dan h. edmonson; kroehler manufacturing



MAY 8, 1997



Roy Briggs, Interviewer

INTERVIEWER: When were you born?

EDMONSON: I was born November 12, 1916.


EDMONSON: Baskerville, Virginia.

INTERVIEWER: Where is Baskerville?

EDMONSON: Baskerville is halfway between Richmond, Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina on U.S. Route 1 in Mecklenburg County.

INTERVIEWER: Was your family in furniture?


INTERVIEWER: Any of your in-laws?


INTERVIEWER: Do you have family in furniture now?


INTERVIEWER: Tell us a little about your growing-up years in Baskerville.

EDMONSON: My father was a farmer and his father had a chain of grocery stores. We only lived in Baskerville just a short time. Then we moved to Boydton, Virginia, which is the county seat of Mecklenburg. When we moved there, I was only 5 or 6 years old. South Hill was the biggest shopping area there. And Chase City and Clarksville. Boydton was right in the middle of all those towns.

INTERVIEWER: All right, anything else, for instance, high school?

EDMONSON: Boydton was a small high school and I finished there. I had three older brothers. We all went there. It was a very nice town. A county seat town. Everybody knows everybody. It’s just a very nice little town. I lived there until I went to the College of William & Mary in 1933. I graduated in 1937.

INTERVIEWER: What was your major?

EDMONSON: Business.

INTERVIEWER: What significant happenings at William & Mary have affected your life?

EDMONSON: Oh, so many things, so many things. I enjoyed college. I enjoyed the fraternities. I enjoyed the athletics. I enjoyed the co-ed school, and I think I got a pretty good education. My senior year I was placed in the job of placing graduates, which was a very nice thing.

INTERVIEWER: For you, it sure was.

EDMONSON: Well, there’s another story to that, which I don’t think means much to furniture, but it was important. In 1937-38, there was a terrible depression. I would say we only placed at that time like 15 or 20 percent of the graduating men. I never worked on the graduating ladies. But some fine people have come out of it and it’s progressed along very well.

That school was about 60 percent Virginians and the rest came mostly from the East Coast. Very much New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania.

INTERVIEWER: You did play baseball.

EDMONSON: Yes, I was captain of the team. Won the state championship. And beat your school, N.C. State, you’re right. I’m sorry.

INTERVIEWER: Did you go on to play baseball after college at all?

EDMONSON: No. Believe it or not, I had an offer from the St. Louis Cardinals. They would pay me $500 to sign. And guaranteed that I would stay with the team from June 15th to the World Series, and travel with them and pay me $500 a month. But I had a better offer.

INTERVIEWER: That was a fortune then.

EDMONSON: Yeah, I had a better offer from a local team that was playing in a college league in Virginia. And at the time, I had run up a bill with the college of $1,200.


EDMONSON: Over the years. I had a job with the Harrisonburg, Virginia team. They were going to pay me $1,500 for the season. I was going to pay the college off with that. Unfortunately, very unfortunately, the team was owned by a guy in a restaurant and one of the lawyers or something in town. And the big days of July 4th and Labor Day were both rained out so I never got all that payment. But it was an experience. I lived in a nice town so I finally paid the college some other way after I went to work.

INTERVIEWER: Harrisonburg was a nice little town then.

EDMONSON: Yeah, it was.

INTERVIEWER: Have you seen it lately?

EDMONSON: No, I haven’t.

INTERVIEWER: I bet it’s 20 times as big.

EDMONSON: Oh, yes. The girls’ school there is now a sizable school.

INTERVIEWER: A university.

EDMONSON: Yes, right.

INTERVIEWER: James Madison?

EDMONSON: Yes, right, James Madison University.

INTERVIEWER: The interstate goes

INTERVIEWER: The interstate goes right through and it takes you about 5 minutes to drive through the university. Did you have military experience?

EDMONSON: Yes, I went to Princeton Navy School in 1942 and I became an Ensign. Commissioned an Ensign. I had training there, and then I had sea duty for three and half years. And made like 10 or 12 convoy trips across the Atlantic, and I was in the Normandy invasion. I was chief gunnery officer on the ship that shot down the ... that hit the first buzz bomb. That was news on June 6, 1944.

That was the first buzz bomb anybody had seen and we were the only American ship in this convoy because the English Channel was all full of mines. So we had 12 ships and we were the only American ship that was run by a British admiral. And by this time Italy was out of the war. So we had every spotter from the allied forces on our plane on our ship. In other words, today, the kids in grammar school can almost tell you whether that’s a Lexus or Lincoln or Ford. Those people knew every aircraft in the world.

I was staying in general quarters and up came ... I heard a noise back there. It was reported from air that an aircraft was sighted and nobody could identify it. So I opened fire on it and the admiral said, “Cease fire.” And I really said to the signalman in the corner, “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” This ship, we’d loaded in Boston. Left Boston on Christmas Day.


EDMONSON: No, 1943, and we loaded one and one tracer bullets. Because I knew with a six-month supply of food we were going to go to some war somewhere. So, anyway, that’s the long story, but we unloaded. We had 701 of the very tough Scottish troops that had chased Rommel all over the desert. And these fellows had a rest and that troop was the bunch we had carried over. We unloaded them and got out of there on Wednesday morning. That was the first time we saw a lot of aircraft fighting. So that’s just general terms of that.

I made trips to North Africa, Cuba, Scotland, England and Reykjavik. That’s how many places I went. The first trip out on April 1, 1943, we had over 40 ships in a convoy and about half of them were sunk by the Germans.

We went from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Reykjavik, and then just sat there until we found out what the hell to do. We finally got another convoy and went on over. We had very little protection on convoys that early. Roosevelt had given our double-stack destroyers to Britain. But they had them all over there. But we had some aircraft.

My one trip I took to North Africa with the United States Armament, it was like a vacation. You got cruisers, you got aircraft carriers and it was like a Sunday afternoon vacation. We knocked out one of their submarines, and one of the officers captured on that had been to the racetracks in Miami and Hallandale, Florida. Had been to the racetracks there 10 days before. Had the tickets on him.

So that’s just some of the Navy. I finished up in Honolulu in a job of loading. Two of us were in charge of loading and unloading the ships in and out of the harbor, and we had a whole bunch of officers working under us. And that’s how I finished up.

INTERVIEWER: When did you finish?

EDMONSON: I finished up in ’45 up there. I got separated in January of ’46.

INTERVIEWER: What was your first furniture job?

EDMONSON: My first furniture job would have been with what’s now Joan Fabrics.

INTERVIEWER: Who was your boss?

EDMONSON: N.E. Duvalle. No, his father, Joe Duvalle. Joe Duvalle is really the boss. His son and I worked under him; we worked together in the New York office.

INTERVIEWER: What did you do with Joan Fabrics?

EDMONSON: I started out in sales training at the Boston office and at the plant in Lowell, Massachusetts. I was made sales manager in about three months, and moved to New York, and I took over the sales in New York. That’s when this company was basically big in mohair. The biggest spinners of mohair. And mohair fabrics were very, very popular. I still have them in my home.

We did a lot of business with the railroad companies. The New Haven Railroad today, on the commuter trains from Connecticut into New York City, has fabric that we sold them in 1952 or ’53. It just never wears out. But we had looms to make kid mohair and then furniture fabrics. We started making furniture fabrics, and that’s when I got to visit with different furniture companies.

We had a sales force, and I would make calls to Kroehler and Flexsteel and people like that. Starting ... I’m back now in the 1947-48 times.

INTERVIEWER: You said a little bit about your customers. Which companies and people did you work with?

EDMONSON: Oh, we sold a lot of them. Did a big jobber business with the kid mohair, and in New York.

INTERVIEWER: What do you mean by kid mohair?

EDMONSON: That’s the finest, the very finest. You can make government standard out of mohair, but it’s not the finest, meaning the texture and so forth. Kid mohair is like almost silk, with a pile.

We sold a limited number of furniture factories. We did business with Kroehler, we did business with International, Flexsteel, a lot of furniture jobbers, as I said. And good ones, too. Like in New York, and Berkey and Gay up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was one of the biggest. He was a very big account. And the finest in New York; there are two great ones there. We sold both of those. We sold a lot of small companies. Norwalk was a big account, and the head of that is one of the best friends I ever had in the business. The father of the boys who have it now. Ray Gerken is a fabulous man. His boys are all great, too. We had a showroom in the Furniture Mart in Chicago.

INTERVIEWER: Up in the tower?

EDMONSON: No, we were on the second floor. At that time, it was Massachusetts Mohair Plush Company, not Joan.

That was the name of the company. I never worked for Joan. The company that is now Joan was Massachusetts Mohair Plush Company, and Joe Duvalle had a pretty good monopoly on kid mohair. He would come here to Texas, and stay in The Adolphus Hotel. In three or four days, he would contract for all of it that was available.

Then, we were big yarn spinners, and we did a lot of business with the government in yarns for alpaca in jackets. That was a big business, too. One of the big things I did, too, was I called on all the railroad companies.

As sales manager, I went to Canada. We did a tremendous job in Canada, and got to know the two railroads. One is the government railroad up there and the other one is National. Canadian Pacific and National. We did a lot of business there; we sold to manufacturers of railroad cars to get specified as the cover. And the same with the bus lines. We worked with the builders. We had Raymond Leowy as a designer for the bus fabrics, and they lasted. The same pattern lasted 20 years, I guess.


EDMONSON: Greyhound.

INTERVIEWER: What was the first market you attended?

EDMONSON: The first market I attended at High Point was ... It was really unofficial. My wife was with me. I had only been married five or six years. My wife made that trip with me, not to market as much as to vacation. We were going down to Sea Island, Georgia. As I recall, we went there a lot to that vacation spot. But anyway, I went through just to see what a market was like.

INTERVIEWER: What year was that?

EDMONSON: That was about 1953, I’d say ’52 or ’53. But I’d gone to the Chicago Market, where we had an office and display, starting in 1947 and ’48, in that period. We had our fabrics on display and we did a lot of business there. We had several fabrics, and that started us off in that area.

But we had yarn, we had railroad, we had bus, we had furniture, and sold yarn to other manufacturers.

INTERVIEWER: Right. The Chicago Market in ’47, what can you remember about that?

