• Thomas Russell

F/T honors Masters of the Game

Jake JabsJake Jabs, right, of American Furniture Warehouse accepts his Masters of the Game award.
NAPLES, Fla. - Five of the industry's best known and most respected leaders received lifetime achievement awards here at Furniture/ Today's Masters of the Game Awards dinner.
     The awards were presented during Furniture/Today's annual leadership conference, held Dec. 3-5 at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort in Naples.
     The honorees included Jake Jabs of American Furniture Warehouse, Engelwood, Colo.; Simon Kaplan of Crest Furniture, Dayton, N.J., the parent company of New Jersey-based Value City; Art Van Elslander of Art Van Furniture, Warren, Mich.; Bernie Moray, of Gorman's, Farmington, Mich.; and Ron Wanek of Ashley Furniture.
     Together, these industry leaders have more than 250 years of experience in running their companies.
     During the ceremony, hosted by Furniture/Today Editor-in- Chief Ray Allegrezza, the honorees spoke of the opportunities that led to their start in the industry.
     Born to immigrant parents, Jabs spoke of his early years working on a family farm in Montana and how he worked his way through college playing and teaching guitar.
     He got his start in retail running a music store in the '50s, when rock and roll and folk music were on the rise. A longtime singer and guitarist, he interrupted his comments by singing parts of Waylon Jennings' and Willie Nelson's "Good Hearted Woman." His love of music remains strong to this day.
     But Jabs soon learned that he could make more money selling sofas than guitars and eventually purchased Denver-based retailer American Furniture Co. in 1975. The store would later become American Furniture Warehouse.
     "It's been a great ride," said Jabs, who continues to make furniture sourcing trips to Asia. "The furniture business has been really good to me. In this business, you have to have a passion for what you do."
     Simon Kaplan, who started Value City Furniture in 1971, said it was an honor to be recognized alongside the other award winners. "I take every one of the suggestions they have very seriously," he told the audience of some 450 attendees.
     He also spoke of how he enjoys being part of a company with a culture that always strives to improve and persevere through challenging times. When people ask him about his five-year plan, Kaplan said he wants to be in the same spot contributing to his company the way he has for the past several years.
     Van Elslander, who started his furniture company in 1959, also spoke of the importance of perseverance.

Ron Wanek

Ron Wanek, left, of Ashley Furniture, Bernie Moray of Gorman's, Art Van Elslander of Art Van Furniture, Simon Kaplan of Crest Furniture and Jake Jabs of American Furniture Warehouse received lifetime achievement awards at Furniture/Today's Leadership Conference and Masters of the Game Awards dinner.

     "You have to take each day at a time and you have to keep coming back," he said. "You will strike out some of the time, but you have to have that perseverance and keep coming back. There's no such thing as saying I have arrived and have earned my place."
     He also thanked the employees - and suppliers - who have helped make his business successful.
     "I built this business, but not without the help of a lot of people," he said. "That really, at the end of the day, is what it is all about."
     Bernie Moray shared some humorous anecdotes about suppliers and salespeople he has known over the years. He also thanked his wife and family for their support and spoke of his love of the industry that has kept him active over a long and fruitful career.
     "I have spent 65 years in this industry, and I have a passion for it because I work every day," he said, noting that this past fall High Point Market was the 104th he has attended. "Our family has prospered thanks to this industry and the wonderful people in it."
     Relating an experience he said was parallel to Jabs' experience growing up on a farm, Ron Wanek spoke of the long days working on a dairy farm in Minnesota during his youth. "It was dawn to dusk 365 days a year," he said. "You did learn a heck of a good work ethic."
     He said that work ethic also taught him the importance of fixing the "barn before the house," a philosophy that aims to achieve success in your work life before rewarding yourself. In his own career in the industry, he started as a laborer in a furniture plant before working his way up to superintendent and plant manager.
     Eventually, he would lead a company that in 2012 had nearly $6.5 billion in annual sales, including $2.9 billion in sales at its 462 stores.
     Wanek attributed the company's success largely to the hard work of its employees and their efforts to provide the best service to Ashley customers.
     "Continuous improvement is part of our culture," he said. "I am so proud of our team."

Thomas RussellThomas Russell | Associate Editor, FurnitureToday

I'm Tom Russell and have worked at Furniture/Today since August 2003. Since then, I have covered the international side of the business from a logistics and sourcing standpoint. Since then, I also have visited several furniture trade shows and manufacturing plants in Asia, which has helped me gain perspective about the industry in that part of the world. As I continue covering the import side of the business, I look forward to building on that knowledge base through conversations with industry officials and future overseas plant tours. From time to time, I will file news and other industry perspectives online and, as always, welcome your response to these Web postings.

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