture industry leaders, and a lot of industry talent and history.

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