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Local industry officials talk jobs, training at MIX

Pete Morrison, Bassett Furniture vice president of marketing, discusses company strategies with MIX tour participants.

November 25, 2015

Representatives from Bassett Furniture Industries and Hooker Furniture outlined industry operations, job opportunities and skills requirements to participants in the MIX – Modern Industry Exchange – program, during a tour on Nov. 17.  

HOOKER FURNITURE

Hooker Furniture Corp. was started in 1924 to manufacture wooden residential furniture. “Like all successful companies … we’ve had to adapt and evolve. Today, all of our wooden furniture is sourced in Asia and we’ve added both domestically produced and imported upholstery to our product offering,” according to a company presentation for the MIX group.

The company employs a total of 650 people. In the Martinsville area, 110 people work at Hooker’s headquarters and another 100 work at its warehouses.

The company’s umbrella covers Hooker Furniture, which provides casegoods or wood furniture; Sam Moore in Bedford, which makes upholstered seating; Bradington-Young in Hickory, N.C., which makes leather furniture; Homeware, which is assembled furniture delivered to the customer’s home; and H Contract, which serves the long-term care industry.

Hooker executives outlined their areas of operations and job skills required for each, during the latest MIX tour. They included:

 • Accounting and finance. This includes financial reporting to management and investors; payments, receipts and assets; and compliance with tax and financial laws and regulations, according to Paul Huckfeldt, senior vice president-finance and accounting and chief financial officer. It includes the accounting, cost accounting and credit and collections departments.

Positions in those areas generally require post-secondary education and specialized training, ranging from associate degrees through masters and/or professional certifications, Huckfeldt said.

• Information services. This group implements and maintains network technologies and systems, according to Christy Magee, director of application services.

Jobs in that area require a minimum of an associate degree. Microsoft or industry certifications are a plus and could suffice in some cases, Magee said. A bachelor’s degree in information or related discipline is preferred, she added.

Hard skills needed include Microsoft certifications in various areas, experience managing and supporting a network, project management and others. Soft skills needed include oral and written communication, relationships, critical/analytical thinking and the scientific method approach to problem solving.

• Casegoods operations. This area manages the planning, purchasing, production and distribution of Hooker’s products. It involves supply chain operations, transportation/distribution, warehousing, and quality control and Asia operations, according to Scott Prillaman, vice president of casegoods operations.

Skills and educational requirements vary by area. For instance, distribution center jobs primarily include manual labor, and typically a high school education or less is needed. But in the supply chain/transportation area, a college education is preferable, and key traits include problem solving and decision making, teamwork and collaboration, math and analytical thinking and reading and writing for comprehension, Prillaman said.

• Marketing and e-commerce. This involves raising awareness of Hooker brands, digital advertising, photography, catalogs and point of purchase materials, and other areas, as well as leveraging the power of e-commerce for Hooker brands, according to Johne Albanese, vice president of marketing.

 Marketing jobs require a minimum of an associate degree in graphic design but a bachelor’s degree is preferred. All other positions require four-year degrees, preferably in marketing, business management, business analytics and analysis, social media and other areas.

E-commerce jobs require at least four-year degrees in business management, business administration, marketing with any special emphasis in the areas of digital marketing/advertising, web development or other areas.

In both areas, employees need a high level of creativity, excellent interpersonal skills and a desire to serve, Albanese added.

• Merchandising. Hooker’s team of three wood products merchandisers find out what the customers want and get it designed and manufactured at the price the customer is willing to pay, according to Hank Long, senior vice president of merchandising.

Employees need bachelor’s degrees, preferably in merchandising or marketing; 5-10 years of experience in the industry; Microsoft office skills; and a willingness to travel.

For the merchandising support staff, employees need at least high school diplomas and preferably associate degrees and Microsoft office skills, particularly excel spreadsheets.

When recruiting, Hooker looks for people with the ability to see the big picture; think critically; do problem solving and teamwork; written and verbal communications; are results oriented; and willing to take risks. They must pass a drug test, complete an assessment and have computer skills, according to Anne Jacobsen, senior vice president administration.

BASSETT

Bassett Furniture Industries showed off its new Design Center in Bassett to participants during the MIX tour. The center was created in the building that once housed Nathan’s Department Store. Inside, it’s similar to the 94 Bassett Furniture retail stores in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada.

The center basically is a lab to see how furniture, accessories and other items will look on the furniture store floor. Areas are set up for custom choices and also for groupings of various lines, including the Bassett Baby and Kids and the company’s new Bench Made furniture, which is made in Bassett.

Jeb Bassett, senior vice president in the Wood Division, walked MIX participants through the design center and explained the custom options available for consumers. He also discussed the “war room,” where products are critiqued, each product’s sales are evaluated and design ideas are floated.

Considering these various functions and operations, Bassett no longer is “just looking for someone who can run a saw in a machine room,” he said.

Furniture is a fashion business, so Bassett uses a lot of photography and CAD (computer-aided design). It uses both in-house and independent designers and most have college training, Bassett said.

Bassett also recounted the history of the company, which was founded in 1902 by J.D. Bassett, C.C. Bassett and R.L. Stone. Its history includes people who went on to create other area furniture companies, including the Hooker and Stanley companies locally.

The company went public in the 1930s, and it survived World War II by producing truck beds for the Yellow Cab and Coach Co., Bassett said.

Growth continued in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1994, Bassett Furniture had $511 million in sales, 8,500 employees in 44 facilities in 14 states, he said. Bassett was a Fortune 500 company.

Around that time, Bassett and now-President and CEO Robert H. “Rob” Spilman Jr. went to Asia and “had our eyes opened up” by factories producing less-expensive furniture, Bassett said.

“Globalization came,” he said.

“It seemed like we closed one factory a year,” Bassett said. “Those were extremely emotional times. We’re proud we’re here but there were tough decisions that had to be made.”

In the 1990s, Bassett opened its first retail store and began transitioning from a traditional furniture manufacturer into a manufacturer/retailer. Today, 70 percent of Bassett’s distribution is to the 94 Bassett Furniture stores, Bassett said. The company owns 61 of those stores; the other 33 are owned by licensees.

In the fiscal year that will end this month, total revenue is expected to top $400 million, Bassett said. The company has two Henry County plants — one in Bassett and one in the Patriot Centre industrial park — and an upholstery plant in Newton, N.C. It plans to open another upholstery facility in Texas in March.

“The domestic part of our business is growing. Wood imports are tough,” Bassett said, due to competition.

In response to a question, Bassett said the company is opening the upholstery plant in Texas because it has a large concentration of stores in that state and California, so the Texas plant will reduce freight costs to those areas.

Pete Morrison, Bassett’s vice president of marketing, said most of Bassett’s advertising is on television or by direct mail, which offers many opportunities to track customers’ shopping. It also advertises on the web.

“Most advertising we do is to get people in the door” of the furniture stores, Morrison said.

He showed the HGTV area in Bassett stores as a result of a licensing agreement between the two. “Companies do licensing to get attention,” he said. “HGTV was a perfect fit” because people watch it to dream and then they can go to the Bassett Furniture store to make their dream a reality.

Morrison detailed some of the support services located in the company’s headquarters in Bassett, including marketing and retail marketing; store planning; sales and service; credit; product development; and information technology.

Bassett sometimes hires employees from its retail stores for jobs in other areas since they know the company’s products and operations, according to Morrison. It also puts a priority on hiring local residents when possible, he said.

“One great thing about Bassett is that it’s a public company but it feels like a family-owned business,” he said. “It has a big family feel to it.”

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