EDMONSON: Well, it’s a lasting memory. The traffic. And it was a two-week market then. Kroehler was in the 666 Lake Shore Drive building.

We had six or eight women there to check coats in the wintertime. Just about everybody came to the market. As an exhibitor there, we sent a letter out that said, “This winter market, leave your coats with us,” and so forth. There was no pressure; they could leave their coat and go on and buy from anybody they wanted to. I remember that distinctly, and how large the showrooms were then.

INTERVIEWER: Kroehler had half the first floor.

EDMONSON: A little more than half. Philco was the other one down on the other end.

So that was my first market, and I saw the traffic, and I saw the snow. And that winter market was the first one I went to.

INTERVIEWER: Where did you stay?

EDMONSON: I stayed at the Sheraton Hotel.


EDMONSON: Michigan Avenue.

INTERVIEWER: You could have walked it, but I’m sure you didn’t.

EDMONSON: Later on, when I was with Kroehler, we got the manager’s suite and a couple more in the Pearson Hotel, and we could walk back and forth and not have to take taxis.

INTERVIEWER: What about the first High Point Market in 1953?

EDMONSON: There’s nothing on that. That’s nice to talk about because I just visited unofficially, and went to the market. Although I didn’t have a pass, I could get in anywhere. But the thing I remember the most, and have told the most, was my wife and I were in the big hotel there halfway between Greensboro and High Point.

INTERVIEWER: Sedgefield.

EDMONSON: Sedgefield, and had a nice room, not a suite, just a room on the third floor, which I think was the top floor. Anyway, we had no air conditioning and we spent the night ordering Coca-Colas and ice, and got absolutely no sleep, and checked out the next morning and got going. I remember that. But I’ve been back to Sedgefield many times and it’s a fine spot.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, the fourth floor was the top. It was little bitty rooms designed for servants to live in.

EDMONSON: Was it? We were on the third floor, I thought, but, boy, was it hot. Pretty good golf course, too. One of Sam Snead’s favorites.

INTERVIEWER: One of the best in the world.

EDMONSON: Sam Snead used to like it.

INTERVIEWER: So that was after they started having spring and fall markets in High Point.

EDMONSON: I’m not sure of that, going back that far.

The market wasn’t of interest to the company particularly, but it was to me. I wanted to see what went on at that time because we didn’t have fabric. Well, Norwalk wasn’t showing there then. This was before we’d done so much business with Flexsteel and some others. Flexsteel wasn’t there either, were they? So we didn’t have any of our fabrics on furniture on the floor. See, I went through to see what the market was like. And it was crowded, pretty much.

INTERVIEWER: Didn’t you have a distributor in High Point?

EDMONSON: For fabric?


EDMONSON: No, we never had a distributor.

INTERVIEWER: You know, for a long time, probably half of the upholstery fabric went through people like Phillips-Davis.

EDMONSON: We used to sell them, but they were not a distributor for us. We sold Phillips-Davis, sure. I got to know Earl Phillips and I got invited for years to his house every market. You know, it was a lot of fun.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me about that.

EDMONSON: Earl Phillips was mayor of the town there during this period, and he and Del Kroehler were good friends. (I’m with Kroehler now.) And you’d see some very prominent people there and they were always friendly. And we met the boys, Earl and Dave. You know, I’ve understood those boys, forever, had certain differences. But the father was always wonderful and their mother was so congenial so that was a kind of highlight of the place. We learned that he had a bigger crowd coming all the time, so you didn’t stay all night like you did earlier. But that was the highlight of the market.

INTERVIEWER: What about changes in markets since then?

EDMONSON: Lots of changes … lots of changes. I recognized all these changes after I left Massachusetts Mohair Plush Company to go with Kroehler.

INTERVIEWER: When was that?

EDMONSON: May 1, 1955.

INTERVIEWER: Tell us about the beginnings of your company, which was primarily Kroehler. What about the beginning? Of course, you were not in at the beginning but maybe you can...

EDMONSON: No, but I think it would be interesting about how I happened to join them.

I was doing very well and had made good progress and became sales manager at Massachusetts Mohair Plush Company. I handled all the railroad business and that was substantial, Pullman cars and all that, so I wasn’t looking for a job.

On a Sunday night I got a telephone call from a good friend in the business and he said, “Would you make a change?” I said, “What are you talking about?” And we went through that … I won’t go into that. And he said, “Did you ever meet Del Kroehler?” I said, “Yes, I met him one time at a manufacturer’s association meeting.” He said, “Well, he would like to talk to you. Will you talk to him?” I said, “Certainly. We’re doing a lot business with him.” So anyway, without all the details, a date was made from that man to him to me. I hadn’t talked to him and I took the trip out to Chicago. And the day I was supposed to meet him, he was with the company plane bogged down in snow in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was in the Sheraton Hotel, and I was there two days waiting for him to get back, so I had to go and do some business for Mass Mohair. So we had the interview and he hired me on the spot.

INTERVIEWER: What position?

INTERVIEWER: What position?

EDMONSON: Sales manager, Valentine Seaver division. After that, it’s another story. Fantastic story.

He gave me full authority and I reported to him. But Fred Beastman, Sr. was really … I considered him my boss because I was new there. Anything I did I wanted to get his approval, too, because he was general sales manager of the whole company. But I’ve got this division, Valentine Seaver, that they just purchased, and you have to make better goods, fancier goods, sell a lot of goods and compete with Drexel Heritage and all those people.

INTERVIEWER: What year this was?

EDMONSON: That was May 1, 1955, that I joined the company.

It was a wonderful relationship and a fine company. I never met P.E. Kroehler who founded the company, but I did read his Hall of Fame speech when he was inducted, back then. I don’t have that date right now. But anyway, we had a sales force and I had been a salesman and had experience working a sales force. We worked with this sales force and we kept them on then. I always had a sales manager. I said we’re all here for a performance. To try to meet goals, and work together to meet these goals.

It’s not at all personal, but we don’t fire anybody – you fire yourself. And I’ve lived with that and we didn’t lose but one or two salesmen in my whole career with Valentine Seaver. We took that from $2 million to $7 million and had a separate showroom in the Kroehler showroom. I got to be sales manager of the big thing, and then executive vice president of sales. But I’m talking about a long tenure now, because I was with the company 28 years. So that’s how I started.

INTERVIEWER: So you started in 1955 with Valentine Seaver, and when did you then go to Kroehler?

EDMONSON: We put Valentine Seaver along with Kroehler, which I didn’t want to do, because I knew we’d do more business in total. And we did do more business in total. But Valentine Seaver takes a separate sales force. If you’re going to compete with Drexel Heritage and all these guys, you’ve got to know what you’re doing. We had the product, and we had a tremendous advantage. We had separate lines in the plant for Valentine Seaver and we could deliver one sofa on a truck to Miami, Florida, Dubuque, Iowa or the West Coast. That was the big advantage we had at Kroehler – our trucking system. And we had lots of plants. Two on the West Coast and Canada.

INTERVIEWER: Had one in Charlotte.

EDMONSON: Charlotte, oh yes, and it’s an intertwined company. Kroehler was a fantastic company.

INTERVIEWER: But you could ship Valentine Seaver along with Kroehler?

EDMONSON: Yes, that’s right.

INTERVIEWER: But you only made Valentine Seaver in Chicago as I remember.

EDMONSON: Naperville, Illinois. And I helped with ... I’m not a designer, but I worked with the designers on every piece that came out of there. And we didn’t have many failures. We had a lot of luck. It was wide open. We didn’t copy or duplicate, but we tested. We could duplicate one of the better makers – I mean really good furniture – we could duplicate it for 95 percent or 40 percent less money or something, you know. So we made a good profit on that and for the Kroehler dealer, for whom Drexel was too much. I don’t mean just Drexel. They are a fine company, but that type of line.

They didn’t call on the Kroehler dealer because it was too commercial. But we made a pretty good business of getting the better goods to the Kroehler dealer. We sold John M. Smythe and other fine companies around the country. Barker Brothers on the West Coast. We sold all the chains – we got into Haverty’s, Rhodes and the better-quality price lines of Kroehler stores. We got into those and delivered in the same trucks. It was good business.

INTERVIEWER: Paynes in Boston, I guess?

EDMONSON: No, there was another one there we sold. Barbos, ever hear of them? Yes, we sold them.

INTERVIEWER: Can you give me some monetary figures about the growth for Valentine Seaver? You’ve done that, but how about Kroehler?

EDMONSON: Yes, I will never forget the first night of a January sales meeting that the company had in one of their hotels in Chicago. Del Kroehler announced we were the first furniture company in the history of the world to do $100 million. I can’t tell you exactly when that was, I mean the dates.

We had Binghamton, New York, which was a big plant; Naperville and Kankakee in Illinois; Charlotte, North Carolina; two in California; and, of course, Canada. We didn’t count Canada in the $100 million.

As part of my duties, I was put on the board of the Canadian division, and advised them with trips twice a year on merchandising and styling, and what to bring out and so forth. So I got up there and spent time, too, and that was very interesting. I liked the Canadians, nice people, enjoyed it.

INTERVIEWER: Tell us about Charlotte. I visited that plant and that was the first place that I ever saw upholstery being made in pieces and then put together. Separate arms, separate seats, backs, cushions, and then it was assembled. It wasn’t shipped unassembled.

EDMONSON: Well, there were certain styles made that way. There were certain styles not made that way, though.

INTERVIEWER: But did they originate that or did they find it somewhere else?

EDMONSON: No, it was originated there because at one time it was Del Kroehler’s idea. He could do that and warehouse it for faster service. We did that out of one of the Illinois plants, or maybe both of them. We had a big warehouse out in Iowa somewhere and we’d ship the parts out there and put them together out there and ship them out. But I never liked that particularly because you didn’t get a chance to inspect it when it went out. We didn’t have any problems with it, but you’d be confined to certain styles that way. They can’t do it on everything.

INTERVIEWER: Not everything. When I did the oral history with Jack Gerken, he said everything they make is that way.

EDMONSON: Is it? Well they’ve done a good job with it. Yes, well, you can do it very nicely on certain styles. No question about it. Make arms, and we had a lot of that ... It’s not small, but you just don’t think of it that way. You look at the final piece and you think, well, here’s what that design is and that arm fits the back and all the different things you think about in styling and designing and even fabric application.

