Fresh Faces, New Ideas
By Tom Lassiter
Shoring Up the Infrastructure
Co-CEO Summer Classics
Dick Cross, a former Naval intelligence officer trained as an architect, holds an advanced degree from Columbia University and an MBA from Harvard, where he created and taught a summer course for company presidents. For the last 25 years he has served as an interim president or CEO for 10 companies, helping them fine-tune operations to achieve new levels of success.
Now he brings his skills and experience to Summer Classics, where he will work alongside founder Bew White as co-CEO. Cross, author of two books on management, has worked at Summer Classics part-time since January and will become full-time later this year. White says he and Cross will share an office in Summer Classics’ new headquarters.
“There’s nobody like this in the (casual furniture) business,” White said. “We feel fortunate to have found him.”
White and Cross said that his arrival should not be viewed as a turn-around situation; Summer Classics’ business is solid and growing.
White said that Cross will help position the company to grow “bigger than just Bew. He’s got a lot of brain parts that I don’t have, and I have some things he doesn’t have.”
Cross will focus his attention on the operational components that support the five businesses under the Summer Classics’ umbrella. Those businesses include Summer Classics Wholesale, Summer Classics Retail, a Contract division, the Parker James line, and Gabby, a line of interior furnishings and lighting products. Gabby, launched in 2009, is run by White’s son, William.
White looks forward to seeing his son, who has “an MBA and a great eye,” one day take over as Summer Classics’ CEO. Meanwhile, he said, “Gabby is growing so fast that it’s difficult for him to take his eye off that ball.”
Cross, whose consulting business is based in Boston, said that, “Great businesses do something other than just make money. This business doesn’t look at itself through the lens of a spreadsheet. It creates great experiences for people, and the arithmetic follows.”
He said that Summer Classics’ focus on design appeals to his own aesthetic sensibilities and his background in architecture. He met White at a conference in Canada, and the two hit it off immediately.
“I have the greatest admiration for Bew and what he has done over 35 years,” said Cross. During tough economic times, he said, White never wavered from his “legacy of taste. This company is not about selling the next SKU,” he said. “It’s about adding a dimension that enriches customers.”
One challenge going forward, Cross said, is to look beyond evolving market channels and segmentation in the customer base. Questions to be addressed include, “Which customers will be the best fit?” and “How do we represent ourselves to them?”
“The industry is going through a transition,” Cross said. “Segments are becoming more differentiated, and we have a whole generation of new consumers who are behaving differently.”
Summer Classics, he said, “is well positioned and well resourced to place itself in a commanding position in this industry. I think there is easily room for Summer Classics to double” in size. “But there is some infrastructure than needs to be shored up to make that transition.”
Polishing the Halo
CEO Gloster America
Randy Wells hails from a premier southern furniture town. In his first furniture industry job, he learned his way around a veneer mill, a table plant and a case goods plant. Later he helped launch a leading furniture company’s outdoor division, ran a performance fabric company, was an executive with the Las Vegas Design Center, and was in charge of creative and brand development for a furniture manufacturer with annual sales approaching $100 million.
Each step in the career ladder was good preparation for his current role as CEO of Gloster America, a position he assumed in March.
Wells was a vice president at Stanley Furniture Co. when he was approached about applying for the job at Gloster, a newly created position. The company was revamping its management structure in anticipation of the retirement of Deputy CEO Charles Vernon.
Wells had more than a passing familiarity with Gloster. In the early 2000s, Gloster had been a direct competitor as Wells led the creation of Century Furniture’s outdoor line.
“I had a strong admiration for Gloster and for Charles Vernon, in particular,” Wells said.
Gloster particularly impressed him because of its “unique aesthetic” expressed in high-style, top-quality furniture supported by a comprehensive branding and marketing strategy.
Wells, who calls himself “a student of branding,” said that he will concentrate on further enhancement of Gloster’s brand. It’s “a process of refinement,” he says. “We just want to carry it to the next level.”
Wells said he will work with Gloster America president Eric Parsons and other company veterans to strengthen Gloster’s position in its three primary markets: specialty retailers, the design trade, and the hospitality/contract market.
“The important thing about branding and positioning,” Wells explains, “is that it’s really what people say about you when you are not in the room.” Gloster is renown for its design leadership and quality. “We’re the halo in just about every store we sell to, without a doubt,” he says.
Gloster, founded in 1960 as a maker of wood furniture, evolved to become a premier brand of teak outdoor furniture. In more recent years the company added expertise in aluminum, stainless steel, and designs that mix wood and metal. The company is vertically integrated, manufacturing in Asia and selling to markets worldwide.
Wells said he has a counterpart responsible for Gloster in the European market. The company, which once experimented with a universal catalog, has once again differentiated its product mix for the North American and European markets.
“Europe and America have different needs,” Wells says. “You can’t do the same product for both.”
