Hunter Davis Steers Through Changes, Challenges
Furniture Today Staff -- Furniture Today, October 11, 2011
HOULKA, Miss. - After an internship with retailer Nebraska Furniture Mart and two years of working hand-in-hand with his dad, Hunter Davis was suddenly thrust into the leadership of Davis Direct, Centers of High Point and the newly launched Le Noir Leather after the tragic death of his father, Lynn, who was killed when devastating storms swept through Mississippi in late April.
Nearly five months later, Hunter Davis has seen the company through some major changes, coped with the sadness of losing his dad, and settled into the ebb-and-flow of the company's businesses.
Recently, he took time to speak to Furniture/Today's editor and chief, Ray Allegrezza, about where the company is now and where it is going.
Furniture/Today: Give me a snapshot of what the company looked like before you took it over; i.e., the businesses you were in, your real estate holdings in High Point and your warehousing in Mississippi.
Davis: Before I took over the company, it was made up of three parts: Davis Furniture Inds., Davis Direct and Le Noir Leather. Davis Furniture Inds., which consisted of two plants in Houlka, focused on showood groups and economically priced upholstery manufactured in Mississippi. At the time of Davis Furniture's recent closing, we were running two lines; however, in 2009 we were running seven.
Davis Direct, which is our case goods out of Vietnam and China, focuses on larger customers with container-direct buyers, and we are not warehousing any in the U.S. Also, we manufacture upholstery in China and ship directly to the West Coast. Le Noir Leather (a leather upholstery importer) just recently launched during the last market. In High Point, we own and operate four buildings: Center Point, Center Point on Manning, Center Point on Centennial and Center Point on Russell.
FT: Where is the company today, which product categories are you in, and where are they being made? How many employees do you have, and who is your leadership team?
Davis: Currently, we have shut down Davis Furniture Inds., which brought an end to our manufacturing in Mississippi. For over 30 years, we manufactured but could no longer continue. Both plants in Houlka shut down operations; one is now used as a warehouse, the other is vacant.
In the meantime, we considered collaborating with Delta Furniture on some of our best selling frames. We met with Terry Wages, Chris Bray and Wesley Walls of Delta to see how our companies would fit together by taking Davis' salesmen and frames to them. At this time, we chose to go forward with Delta. Mississippi-based manufacturing is still a huge part of the business for us and our customers. Delta has turned out to be a great fit, and after our first market with them in Tupelo, we could not be happier to be working with them.
We are working directly for Delta handling key accounts. We are going to rep the entire East Coast and large accounts throughout the United States. Delta is not making any showood frames right now. Delta will show in its own showroom in High Point.
We decided to stay focused on Davis Direct (which is our case goods from Vietnam and China). We have bedroom groups that go from $395 (bed, dresser, mirror, chest). We will be showing five new groups this market and are excited about their potential. We are still focusing on customers who can buy direct containers and are not going to warehouse any for the moment. This past spring we had a successful market and are now getting the groups onto customers' floors. We still manufacture furniture under Davis Direct in China and will have new groups for this October market.
Le Noir Leather is the last piece of the puzzle. We launched this last spring and had a great reaction right from the start. We will have five to eight new introductions ready for upcoming market.
I am president of Davis Direct and Le Noir Leather and Justin Smith is sales manager and vice president of Le Noir Leather. Justin has been with us since day one of Le Noir Leather. His background is with LeatherTrend and Natuzzi and he has been in the business for a long time.
FT: How is the Le Noir Leather business going?
Davis: Le Noir Leather is going well. It is a startup company and will take time to grow. We have started shipping and will be hitting the floors soon. We are selling customers in the Top 100 and have some new projects that we are excited about. We are bringing about six new groups to show at this market and are also looking at doing bonded leather on the sides and backs to help get our prices down. Justin Smith, our vice president of Le Noir Leather, has done well with his first round. We are going to continue pushing this product.
FT: Since you are a major landlord in High Point with 487,250 square feet on 15 acres (and are not controlled by the International Market Centers, which owns the majority of the High Point space as well as the World Market Center in Las Vegas), discuss the opportunities you see there.
Davis: High Point is recovering from the past economic situation. Our buildings are almost completely full. By market, our occupancy should be 100%. This market should prove interesting with the purchase of buildings both in High Point and Las Vegas (by IMC) with respect to fulfilling customer needs in a difficult sales climate. In an industry which has been so hard hit, working together to achieve complete customer satisfaction in cost reductions, savings, and produce a quality product with minor expenditure without ever sacrificing the customer, must be top priority....
Keep in mind, if (High Point showroom owners) work together as a total unit, we will be able to not only drive business for our existing customers but also provide opportunities that may bring new participants to this market. Lynn Underwood continues to oversee the operations of the Centers of High Point as she continues to bring professionalism not only to our facilities but the industry as well. I believe in the future of our business and trust in the High Point Market as a vehicle to achieve and maintain success.
FT: Talk about your competitive advantages, and why retailers should do business with your company.
Davis: As for our leather, we have the competitive advantage of being factory direct. We have partnered with someone overseas with whom we have a long-term business relationship. Where you might often go through multiple venues to finally get a finished product, we are not doing so. On our case goods and Davis Direct, we have been in business for many years and understand the game of what is going on overseas. We have some great looks at a good price. I realize that is what most competitors in this business promise, but we have done our homework on our product and our factories overseas to make sure we give the best service and product. Relationships will only get you in the door, and with our product we are strong and will continue to get stronger.
We have made many changes in the past 120 days. We have changed our senior management around and had to shut down our plant in Mississippi because we could not compete in that field any longer. This was a very difficult decision to make for everyone, and it was my dad's choice before he passed away. With the passing of my dad, I was thrown into this to either sink or swim. I miss my dad greatly, and no matter how good the furniture industry does or how good the High Point Market does, my family and I will never get him back. I am going to continue to work hard doing everything that I can to have a competitive advantage in both High Point and Davis Direct.