INTERVIEWER: All right, the growth of Kroehler. How was it affected by labor?

EDMONSON: I would say, very clean with the labor. We were union. So it kept a couple of our people busy all the time as you would think, with all the different things that come up and so forth. But we worked well with the union and they with us. I could tell you some things that shouldn’t be printed but we always...

INTERVIEWER: If it’s not illegal we want to know about it.

EDMONSON: Well, I don’t know if it’s legal or not. When you go into certain cities in the United States and have to take on the third guy in the truck cab with you...

INTERVIEWER: Well, that was most common in New York and also in Pittsburgh.

EDMONSON: That’s right.

INTERVIEWER: Pittsburgh was the strongest union place in the world.

EDMONSON: We did that in Pittsburgh for years and it drove us nuts.

INTERVIEWER: You couldn’t get through the tunnel in New York without picking someone up. They were out there waiting for you.

EDMONSON: We did a good job with the union and they did a good job with us at Kroehler. We went every year to the big meeting down in St. Louis. They had invited all the people in there, all the different companies, and we were always in that group.

INTERVIEWER: What effect did style and design have on your company?

EDMONSON: In Valentine Seaver it made all the difference in the world. We had to be within the scope of high-quality design that was made by higher-priced manufacturers in the United States. One thing we never did was try to do what they are doing overseas somewhere. We went to market once in awhile over there. I never went to one. I didn’t want to. Yes, I did; I went to one in Copenhagen once. Kenneth Kroehler and I did. I wasn’t interested in what was going on over there, but you can’t change your market because you see something like that. It may or may not sell, and you have to make a judgment on what sells and where you are selling. So, the style thing was never a big problem.

We had in-house designers and we had outside designers. At Valentine Seaver, I was able to hire an outside designer by the name of Larry Peabody. Know him?

INTERVIEWER: He is my good friend.

EDMONSON: He did one tremendous job. He and I worked together.

INTERVIEWER: What year was that?

EDMONSON: I would say ’57 or ’58. Where is Larry now? I haven’t seen or heard from him in a long time.

INTERVIEWER: He lives in New Hampshire, and comes to the High Point Market.

EDMONSON: I haven’t seen him for a long time.

INTERVIEWER: He still has a home in Haiti. He also has a home in Denmark that he inherited from his wife. And he just bought a log house in New Mexico.

EDMONSON: Wow. Is he still designing?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, but not furniture.

EDMONSON: Not furniture?

INTERVIEWER: His biggest account is a manufacturer of rugs.

EDMONSON: Is that right?

INTERVIEWER: In Los Angeles.

EDMONSON: All right. He was made for us. We hired him to just do Valentine Seaver.

INTERVIEWER: You hired him from Selig.


INTERVIEWER: I was with Selig and I met Larry in 1955 at the winter Chicago Market.

EDMONSON: He came over and was a whole, totally Valentine Seaver designer. He made one group for us, the Copenhagen. It had a sweeping arm this way and nobody had ever seen that apparently. At least it seemed brand new. And I was always one to add quality to it. Put plenty of padding and got the right foam for it. The foam that went in this piece didn’t have to go in that piece. Does it match this? I sat on every piece myself in Valentine Seaver before it went into any market. That way you didn’t get complaints later from the guys with handkerchiefs up their sleeve, saying, “You are not as good as this or that,” you know. Design-wise, Larry is as good as there is. When it became contemporary, we got him into Kroehler nicely – when it was contemporary. When it was commercial, no. We had other designers that did the commercial. But he was very good for us and did a nice job. He helped with things at my own home and stuff like that, too. My wife liked him to come over.

INTERVIEWER: Do you still have any of his stuff in your home now?

EDMONSON: I don’t think so. No, all the upholstery goods have changed a little bit with the kids growing up.

Also, the union thing ... I think the union did a good job for us. We recognized that some major people never had unions and are not going to have unions, and are very prominent without unions.

INTERVIEWER: Drexel, very prominent.

EDMONSON: The biggest volume without unions is Bassett.

INTERVIEWER: Probably, yes.

EDMONSON: But that’s another situation. From Kroehler’s standpoint it was costly to watch it and keep up with it, and work with them and work all the way that we did, but it was never a major, major problem.

INTERVIEWER: I was with Morrie Futorian for a while and he moved out of Chicago to get away from the union. He moved to Mississippi.

EDMONSON: Yes, I remember that.

INTERVIEWER: He pretty near lost the whole company.

EDMONSON: Yeah, I know.

INTERVIEWER: He told me once that the first six months in Mississippi, they lost two-thirds of the net worth of the company.

EDMONSON: I used to see him in Memphis when they came through there. Once in awhile in the airport. But I knew Morrie very well.

Here is a Kroehler story and a Futorian story, and a big major dealer story. We had a strong rule at Kroehler: Don’t visit the competitor’s showroom. Stay out of them. We didn’t want our salesmen over there meeting their salesmen at the other lines. Somebody will say they are over there to get information.

So, Del Kroehler used to visit with Lawrence Schnadig. And Fred Beastman and I used to visit with Morrie Futorian and some others. So, at a big January market, I think it was a market in Chicago; Morrie Futorian came in to see Del Kroehler. Well, Del had somebody in his office, so I walked him around there. He is known as well as anybody in the business, you know. So I walked him as far away as I could from the front door. And he and Del had a visit back in the private office. As he was coming back again, there was a very prominent dealer there from Birmingham, Marks Fitzgerald. His store floor is about half and half Futorian and Kroehler.

Dave Marks. If you knew him, he’s a quite outspoken, nice, wonderful guy. He sees Morrie Futorian chatting right there near the front door, not looking at furniture, but chatting, and Dave called me over and said, “I want to talk to you.” He said, “What the hell is going on here?”

So, I assured him that nothing was going on, and that he had come to visit with Del Kroehler because Del doesn’t go to all the markets and things. That was an example of the fact that we didn’t want our people visiting. We always got invited to visit friends. And when it was legitimate and all that kind of thing, after hours, that was the only time we’d go.

INTERVIEWER: OK, we’re down to the growth of Kroehler and how it has been affected by labor, style and design. The next thing is advertising.

EDMONSON: All right, on labor: Well, we don’t have to talk on those in the warehouse. There wasn’t any problem on labor. All right, now advertising?

When I first joined Kroehler, I was very impressed with the advertising program we had.

INTERVIEWER: Well now, the gossip in the furniture business, and I have no confirmation, was that way, way back the original Peter Kroehler decided that he was going to devote a certain percentage of his sales to advertising.

EDMONSON: I don’t know about that, but we did that. I started out at Valentine Seaver, and one of the main things I had to do was meet all the magazines that we wanted to get into. That was a lot of running around. But then, they come back to you because we had a lot of advertising and we’d have national ads on Valentine Seaver. It would be in some of the prominent books, you know, and we did business with all of them, I guess.

INTERVIEWER: And this is the shelter magazines, like House Beautiful?

EDMONSON: Yes, House Beautiful, Better Homes and Gardens, and so forth. We’d get copies of that ad and our salesmen would take them out to the stores and sell the goods. They would have it there when the magazine ad came out. They could run all kinds of advertising locally and so forth. We did a great job of advertising. Kroehler was the most advertised name, along with Bassett.

INTERVIEWER: But at one time, Kroehler was by far the best known name in the furniture business. One of the top, what, four or five brand names in the United States?

EDMONSON: Oh, yes, no question about it. And that brand name just fell right into Kroehler’s lap because of the dependability of the company and the history of fair play and all the different things that make a good company – Kroehler had it. And advertising – we were the first on television. Johnny Carson. That was the West Coast. Our advertising manager went out there and worked with Johnny Carson personally. We had Barbara Walters at High Point, brought her down to High Point in the company plane. My wife and Kenneth Kroehler’s wife were along and that was a very interesting day. There were a few problems on the plane … not problems with the plane, but she wanted her hairdresser and she wanted two or three other people and they just didn’t fit in.

INTERVIEWER: Couldn’t get in? Not room for all of them?

EDMONSON: No, not room for all of them. Then, when we got to High Point, she didn’t particularly like that we had the first two floors of that little motel right up the street there.

We had all our business, too, from our case goods, and we ought to talk case goods a bit too on Kroehler, before we get it over. Anyway, she was a great help at the meetings. We had cocktail hour for the dealers and Barbara Walters was there and she was all right.

One of the things that we had was a dinner at the Holiday Inn – the only place you go to dinner. We had a big room up there one night, with dinner.

INTERVIEWER: Was that when it was the String & Splinter Club?

EDMONSON: Yes, String & Splinter. So Barbara was complaining that Johnny Carson got more attention than she did, and there was quite a discussion on that. She was leaving New York in the next couple of days for some trip abroad, but she was really pushing that really hard. She’s mellowed down now.

But that was part of the advertising thing. We had national advertising in magazines, were the first on television, and by far and away, the biggest in newspapers. And the franchise marketing plan – that was in my resume. It was in my write-up for the Hall of Fame last fall, the franchise marketing plan which we developed. I was into that quite heavily and so forth, administering it.

INTERVIEWER: That was a predecessor to the gallery idea, was it not?

EDMONSON: Yes, except that our plan was ... We would get the advertising. You don’t see that much on gallery advertising today. All right, now here’s why. Here’s a plan that we made and this helped us hit that $100 million in a hurry. We’d take a J.L. Hudson in Detroit and we’d put a certain amount of certain things on the floor, and pay him 5 percent off the price of all of that for his advertising.

INTERVIEWER: Co-op advertising?

EDMONSON: Co-op advertising.

INTERVIEWER: In the local papers?

EDMONSON: That is exactly what it was. And we had it lined up where it was decent, they could run big ads and, it does cut down on the profit of the goods but, you know, if you make a million pennies it’s better than 10 $100 dollar bills or something.

So that was a very big program, and that put the Kroehler name every where. There never was a company that had the dealers wanting to buy from them like Kroehler did.

We were very strong on distribution. We had to protect the distribution, and we did, and the company was very fair. Fred Beastman and I handled 99 percent of any problems we had in that particular area. They wanted to advertise Kroehler because they absolutely knew it wouldn’t be used against them over there in the next town, or right at home where the circulation of the paper was. So we were the strongest advertiser and always were until the day the thing closed down, I guess.