A native of Martinsville, Virginia, Wells majored in history at Randolph-Macon College. He entered the industry as a management and sales trainee in the mid-1990s at Bassett Furniture Co.
Century Furniture Co. hired Wells in the early 2000s to launch its outdoor line, which introduced him to designer Richard Frinier.
“We did woven, teak, aluminum and then stainless steel,” Wells says. “It was a lot to digest for a company that had never done it.”
Before joining the Las Vegas Design Center, Wells served for three years as president of Valtekz Composite Fabrics. The company, no longer in business, made high-end faux leather fabrics for the furniture and marine industries.
Experienced Pro Launches New Outdoor Division
President Klaussner Outdoor
Klaussner Outdoor will roll out seven collections – five woven and two aluminum – as it debuts at September’s Casual Market. The brand is a newcomer in the world of casual furniture, but the company behind it is a heavyweight presence in home furnishings. The person guiding Klaussner Outdoor’s launch is Gary McCray, an experienced hand in the casual furniture industry.
McCray most recently was senior vice-president of Designer Brand Sales for Heritage Home. That company’s owners acquired certain assets of Furniture Brands International (including Lane Venture) in a bankruptcy sale. McCray previously had served as president of Lane Venture since 2008.
Klaussner Home Furnishings, founded in 1963 as Stuart Furniture Industries, is based in Asheboro, North Carolina. According to published reports, the privately-held company has sales in excess of $750 million.
McCray says the vertically integrated company, which makes upholstered furniture, case goods and sleep systems, is the fourth-largest U.S. furniture maker. The company is owned by management, which bought out founder Hans Klaussner in 2011.
All the company’s owners work at Klaussner Home Furnishings, McCray says. “It’s 51 years old and very financially stable.”
The company’s domestic manufacturing facilities are in North Carolina; it also has factories in Vietnam and China. Outdoor products will be made in China, McCray says. The company has showrooms in High Point and Las Vegas.
Klaussner began researching the outdoor furniture market last year, says McCray, who in March was hired to develop the new division from scratch. A handful of sample products were shown at the Preview Show in July. The company will exhibit in 3,500 sq. ft. in a temporary showroom at the Casual Market.
Sales & Merchandise Manager Klaussner Outdoor
McCray says Klaussner Outdoor plans to produce a good-better-best lineup that eventually will be marketed through non-competing channels. Teresa Buelin, also a former Lane Venture executive, is Sales and Merchandise manager for Klaussner Outdoor.
“The focus initially is on what we know – the specialty stores,” McCray says. “We’re also set up to sell to the design trade.”
Klaussner Outdoor has a sales force of about 60 people, a mix of former Lane Venture representatives as well as Klaussner sales personnel. McCray says having a number of casual furniture sales veterans has proven valuable for “peer-to-peer training” and familiarizing the indoor furnishings sales people with the outdoor industry.
Klaussner Home Furnishings has a goal of shipping product from its North Carolina warehouses within 21 days of an order. Klaussner Outdoor will follow that model, McCray says.
“Being a domestic manufacturer, they’ve built the system to handle the logistics and paperwork quickly,” he says. “Twenty-one days is the corporate number. We feel like we’ll be able to beat that.”
Imported frames will be warehoused, and cushions will be made domestically using fabrics from supplier brands including Sunbrella, Sunbury, Outdura, Al Fresco Functional Fabrics and Bella Dura.
“We’re focusing on solution-dyed acrylics or acrylic blends,” McCray says. Cushions will have a fiber core and quick-dry construction.
According to the website Hoovers, Klaussner has “a handful of licensed Klaussner Home stores and about 150 Klaussner Home Furnishings Galleries.” Certain outdoor products will be marketed through this channel, McCray says. Catalog resellers and national online distribution are additional future channels.
“We feel like we have the product to go into a variety of channels and not necessarily have those channels compete with one another,” he says.
Back at the Helm
President Domus Ventures America
Erwin Gremmer may be the only casual furniture executive whose office bookshelf holds a copy of Charles Darwin’s “The Voyage of the Beagle,” first published in 1839. The book chronicles Darwin’s nearly five-year voyage aboard a British naval vessel to South America, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, and other exotic places. Darwin’s explorations eventually led to his theories on evolution, which he laid out in “The Origin of Species.”
So what’s Darwin got to do with the furniture business?
Survival, Gremmer says, isn’t guaranteed to the fittest. Those who survive, as Darwin posited, are those who are the best at adapting in our ever-changing world.
“I truly believe that this is an important time to adapt in order to survive,” says Gremmer, who in June became president of Domus Ventures America. “I’m looking forward to building the company to what it should be in the United States. It’s a beautiful company with a nice foundation.”
Gremmer knows something about building companies. He’s done it before.