INTERVIEWER: Was it true that there was a decision made that a certain percentage of sales would always be for advertising?

EDMONSON: We always had a figure in it, yes. That figure varied and I wouldn’t try to tell you what it was because I’m not sure of what it was at certain times.

We had a figure for what we would do in the catalogs, and we had a figure for what we’d do for the dealers. The dealers would have to bring the advertising back to qualify.

INTERVIEWER: You wanted to talk about the frame operation in Meridian, Mississippi so let’s do that.

EDMONSON: All right. In each Kroehler plant (the upholstery plants I’m talking about now); each had a separate frame department in the basement of the plant. Each had the separate frame-making department. Of course, you had a lot of changes when you had a new frame you had to do engineering for. We had nine or 10 plants in the United States and in Canada. We had at one time, 28 different plants. So you can imagine the engineering required every time we made new frames. Mr. Kroehler had the idea of making a big frame plant, and set up 20 to 25 items per plant, and put them in storage just like you put fabric in storage when waiting for the orders.

He did some surveying, and Mississippi offered a great deal down in Meridian. So it was a very nice deal, and good for the state, and good for Kroehler.

INTERVIEWER: What year was that?

EDMONSON: I don’t know what date that was. But it went on for a while, and the frame plant was put in. After that we said, “Oh my goodness, let’s find a centralized place and do a fabric plant.” Instead of ordering 100 rolls for Binghamton and 125 for Naperville, we’d order 500 rolls, put them in a central place and then ship them to the plants as they need it. That was a tremendous deal for the fabric companies. Oh, God, did they like it ... the orders they got!

INTERVIEWER: It was all done with rolls of goods. Not cut cover.

EDMONSON: No, not cut cover, oh no, just rolls of goods. So that was very prominent. I suppose that anybody with a bunch of plants today – if you and I were together and had three plants, we might have it all shipped to one plant, and transferred out as needed rather than have all the employees and storage at each plant. A lot of discrepancies came up in that area and we got all that cleaned up. So that was very nice and a good operation.

INTERVIEWER: La-Z-Boy does that in Florence, South Carolina, and I think they cut the covers in Florence.

EDMONSON: They could.

INTERVIEWER: I don’t know about sewing.

EDMONSON: It’s easy to do in their line, in which there are sofas and chairs. I don’t know the percentage, but a high percentage of their volume is in recliners. And half the percentage of recliner volume would be in 25 percent of the styles, so there are all kinds of ways to save, when you study a plan like that.

INTERVIEWER: Broyhill does that in Taylorsville. They do all the cutting there, but I don’t think they sew anything. All the fabric storage and cutting is done in Taylorsville. That’s closer geographically but the same principle. Anything else about Meridian and Medina?

EDMONSON: Medina was central and not far from Cleveland. That’s where the Valentine Seaver plant was that we bought. That was mainly a Valentine Seaver plant for a while. Then, we had a terrible tornado. We had a lot of them in the West. That took care of that, so we then built the fabric plant on the property we had there.

INTERVIEWER: How far is Medina from Norwalk?

EDMONSON: I’d say 50 or 60 miles. I’m not sure of that.

INTERVIEWER: There was a big tornado in Binghamton, too, at one time, wasn’t there?

EDMONSON: Yes, we had ... I can’t remember now. We had a lot of bad weather, but I’m not sure what that was.

INTERVIEWER: All right, what about case goods? We’ve talked about upholstery.

EDMONSON: Kroehler had case goods in the Kankakee, Illinois plant for a number of years. It was very high quality goods, yet it fit a broad segment of the price ranges that we had and was quite a value.


EDMONSON: Maple, oak, yes. And just the basic things. Then when we bought Mengel, that’s when all the problems started. Mengel had a lot of business, but we never made a profit from that. We never really made a profit from Mengel.

INTERVIEWER: It was in Louisville.

EDMONSON: Yes, Louisville. Adjacent to the Churchill Downs. We had a property there, and 44 seats to the races.

But in case goods, we never had the full distribution of the dealers that we did in upholstery. We sold some motels; we had a lot of contract work there. So, it was there but it never made money. It was finally disbanded and, let’s see now, how did we get rid of that? I know, we closed the Lexington plant that we had.

INTERVIEWER: In North Carolina.

EDMONSON: Yes, it took me three days with the two guys from Norfolk, Virginia to sell that. I’m not clear on the dates.

INTERVIEWER: Now the Lexington plant, it was actually north of Lexington in Welcome.

EDMONSON: Yes, I’ll have to check that. Also, case goods was a good part of the volume up in Canada, and it did very well.

INTERVIEWER: You made case goods in Canada, too?

EDMONSON: Yes, oh yes. We made it in Canada. That plant is still running up there.

INTERVIEWER: Under whose name, now?

EDMONSON: Oh, I don’t know. Not Kroehler.

INTERVIEWER: I was talking with a Canadian during the market about the Canadian case goods business. I said, “Well, that makes sense, all that wood up there.” He said, “We get all of our wood from the United States.”

EDMONSON: Yes, they don’t use that birch for everything, you know.

INTERVIEWER: Well, Canada is full of maple trees.

EDMONSON: Maple, yes, maple.

INTERVIEWER: That would be just about as good as you could get. All right, anything else about Kroehler? Directly about the company.

EDMONSON: Kroehler was the first furniture company on the New York Stock Exchange.

INTERVIEWER: All right, anything else?

EDMONSON: Yes, I ought to tell you about a trip that Kenneth Kroehler and I made. We brought Hans Klaussner into the business. We had three or four of his engineers at the Naperville plant, studying what we did. And then Kenneth Kroehler and I went over there (to Germany) to his plant, which I think is probably the biggest plant in the world. They learned a lot from us. I don’t know what we learned from them because the product is so different over there. They did a ton of contemporary vinyl business and we were there. Oh, but it was a tremendously large plant.

They had a pot there, half as big as this room almost. Well, twice the size of that dresser there. It had stew soup in it, and employees would bring their buckets and for 20 cents a day, or something, they could get dinner to take home. Hans Klaussner was a great operator. We met his father and visited his home out there in Germany. It was an absolutely gorgeous trip and we enjoyed it. We were there the day the mayor, the governor of Georgia (what was his name?), he died. But, anyway, Hans Klaussner started over here. He adapted a lot of Kroehler’s principles but took them even further. And I’ve been through his factory.

INTERVIEWER: Why did he go to Asheboro, North Carolina?

EDMONSON: That I don’t know, but I’ll tell you this – I’ve never seen anything more up to date than what they’ve got.

INTERVIEWER: I bet you’ve never seen factory people move as fast as they do.

EDMONSON: That’s right. They do.

INTERVIEWER: He had 3,500 people working there.

EDMONSON: Well, I’ve been out there. I know Hans Klaussner personally and J.B. Davis I know, too, of course.

INTERVIEWER: J.B. is still there. Did you ever meet Stuart Love?


INTERVIEWER: They bought Stuart’s factories.

EDMONSON: Is that how they got to Asheboro?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, the company was called Stuart. His name is Stuart Love. He is a good friend of mine. The first job he ever had, when he was 17 years old, was working for me.

EDMONSON: Hans Klaussner was at the meeting, at the dinner that Barbara Walters was at. He came over to our showroom just to see what we were doing. I don’t remember exactly when he started a plant over here, but he has always been a fine guy.

INTERVIEWER: Well, they bought Stuart out and now, of course, it’s...

EDMONSON: Oh, I remember about Stuart. Yes, I do.

Now, during markets at High Point, when they want to bring a group of stores out to the factory, they’ve got a whole room for Montgomery Ward. They’ve got a whole room for this customer, and that, and the other. They don’t look at the total line, they look at their own line, and what they have made for them.

INTERVIEWER: That’s in Asheboro?

EDMONSON: Asheboro, yes.

INTERVIEWER: Now, we go into another category which is furniture industry involvement. It’s somewhat bigger than it would be for any other company. It’s very important in this particular day that we talk everything we can about Kroehler, because you know more about Kroehler than anybody else.

EDMONSON: Kroehler is gone.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, but it’s a very important part of the history of the furniture industry.

EDMONSON: You bet it is.

INTERVIEWER: So, what jobs have you held in furniture companies? We have covered Massachusetts Mohair, and Kroehler, Valentine Seaver. What other companies?

EDMONSON: That’s it. My first job was with Firestone Tire and Rubber Company when I got out of college. I won a national sales contest when I was 20 years old.

INTERVIEWER: What about furniture companies?

EDMONSON: I didn’t get into furniture until after the war. I went into textiles and the textiles led into furniture.

INTERVIEWER: You were with Kroehler how long?

EDMONSON: 28 years. Then I got one of those calls again. Dan said, “You aren’t retired are you?” I said, “Yes, I just retired.” And he said, “Well, how would you like to stay in the business?” I said, “Well, I have developed a line of juvenile chairs and made them in High Point, North Carolina. The business got so big that I would have to have an office there now. I’m going to get out of it.” And he said, “Well, there’s a company that I think you might want to talk to. They want to talk to you because I’m recommending you.” I can’t give you this man’s name but he was president, now retired, from absolutely one of the biggest companies.

So, anyway, I did call the president, Bob Brown of Les Brown Chair Company, as he requested. He said, “Yes, we’d like very much to talk to you.” So we set up a date and I met Mike Brown, who is the sales manager and one of the brothers. It’s a family-owned company. I went up to Iron Mountain, Michigan. They are up in Hermansville and I saw one of the cleanest plants I have ever seen. I got up there about noon and walked around the plant to look at it. Then, we got back down there after 3 o’clock. The place looked like the lobby of the finest hotel in the world. I’ve never seen a cleaner plant, and it wasn’t done for me; they do it every day. They make a fine product.

The chair business is so different from the rest of upholstery. The dominating forces in it now are Best Chair (Best Home Furnishings) and Les Brown Chair Company, for the swivels, swivel rockers and even wing chairs.

Les Brown Chair Company is a family-owned company started in Naperville, Illinois, because the father worked for Kroehler. They started in Naperville and they just outgrew themselves. Les Brown Sr., who worked for Kroehler in the production area, lived in Naperville, and built a small plant. He had a small plant after he retired from Kroehler. He was making just a few pieces in an area, right at the back of the Kroehler plant in Naperville. Then they moved up to Michigan. It’s the main plant. They work the highest percentage of labor in town, and they do a hell of a lot of business. They have grown and grown and grown, and their volume is private – they haven’t announced it anywhere. But it’s about the same as Best Chair’s in this category. Now, they don’t make recliners, and I tried hard to keep them from making anything else. They always think they can get into the other products, and it just doesn’t work. So we had a talk up there and I wrote up a suggestion for distribution, selling, and what I thought that I could help them with. And they hired me, and, hell, that was 13 years ago now – 11 or 12, I don’t know. They are a very fine company.

INTERVIEWER: What’s the relationship between Les Brown Chair Company and Superior Chair Company?

EDMONSON: Les Brown Chair Company and Superior Chair Company are the same, but Superior Chair Company is used for a step-up like Valentine Seaver. To a degree, now, not totally. Some dealers will argue that. But they’ll argue only because they use different names to advertise. So it’s the same company, no difference. It’s the same ownership, same everything. It’s the three brothers that own the company principally. That’s Les Brown Jr., Bob Brown, who is the president, and Mike Brown Sr. is the sales manager. They have grandsons coming up in it and they are good, too. Mike Brown and Dan Brown are super employees. They know what they are doing.

INTERVIEWER: The fourth generation.

EDMONSON: One is in selling and one is in the plant. They are both college boys, educated, and they know what they are doing. It’s great. So they sell the larger accounts. They do business with Sears, Ward’s, Penney’s, Levitz, Heilig-Meyers, very big with Leath, those types of accounts. Louie Blumkin (Nebraska Furniture Mart). Yes, and they have value. They have price.

Now, the key to selling upholstery – swivel rockers, chairs ... The key to selling is advertising. No question about it. Nobody thinks of buying a chair. They go into a store to buy sofas; they go in to buy recliners. But recliners made it because of the big advertising on recliners. It’s a whole new product that came in. But Brown has figured out how to sell swivel rocker chairs, and that’s by including two chairs and an ottoman at one price. All kinds of deals like that. And they have one chair, this should be in the record: Style #122. Louie Blumkin will recognize it as will Leath, as will everybody; they passed the million mark on that style about three years ago. That one style is still selling very, very big. It’s the biggest seller they have today and it’s probably the biggest yardage used in one style.

INTERVIEWER: Priced individually, or for a pair?

EDMONSON: No, priced individually. They are priced individually, but nobody buys individually. They’ll buy individually in the step-up line. Now they’re making Bench-Made, which will be the Valentine Seaver concept.


EDMONSON: Now that one, they ship only in truckloads which keeps them away from doing sold orders. But with certain big accounts we’ve developed sold orders. It works because you can include sold orders in a truck, when it’s big enough … And now the Bench-Made is absolutely beautiful. Bench-Made takes you right up into high-end if you want to knock off, which they don’t do, they have their own designers and stuff.

But chairs, if you make chairs, you make wing chairs. Everybody has a wing chair that looks somewhat alike; everybody has a lounge chair that looks somewhat alike; everybody has leather chairs that look somewhat alike. Now they are doing all this in the Bench-Made line – that’s the name of this category of goods. The retails of $199 are the biggest seller in swivel rocker chairs. So it’s just a matter of how much cover and how much quality you can get at that price. I’d say the best value in the marketplace, as I see it today, and I think the main two people that have it, would be Best Chair and Les Brown Chair Company. Although you have a lot of fine makers, Sam Moore and on, and on, and on. But you also have to advertise the Bench-Made. You can put them on the floors and they will sell. But when you advertise them and run them on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or those dates, you would be surprised how many do sell. And so Mike Brown Sr. has developed ... and he’s the marketing manager, the sales manager in charge of sales. Plus he’s vice president. I worked with him basically all the time. And they do a big job.

INTERVIEWER: Is Woodmark a factor anymore?

EDMONSON: Woodmark, by the way, we tried to buy Woodmark when I was at Kroehler.

INTERVIEWER: I think Hekman bought them.

EDMONSON: I don’t know who bought them. I went to the plant, and it’s the only time I’ve ever seen that all the employees were female and dressed in white. Did you ever see that?


EDMONSON: That’s in High Point.


EDMONSON: We tried to buy them, for $10 million, but they wouldn’t sell. And $10 million then would now be $30 or $40 million.

INTERVIEWER: Elliott started Woodmark after he left Drexel Heritage. He started Woodmark, and he said they would only sell pairs of chairs. Their cutting patterns, for instance, were all for two chairs. It’s a substantial yardage saving by cutting two together. You can cut two from less goods than you can two singles.

EDMONSON: Yes, you can. They are the one company of all time, in my experience, that had the distribution they have. I tried my best when I was at Kroehler to get them to sell one of the biggest retailers in Dallas. But they only have one account in a town and that satisfies them. They are happy with it and sleep at night with it. So you can’t kick it.

INTERVIEWER: They started with Elliott and his wife traveling the United States, and they sold it all.

EDMONSON: But I’ll tell you what that leaves – it leaves somebody like Bassett or Les Brown Chair Company to build a better chair to undersell some of them. We can get advertised and do a hell of a lot more business.

INTERVIEWER: Right. Woodmark always had all the business they could take care of.

EDMONSON: And all the profit they wanted. So it’s a good philosophy.

We are talking about Les Brown now. They need production, and they have made over 2,000 chairs in one day. Also, they bought the Pontiac plant. And that one is making the better, higher-priced goods, and they do a hell of a job. So it’s going very good.

INTERVIEWER: What can you tell us about changes in production? Let’s take this over the whole spectrum from your early days with Kroehler, up to right now. Has it all been very similar?

EDMONSON: Well, there have been a lot of changes in fabrics which require different cutting patterns and different sewings. Patterns are back again to matched patterns and stripes. You see, these stripes now, even on this ottoman right here, everything matches today. This is a must today. You can’t get by without matching, and also, you can’t get by without comfort. Another thing is it has to have good tailoring. It has to be neat. All of those things have always been important, but more so today. Del Kroehler used to walk the showroom floor with me before each market. If we could get by in the biggest market in Chicago at 666 Lake Shore Drive – if we could get by there without taking off, rejections on four or five pieces, we had a hell of a good deal.

I think furniture today is just as good as it used to be. I think it’s made more scientifically than it used to be, and I think it’s produced and packaged better than it used to be. Everything doesn’t ship in trucks with no packaging. Most things go out in cartons. Most things go out covered so that there are no returns. And I would say, in general, that type of thing has improved.

INTERVIEWER: What about what I call the difference between the Carolina upholstery system and the Mississippi system? In North Carolina, one guy builds the deck and he puts that piece off and another on. Then, the next man builds the inside arms, and the next one builds the back. Then, somebody outsides the whole piece of furniture. In Mississippi, there are nine people in a production line. The piece of furniture goes down the line, and each operator does one-eighth of the upholstering. One person is a floater who fills wherever needed. It’s totally different.

EDMONSON: Big, big. One word for that – two words for that – is less cost. You save money with the crowd working in a line, with more people making the parts.

INTERVIEWER: But you also get better product.

EDMONSON: Well, that depends on what you are running through that line. If you are running through 300 of those chairs on one line in a day like Brown does, you get better quality than if you let one guy fool around with the different parts. So it’s questionable on how it’s run on the plant level; it’s questionable on the volume; it’s questionable on the cost of the pieces, meaning what kind of foam you are using. Are you using the same kind of foam all over or is one...? The reason I’ve always contended that Drexel is entitled to the money they get, and I’m using them as an example...

INTERVIEWER: Using the North Carolina method.

EDMONSON: Not specifically. Yes, because one man makes each piece of furniture. Like Del Kroehler used to say, and P.E. Kroehler before him used to say: make it like it’s going to be in your own home and they are going to buy it.

So, all of those things are done more scientifically today than they used to be.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, and, of course, the computer controls, particularly on fabric cutting.

EDMONSON: And quality. Volume today per style is probably greater than in the Kroehler days or the Futorian days. Probably more than it used to be, per style. In other words, the factories have fewer styles today in big volume, more than they used to have in big volume. So, I was going to make a point there. You have to be sure of the quality and the parts that go in, to have them ahead of time, to make your deliveries on time.

You don’t hear much today about the excuse that you can’t get the fabric. Only once in awhile. But you have to build up a good rapport with whoever you are dealing with.

INTERVIEWER: Your supplier?

EDMONSON: Absolutely. Better than ever before.

INTERVIEWER: What changes have you seen in sales and merchandising?

EDMONSON: A lot of changes there.

INTERVIEWER: You’re talking what now, 35 years?

EDMONSON: Yes, yes, a lot of changes there. It’s hard today that so many multiple salesmen are handling many lines. I don’t believe you are getting the service from them. I don’t believe you are getting what you wanted to get, as you got in the olden days. Now, I’m not trying to say the olden days were absolutely perfect. But to get customer service for the dealer and service for the plant you need total concentration by the representative in the territory. I believe in pretty much total concentration on one line. I don’t think one man can handle ... Well, we had different case goods salesmen; we had different Valentine Seaver salesmen; different Kroehler salesmen; different recliner salesmen. We did bring recliners into the chair picture because that did fit in all right. But you have to be an expert on what you’re doing, and you have to be updated at all times in the sales forces today. I have some reservations about it, not among the men that are calling, but about the system in use today. You’ve got salesmen handling half a dozen lines, and they can’t do it, in my opinion.

INTERVIEWER: They think they can.

EDMONSON: A lot of people will argue with me on that.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, yes, I’ve had some very spirited arguments about that.

EDMONSON: You will have some salesmen that handle a lot of lines, but it’s confined to four or five big, huge accounts. So, the salesmen today, what they want is to make more money. They think they can make more money with a lot of different lines. Some of them do, a lot of them do.

INTERVIEWER: But then if a man is going to carry only one line, don’t you have to give him more territory?

EDMONSON: And the guy with multiple lines can’t handle the size territory that the normal territory would have.

INTERVIEWER: The tendency is for sales management to cut down on the territory size.

EDMONSON: They cut down on them for the reason that they want complete coverage.

INTERVIEWER: The thing to do is to give the salesmen more territory, not less.