A native of The Netherlands, Gremmer arrived in the United States in 1984 to head the West Coast division of Grosfillex, then an up-and-coming European resin furniture company. He later became general manager for North America before moving on to top positions with Rubbermaid/Allibert and Triconfort.
Still later, Gremmer became a casual furniture industry consultant; he has been an independent sales representative for Tropitone since 1996.
Domus Ventures was founded in 1997 by Horst Heinrichs, who still runs the international business. The company’s high-end, contemporary designs have “had a good connection with the design community” in the United States, Gremmer says. He wants to bolster the brand’s penetration with specialty retailers.
“Around the world, we are recognized for our innovative design and taking care of customers,” he says. “We have the design, the quality, and a North Carolina warehouse” that positions Domus Ventures “to go after the consumer who does not want what mom and dad have in their backyard.”
Domus Ventures produces three brands covering the good, better and best markets. The brands are Residenz, Domus and Ethos.
Products are made in company-owned factories in China and Indonesia, Gremmer says. “We have our own international design teams. We are a global player.”
The company will continue to distinguish itself from the competition with strong design. “Everything is homogenous these days. Everybody copies everybody,” Gremmer says. “I think you need to stay ahead by being different.”
Gremmer plans to extend Domus Ventures’ reach by connecting with retailers who appreciate that design drives sales.
“We’re not selling products anymore,” he explains. “People have enough stuff. People are looking for inspirational things and experiences. We are an experience economy.”
The United States is rapidly changing as the Baby Boomer generation eases into its retirement years. Tens of millions of younger adults, Gen X and the Millennials, represent the next wave of consumers who will dominate in the coming decades.
“There are many Gen Xers and Millennials who have a lot of money,” Gremmer says. “There’s quite a bit of business to be had for those who can connect with these people.”
Gremmer, a longtime California resident, is moving back to North Carolina, where he lived during his time as a resin furniture company executive. Domus Ventures America has its headquarters in High Point.
Gremmer relishes the whirlwind of change that his new opportunity presents. “I enjoy figuring out things that are difficult,” he says, “I love change.”
Opening Stores, Expanding Offerings
President Brown Jordan Company
Look for Brown Jordan Company, which currently has one company-owned retail showroom in Southern California, to open additional showrooms under the leadership of its new division president, James B. “Jim” Hardy, Jr.
Hardy is a former senior vice-president and head of stores for Ralph Lauren Corporation.
“We see retail – the ‘Full Monty’ retail store/showroom – as an opportunity in major metro markets,” says Hardy, probably limited to “10 to 15 stores in the U.S. over three to five years.”
The company-owned retail showrooms, Hardy says, will “complement our existing dealer base. And I think, contrary to some opinions, will enhance their opportunities for increasing business, rather than taking away from it.”
Hardy joined Brown Jordan in April following a stint as president of Jack Wills, a British fashion chain with more than 80 retail stores as well as online sales.
Gene Moriarty, CEO of Brown Jordan International, said in a statement that Hardy “excels in both the creative and commercial side of the luxury business.” Hardy is “a formidable strategic thinker who can develop Brown Jordan’s presence in our expansion categories.”
Hardy says major metro areas currently may be underserved by designer showrooms and specialty retailers offering Brown Jordan products. The hours at designer showrooms, he points out, usually are limited on weekdays, and showrooms may not be open on weekends, when people have more time to shop. Designer showrooms are limited “to the trade,” meaning consumers who come to browse the products cannot make purchases without working through a designer.
Specialty retailers generally keep longer hours, Hardy says, but limited floor space means that the depth and breadth of Brown Jordan’s line cannot be displayed.
“As a retailer, I always think about the consumer. That’s the person who matters the most,” Hardy says, “no matter what the product is.” Retail showrooms open to the public for longer hours, and on weekends, will “accommodate people’s lives and schedules.
“The traditional (designer) showroom approach to things, to the trade, is becoming a bit of an anachronism,” he says.
Brown Jordan opened its first major retail store last year in Costa Mesa, California, in a new upscale complex called South Coast Collection. Going forward, Hardy says, Brown Jordan retail showrooms may offer more than just Brown Jordan furniture.
“We will be looking into products that complement outdoor living,” he says, mentioning items to decorate porches and terraces, and lifestyle accessories such as pool towels.
Hardy served for three years as president of Jack Wills. Before that he worked for the Ralph Lauren organization in several capacities from 1986 to 2011. He began as a merchandise manager at the New York flagship store at 867 Madison Avenue. He served for a time as vice-president/managing director for Ralph Lauren’s European flagship stores before returning to New York, where his last post with the company was as senior vice-president, head of stores for Rugby Ralph Lauren.
The Rugby Ralph Lauren brand was launched in 2004 with fashions designed for males and females ages 16 through 25. The line was closed out early in 2013, two years after Hardy had departed to lead Jack Wills.