EDMONSON: No, no. They want complete coverage on the accounts they are selling in that area.

That’s why they are cutting down on the territories. I don’t know a company that’s embarrassed for salesmen to make big, big money. I never heard anybody advertise how much their salesmen make.

INTERVIEWER: Yet, if you get to make more money than the sales manager, then you are in trouble.

EDMONSON: Well, maybe, but even then he’s earned it, rightly so. I’m a strong guy for salesmen, but I’m also very overly strong that you service your accounts, and service the dealers, and service the plant.

INTERVIEWER: A salesman can only have so much time for only so many customer accounts. I have a good friend who has traveled for years. He claims to have 350 active accounts.

EDMONSON: He can’t cover them.

INTERVIEWER: I said, “Bill, average it out, from one market to the next, you could spend only about 25 minutes with each of the 350 customers.” But he never saw it.

EDMONSON: You know, dealers vary. If you are selling Sears, Roebuck, you need a lot of time to do it. If you are selling Levitz, you need a lot of time because you have to know what’s going on in all of the stores. You have to work closely with dealers in anticipation of what their marketing and advertising plans are. These things are awfully important. The more a dealer, and the more a salesman can help a plant do those things, the better off they all are. My pattern has always been for ... One time we sold at Kroehler either the best, second or third account in advertising volume in the United States. It’s up in Hartford, Connecticut, and you could go all over, but nobody ever defeated us on that.

Well, the changes in markets today, it’s really now High Point, and San Francisco a little bit. You don’t have Dallas; it’s still there but all the big ones are gone. You don’t have Atlanta. Los Angeles is gone forever and that just leaves San Francisco, doesn’t it?

INTERVIEWER: Chicago is gone.

EDMONSON: I mean, Chicago is gone forever. The buying habits are different. In the old days when I first went with Kroehler, these people would come into a January market and buy for 90 days. Then they would get on a train and go to Florida for a vacation. And today, boy, you got the computer working. Somebody is looking for all items in an order, and when it’s coming and all those kind of things. The scope of how the merchandising is done ... What retail is today requires a big change in how you operate.

INTERVIEWER: What about finance?

EDMONSON: Well, I think it is important to talk about finance. There’s been more change, I would say, more than you’d expect in these times. There are more failures than you had in the old times, wouldn’t you say?

INTERVIEWER: Well, yes, many more of them. The big ones are the ones that everybody knows about. Certainly there are more of them.

EDMONSON: And those are the ones that can cause the biggest problems to anybody that would lose out. I mean, you take Sears, Roebuck. Who didn’t have a problem with them? You want to sell them all. You want to sell them if you are selling that type of customer. And some of the others have a problem. We won’t try to name those because we really don’t know all about them. If they’ve got a financial problem, you’re looking around to see who else is selling them, how they are getting paid, and all these different things. If you’re not factored or even if you are factored, you have to look into both of those circumstances. So I would say financing for the whole industry is a lot different than it’s been in a long time.

INTERVIEWER: Now, you mentioned factoring. Even 20 years ago nobody was factoring.


INTERVIEWER: Now everybody is.

EDMONSON: Trying to, yes, it’s true.

INTERVIEWER: So, I think that has made a great big difference.

EDMONSON: It’s been a big difference.

INTERVIEWER: What about management?

EDMONSON: They’ve got younger management. I don’t want to say I’m for younger management because you can make big problems with younger management. But you are seeing more, I think, younger management in the industry today, wouldn’t you say?

INTERVIEWER: Oh, without a question. You can say what you want to, but I think there’s a whole lot more professional management now than there used to be.

EDMONSON: Oh, absolutely.

INTERVIEWER: For years and years, every company was a family-owned company.

EDMONSON: Oh, yes.

INTERVIEWER: Now, your predominant factor is the professional manager who is in charge. He will shut a factory up and not even blink an eye.

EDMONSON: Oh, sure.

INTERVIEWER: When it was a family’s factory, they’d die before they’d close it. Like the Kemps in Goldsboro.


INTERVIEWER: So, there’s a lot of difference there. Describe the support you personally have received from people in our industry. Individual people.

EDMONSON: Let’s start out with 50 or 60 salesmen who are still in the business today. Let’s start out with other management in Kroehler.

Yes, everywhere that I’ve been. I don’t know how to answer that. I’m not going to be modest about it, but I’ve had excellent support in everything in that regard. From managers that I developed ... I developed a hell of a lot of salesmen, and the salesmen are now managers in places. That side has been very pleasant for me.

They gave me a surprise party at High Point, after I was nominated to the Hall of Fame. I wasn’t inducted but I was nominated, and we had a hell of a time, left the space late. Somebody had to go somewhere and meet someone. Well, we met in the temporary residence of two of the guys for market. A big house, oh, 12 or 15 miles out between High Point and Greensboro. And when I got out of the car with young Brown, Mike Brown Jr., oh, the flood lights came on. I’ve got a whole book of this, with the pictures and letters, and it’s been fantastic. These were all some managers, and yes, some managers and many salesmen.

At the High Point Market, one of the things, I think that Les Brown thought about, and I think we have had very good response from, is my appearance at the market, standing at the door when so many people came by. And the people that came to visit me, for instance, just to say “hello” like Bob Glick. He hasn’t missed a market visiting with me. All around the country, those kinds of people. So, the response has been terrific is all that I can really say about it. And the fabric people, too. You know, the people that I’ve dealt with.

INTERVIEWER: How about support your companies have received from other people and companies?

EDMONSON: I’ve had a bunch of guys that wanted to come back and be hired, and I’ve helped get a couple of those done. Fabric people seem to respond to times back favorably, and where I’m at now and that kind of thing. And manufacturers, too. So I have to say that’s been pretty good all the way.

INTERVIEWER: What about what you’ve done for other people? You mentioned the salesmen, helping them.

EDMONSON: Yes, and I have been asked to give references to a number of places. And certainly, I have gone on boards that very strongly … In one case, I couldn’t, so I didn’t. You know, you have to be very honest in all these things. So yes, I’ve had that experience. And the market people, like at Dallas – I was on the board down there before they finally disbanded it. So I see people coming in for those board meetings. They ask if I’m still at Les Brown Chair and so forth. All of this has been very good.

INTERVIEWER: Describe your own business strategies.

EDMONSON: Do you want in general first, or do you want to confine it to the furniture industry?

INTERVIEWER: Either one. Of course, we are talking furniture, so...

EDMONSON: Well, honesty is first. Reliability. I don’t know in what order these different things should be. Let’s see what we’ve got – honesty, reliability, dedication, cooperation.

INTERVIEWER: And that comes back to the personal support we talked about. In other words, you cooperated with people.

EDMONSON: These are just some.

INTERVIEWER: They cooperate with you, then you had better cooperate with them, or else the next time you need them, they won’t be there.

EDMONSON: Right, yes. Oh, I can think of a lot of adjectives on that. Fulfillment of duty.

INTERVIEWER: That’s certainly part of dedication and reliability. What about management techniques?

EDMONSON: Management techniques? The first thing I want to say is they were fair and to the benefit of the company. I’ll give you an example of that. I’m the guy that insisted on call reports from the salesmen. That’s the only way I could find out if the guy was doing his job and making the calls.

A lot of salesmen don’t want to work. These big salesmen that handle a lot of accounts, they are the worst. They don’t send in reports. I insisted on them making the reports.

INTERVIEWER: Call reports?

EDMONSON: Yes, call reports. I insisted on it. And I insisted on a schedule of key accounts on sales promotions. I would want, from each territory, the four or five accounts that he planned to sell this deal that we were coming out with. Then I would ask from each of them for advertising quotas. Not, “Are you going to do any advertising?” but “What’s your quota?” Let him list certain major accounts that he was going to sell promotions to.

I’d insist on sales meetings at retail, as agreed to by the stores. He’d go in, and I didn’t hammer it home, but I wanted to be damn sure that he could buy a sandwich or two, or have some Cokes and do the right thing, not just walk in and act like a big shot, then walk out and get in his car and leave. Now, you can get in … I’ve been on several boards of directors: the Kroehler board, the Kroehler Canada board and the Furniture Mart board in Dallas, and I’ve learned something about boards of directors. I always wanted to make certain in my mind ... I thought there was a best interest for the company in practically all respects. Several times I’ve had discussions with people on their reasons for different approaches than I had and so forth and so on.

INTERVIEWER: Give me specifics.

EDMONSON: Yes, I’ll give you a specific. It’s deadly though. One of the reasons that Kroehler didn’t survive was a clique among two people, brought on by one guy who was absolutely dishonest. And he was in a big position, handling budgets and different things. And I did discuss this with his boss who was president of the company. Neither one of those guys are very much in prominence around in the industry today. And the one guy, who was so wrong in so many things, he was always trying to get my job. So that was another thing, see. He’d do funny things. And when I took over the Dallas and Southwest general management for the last five years of my career with Kroehler, I had only one condition: that that one person could not put his foot in that territory. I’ve had other things like that, and I’ve caught some bad things happening that didn’t get corrected. And then you lose confidence in that guy. So, that’s all I want to say about that.

INTERVIEWER: Give me specifics.

EDMONSON: Yes, I’ll give you a specific. It’s deadly though. One of the reasons that Kroehler didn’t survive was a clique among two people, brought on by one guy who was absolutely dishonest. And he was in a big position, handling budgets and different things. And I did discuss this with his boss who was president of the company. Neither one of those guys are very much in prominence around in the industry today. And the one guy, who was so wrong in so many things, he was always trying to get my job. So that was another thing, see. He’d do funny things. And when I took over the Dallas and Southwest general management for the last five years of my career with Kroehler, I had only one condition: that that one person could not put his foot in that territory. I’ve had other things like that, and I’ve caught some bad things happening that didn’t get corrected. And then you lose confidence in that guy. So, that’s all I want to say about that.

INTERVIEWER: I think there’s an interesting parallel between what you are saying at the very top of a company and Morrie Futorian’s story about the cloth cutter throwing rolls of goods down the trash chute.

EDMONSON: I had an experience like that, too.

INTERVIEWER: Mrs. Blumkin finding a piece of carpet, that’s right. At a different level, but its dishonesty.

EDMONSON: Well, just as life is. I don’t need the complaints coming back at me. I mean, I could give you a bunch of those, but I couldn’t get the guy fired.

INTERVIEWER: Some people are fireproof.

EDMONSON: This guy was fireproof because his boss was not in on it, but wanted him to stay on. So, you know, the people you could name, right off. And the dealers talked to me about it. I’m the dealer man. I’m the customer man and have been forever.

INTERVIEWER: What has been your central personal goal in the furniture business?

EDMONSON: When I was with Kroehler, I wanted to be president, and I wanted to make a lot of money. Now those intentions are big and you can put a lot of stuff in there.

INTERVIEWER: I would bet anything, that in your life, you’ve had opportunities to make a lot more money, but you were so much in love with what you were doing you wouldn’t leave it.

EDMONSON: Well, I had a couple, yes.

INTERVIEWER: You always made a good living.

EDMONSON: What I had at Kroehler was not small pay. But when the two brothers who owned the company paid themselves 20 to 25 percent under what another company would pay if they didn’t own it, with those two jobs, all the other things have to come relatively, you know. If Del Kroehler paid himself only – well, I’m going back now – $85,000, he sure as hell ain’t going to give me a hell of a lot more than $55,000 or $60,000. That goes way back. I’m just giving you an example.

INTERVIEWER: On the other hand, suppose you are the sales manager making $50,000 a year and one of your salesmen who is very, very good is making $80,000 a year.

EDMONSON: Well, we had that one year, but the guy retired. But I didn’t stop it because he never worked for me. He was a representative to Wards. He worked directly with the chairman of the company and he made more money on Wards one year than Del Kroehler paid himself.

INTERVIEWER: It tells more about the person than anything else in here.

EDMONSON: I’ve had the experience on it. I have many previous customers and a few that I still see that know that I have 25 or 30 employees, mostly salesmen. They know that. That helps sometimes in my support, all right. Because that’s about the size of it, and as you know, I didn’t get to be president, and so I made some money but not what it should have been.

INTERVIEWER: But you stayed where you were enjoying yourself.

EDMONSON: Oh, yes.

INTERVIEWER: Or were satisfied.

EDMONSON: Oh yes, oh yes.

INTERVIEWER: What has been your company’s goal?

EDMONSON: Kroehler’s goal was reached in one way – to be the world’s largest. But they also wanted to be the happiest company, and an employer that was dedicated to the employees. Every Christmas, the head of purchasing (who was on the board of directors) … each year, the board of directors OK’d his budget (and it was a ton of money) to open up the dining hall downstairs and invite guests, and have presents and that stuff for everybody. He would have them pick what they wanted from a display so that way he could order the number of them needed. He’d have a company come in and put on display, six different lamps and four different kinds of lawn mowers, and this, that and the other. Then the employees would record what they wanted as they came through. Then the purchasing agent would buy all of that stuff, and at Christmastime, they would take it home. And that’s good stuff. We were talking about what Kroehler’s desire was as a company?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, the company’s goal.

EDMONSON: To have the vast popularity from the public that had used the product, and also from the dealers that were satisfied. And also that the employees were satisfied. They wanted happy employees.

INTERVIEWER: Now, how much of Kroehler’s dealer satisfaction came from what you said earlier, that you were the dealer man, the customer man?

EDMONSON: Well, I think I maintained it at a very good level, and maybe enhanced it in certain places quite a bit more, but this is nothing new. This is the company’s objective, also. All the way. But I do think that I had a lot to do with it. Bob Glick came to see me every market and I can name you six other guys like that.

INTERVIEWER: That was Kroehler’s company goal. How much of that transfers over to Les Brown Chair Company?

EDMONSON: It’s totally different in this respect: number one, the organization is different, but just as strong as Kroehler from a production and employment standpoint. At the plants, it is the same. I mean they want happy people. They want them happy, and they want them healthy. They want good insurance plans which Kroehler had. We haven’t mentioned anything about that. They had good plans. But the dealer structure is what they want. But Les Brown Chair Company doesn’t have the broad scope of dealers that Kroehler did. And some of the major dealers are the big chains and the personnel changes all the time so it’s a little different. The same thought, but it doesn’t fit like it would for a Kroehler, on repeat business and so forth. Let me see, how else can we say that? At Les Brown, they certainly want to improve business. They certainly want to improve plants. They are very good on that, as was Kroehler. They keep the plants up and they want the employees happy and they pay them well.

INTERVIEWER: You mentioned just then the fact that the customers are different, the people.

EDMONSON: No, the customer lineup with Brown is different from Kroehler. The customer personnel for Brown is basically chains, and the people move around. They change jobs.

INTERVIEWER: Among the dealers. Maybe I misinterpreted you. For instance, I think that the customers who walked into your space two years ago and this year, even with the same customer companies, the buyers are different people.

EDMONSON: Some, yes. The turnover is big. Sears just lost the Sears Canada buyer. That gal bought everything that she could from us. We don’t know how the next one is going to do. He’s got all his friends up there. Those are the kinds of concerns we have, and of course, we work on them. You prove the point that you have serviced them well and you like them. You always schedule them for dinner at markets, and all the things that you have to do. But we still have to wait and see. The Kroehler dealers, as I recall, were always so responsive. They came to see you first at market, and would make decisions on what you were doing before they went to someone else. And that’s what you try to do, you know, get them to see you first.

INTERVIEWER: Does that in any way reflect the fact that, years ago, the customers were family, like Bob Glick, and now they are professional managers?


INTERVIEWER: And you may have one guy this year and another one next and a different girl the year after.

EDMONSON: But not so with the Blumkins at Nebraska Furniture Mart. We don’t know what we are going to do with them until the young man, Louie’s son, makes up his mind. We don’t know what we are going to do. Louie turns around and they talk, and Louie wants to buy something and Irving doesn’t. They say they will come back, and sometimes they come back and sometimes they don’t. That’s the best example I can give you there.

INTERVIEWER: Well, but even with, say, Heilig-Meyers, which I mentioned.

EDMONSON: We are in great shape with them.

INTERVIEWER: But way back, when I called on Hyman Meyers, he bought everything himself.

EDMONSON: They buy everything they can from Brown. That company is faithful because of total confidence for years.

INTERVIEWER: Way back, Hyman bought everything. Now, Heilig-Meyers has somebody who buys recliners, somebody who buys chairs, and somebody else who buys suites. Instead of one person, who was family, now you have half a dozen buyers.

EDMONSON: Yes, but we only have one product line – chairs. But in that regard, on the other hand, I was thinking of Sears Canada. We do a lot of business with Sears Canada.

With a new buyer we don’t know what they are going to do. Right away we go up and call on the sales manager. Mike Brown goes up there right away when they make that change. Things are going on and you have to prepare yourself when anything could happen, you know.

INTERVIEWER: You think so, yes. What was the overriding business philosophy of yourself and your company? Now that’s a little different than the goal.

EDMONSON: Well, I didn’t have any. Let’s take the company first. Kroehler wanted to really be the largest, the most dependable, and all the things that we thought we were and continue to be. And never vicious against competition. We just kept ourselves going and going strong. We didn’t like to fail and lose. Over the years, when Don Rowe left Kroehler, there was a problem a little bit. When Rowe got so many dealers to buy stock, and we lost a bunch of accounts with that one, it was irritating but there was nothing you could do about it.

INTERVIEWER: As I get it, Kroehler was very much customer-oriented.

EDMONSON: Oh, you bet.

INTERVIEWER: I had an interview with one person and his whole goal, his philosophy of running his company was, number one, his employees and, number two, the town he lived in. I don’t believe in the whole interview he ever mentioned any specific customer. That simply wasn’t part of his thought process.

EDMONSON: Well, in all three of those things, I can tell you that Kroehler respects all of them.

Because they contributed, and still do, to the college there in town. They love the town, they love the employees, and they really respect the dealers. There’s another thing I ought to say about Kroehler – they are dependable. They wouldn’t take a lot of abuse from some of the dealers. In the old days they maybe would try. Want one of those?

When we had a distribution going and would say, “Now, these three styles here in your city are already bought by so and so, and we have agreed to let them advertise first.” Now that’s the way you do it. After that we can discuss whether you want to buy these things, or whether we can sell them to you within our agreement with the other people. Then next time you do the same for him. Nine times out of 10 they understand that. One dealer in Detroit said (and this was with Delmar Kroehler. I wasn’t even with the company then, but this is the story I got on the points we are making right now), “Well, Mr. Kroehler, that will be the end of our doing business.” And Mr. Kroehler said, “Well, OK, that’s your decision. I’m not deciding that, but if it is, I want to thank you very much for your business in the past, and we’ll get along nicely, I think, without you.”

INTERVIEWER: Next, describe your relationships with your customers. I think you’ve surely covered that, but is there anything else you would like to add?

EDMONSON: Excellent. We appreciated them very much and were dedicated to doing a good job for them. That’s my philosophy and the company’s philosophy. And at a profit to them.

INTERVIEWER: What about with your suppliers?

EDMONSON: Same way. We were very good with the suppliers – both companies. We’d tell them, factually, where we stood with them. Let’s say we got a new program, and you can’t give it to six customers. You’re going to need three covers. Well, you know, today one factory will make 10 different covers. Back then you might need three different factories for three different covers. So, the buyer of fabric will have to determine who he wants to work with on a new program. We know we can get service, and so we go to that one mill guy and see what he can offer on it to start with. Or maybe we have two people and tell them what we want. They bring in and say we are to choose on this. Fabric people – one thing they understand. They leave this many samples with you and you can pick what you want. They sell everybody. I mean, they sell everybody. And what you have to watch is who’s going to deliver to you on time. If you think that the quality is equal on both ... who can deliver? That’s the big thing.

INTERVIEWER: Your relationship with your suppliers?

EDMONSON: I think our relationships with our suppliers are very good because we tell them what we need and expect them to deliver. We give them a lot of business if they do. If they don’t, they are going to lose us.

INTERVIEWER: What are your greatest problems with suppliers?

EDMONSON: The biggest problem with the fabric company is the quality has to be what it takes to have no problems. After that, it’s delivery.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, delivery. I was at N.C. State for several years, and had a student who went to work for one of the big upholstery companies. This kid was very good at computers and very early on he set his whole fabric purchasing up. And did it on computers, and the program that he himself wrote rated each fabric supplier in terms of their average delivery period, and so, from some companies, he would buy ahead 90 days. He knew that for other companies, he didn’t have to buy ahead 10 days.

EDMONSON: Well, he’d give them the orders ahead.

INTERVIEWER: Once they had slowed shipment he gave them the orders ahead of time.

EDMONSON: And let them ship it early? Before he needed it? No, he wouldn’t do that. No, what he did was give them an order just in time to meet the delivery he needed.

INTERVIEWER: His program automatically rated each supplier by its average delivery time.

EDMONSON: Well, I’ll tell you all the different manufacturers rate them on ahead. They know all the time.

INTERVIEWER: He was just doing it with a computer. The computer did this. They got a shipment from a given company today, and it factored in that delivery period. Maybe it did or maybe it didn’t change the delivery factor for that supplier. A very clever program.

Describe your involvement with industry trade associations. In your case that would be the NAFM (National Association of Furniture Manufacturers) primarily, I guess.

EDMONSON: Yes, but that load was carried by somebody else in the company most of the time. I was invited to sit in on certain panels once in awhile. It was something I didn’t mind doing, but I didn’t seek it. Now, you’ve got people that seek it, but I was not a seeker. I don’t hold it against the guy that is, but we had a man in the company that became president. For him, that was his main goal.

INTERVIEWER: Have you had any experience with the AFMA (American Furniture Manufacturers Association), the new combination of NAFM and SFMA (Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association)?

EDMONSON: No, I have not.

INTERVIEWER: What has been your company’s greatest benefit from trade association activity? Practically everybody is in AFMA now. Something like 80 percent of the industry is in AFMA, including all of the suppliers now.

EDMONSON: I know. That’s a tough one to answer. I have nothing against trade associations. Knowing that the company is reliable with customers, and all that. That’s about the best thing I can say. That’s for Brown. That’s over now for Kroehler, of course.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, yes. There’s a lot of difference of opinions on trade associations. Some of the biggest won’t belong to trade associations. They think that when they go to meetings that their people at the meetings are giving away their secrets.


INTERVIEWER: On the other hand, the fact that you go to meetings and you’re with your counterparts, there’s plenty of things that come along for networking.

EDMONSON: Let me say it’s this way for Brown, in my opinion. They don’t belong to a lot of different organizations. However, key people in those organizations are very close to them since it reflects their business with us.

INTERVIEWER: Does Brown belong to AFMA?

EDMONSON: I really don’t know whether they are or not. I know he works closely with people that are because of customer relations.

INTERVIEWER: All right now, outside of your Kroehler and Les Brown connections, what other business enterprises or joint ventures have you been part of?

EDMONSON: Really none. I have been in mergers and acquisitions but not successfully. So there is no use in putting that down.

INTERVIEWER: Well, from what we’ve discussed, I don’t see how you would have had much time to do anything else.

EDMONSON: Well, I’ve had a very good company and still have a good company that I could sell, but I can’t get them to sell it at the right price.

INTERVIEWER: Describe how the industry changed over the years in the marketplace.

EDMONSON: Change in marketing, you know, like High Point is the king now, totally. The others have slipped, and that kind of thing. We’ve covered that, haven’t we?

INTERVIEWER: What about in your own company? Of course, Kroehler is gone. Les Brown also changed compared to its early years.

EDMONSON: Yes, yes. They’ve come from being just a very small producer to probably now, if not the leader, we are certainly close to it in sales of swivel rocker chairs. You see, Best Chairs doesn’t give information. They give you figures, but it includes all the other stuff they make.

INTERVIEWER: Another question: What’s the most serious problem facing the furniture industry today? The short term and the long term.

EDMONSON: That’s a really tough question.

INTERVIEWER: Well, I can think of one very good problem.


INTERVIEWER: Market share.

EDMONSON: Oh, market share.

INTERVIEWER: Do you know what our percent share of the American consumer dollar is today?

EDMONSON: Oh, yes. You are back to that survey now.

INTERVIEWER: 0.51 percent.

EDMONSON: Yes, well, you can sure put down market share, and I don’t know if you want to mention export or not. I used to do a lot of it with Kroehler.

INTERVIEWER: Well, is export a problem or an opportunity?

EDMONSON: Opportunity.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, that’s what I’d say.

EDMONSON: Yes, opportunity, sure. We do a lot of it at Les Brown Chair Company.

INTERVIEWER: Well, I would feel fairly strongly that very few people realize the rapidity with which the furniture industry is going global.

EDMONSON: Yes, true.

INTERVIEWER: And, goodness knows, the business that you do in the United States is only a beginning. Western Europe, the free part of Europe, is two times the United States in population. Eastern Europe, which was dominated by Russia, is another one. Russia itself is two or three. The people in Europe statistically buy a lot more furniture per capita than we do in the United States.

EDMONSON: Oh, per capita, yes.

INTERVIEWER: So there’s an enormous market worldwide.

EDMONSON: All right. I think if something has to be said, it should be about housing. That’s a problem. To even get into it you have to talk about the government kind of housing and all that kind of stuff, which I don’t know how to approach. But it is a problem. Will the government be buying furniture later for people that don’t have any? You know, that’s a question.

INTERVIEWER: We certainly hope not. I would rather sell Sears, Roebuck than the Federal government, wouldn’t you?

EDMONSON: Absolutely, sure. Market share is the big one of course, yes. I would say that customer service is way up there as a concern. Retail advertising is another one.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me about the problem with retail advertising.

EDMONSON: Well, extension of credit beyond reasonability.

INTERVIEWER: The ads that say, “Nothing down, no payments for a year, no interest.”

EDMONSON: Yes. I think that hurts both the consumer and the retailer.

INTERVIEWER: Do you see a solution to that?

EDMONSON: We don’t want any government regulation of advertising except for the truth of it. There are absolutely ads out there that are absolutely bad and wrong. They steal money from you. Automobile advertising. I’m not for having a government agency to tell you how to do everything.

INTERVIEWER: We don’t want that.

EDMONSON: Right, so, I don’t know how to improve it.

INTERVIEWER: Well, the states all have laws in favor of truth in advertising. And even people like Levitz are sued.

EDMONSON: Yes, well, let’s include, then, truth in advertising. It needs correction, and how, we don’t know.

INTERVIEWER: In general, what kind of a solution is there? There has to be a solution.

EDMONSON: Well, it will have to be a solution that I don’t know yet. You can’t get a station to sign up on all that they know about an ad before they run it.

INTERVIEWER: I agree that it’s a serious problem and the wrong way to sell furniture. And the Home Furnishings Council, I’ve been very much interested in that. Bob Nightingale says that is the worst way in the world to try to sell furniture.

EDMONSON: Furniture/Today shows half a dozen merchants saying what they think about it. I would say that the furniture organizations then should have a conclave on this and try to decide how to correct it.

INTERVIEWER: That’s what the Home Furnishings Council is, a conclave. But then I read in Furniture/Today in the last week or two, that there’s a panel of eight or 10 company presidents going to meet about it. It looks to me like there’s a certain considerable overlap there between them and the Home Furnishings Council. Maybe they’ll get together.

EDMONSON: What would be the solution before you have to get the government into it? We can’t hire people to tell us not to do everything that we shouldn’t.

INTERVIEWER: The Home Furnishings Council says we shouldn’t sell it only on the fact that it’s cheap, and you can buy it easy. You sell it on the fact that it creates a home that you can be comfortable in. This is your place. That’s why people buy furniture. They don’t buy it primarily because it’s cheap.

EDMONSON: Yes, with nothing down, and they figure they can use it forever whether they are paying for it or not. It’s some loss of money, and some scams in it, too.

INTERVIEWER: How many times have you been in a store and heard the store salesman selling to a lady? Here’s a chair and she wonders about its uses. He says, “Lady, that fabric will wear like iron. It’ll last you forever.” You go down and buy a Cadillac, and they don’t tell you that the leather is going to wear like that. The Cadillac will go 150,000 miles, no more. Totally different.

EDMONSON: I don’t know how to approach that. I think through the furniture organizations, you know, counseling manufacturers and retailers alike. Maybe something like that. Wickes is doing it all the time. Wickes is the only one in Dallas that does that. “Pay nothing until ’98.”

INTERVIEWER: Next question: What has been your own greatest contribution to the furniture industry?

EDMONSON: I don’t know how to say that. I don’t know. I’m very strong with the salesmen. I would say it’s a combination of the fact that I’m a demon on quality. The product has to be quality. You just can’t ship fabric patterns that don’t even match. I don’t know what to say on that.

INTERVIEWER: Well, if that idea and philosophy could be sold to other people, we’d certainly have more satisfied customers.

EDMONSON: Because I know my strength. If I’ve had any problem with salesmen it is more for them to get the order than it is to worry about how it’s resold. You know, it’s my strength. It’s more than just being a nice guy. I want his business. Like Arnold Palmer, I always want to win if I can.

INTERVIEWER: What you just said, I believe, is very important in that we should and we don’t nearly enough. I think, way beyond ourselves writing the order, the important thing is that the store sells it.

EDMONSON: Yes, and uses it. Get to the benefits of it in use.

INTERVIEWER: We should do much more to help the store sell the furniture.

EDMONSON: Of course, we did at Kroehler because of the advertising. Yes, that’s a good one.

INTERVIEWER: Obviously, you were thinking primarily with Kroehler helping the store move the furniture on out...

EDMONSON: Oh, absolutely.

INTERVIEWER: Because until they sell it, they couldn’t buy any more.

EDMONSON: That’s right.

INTERVIEWER: Now, let’s talk about the influence of outside factors on the furniture industry. How was your company affected by the Depression?

EDMONSON: Less than others, I’d say. I’ve heard a discussion on that. P.E. Kroehler was doing business during the Depression at low cost, helping people out. But I wasn’t around [at Kroehler]]]] then so I can’t say that, other than what I’ve heard.

Oh, I went through it. I can tell you all about it. I was in grade school. I was working in a grocery after school for a dollar and a half a week.

The difference would be the lack of beauty and comfort of the homes, and the financial distress of the markets, which would certainly affect the outlook of the population.

INTERVIEWER: Therefore, they would buy less furniture.

EDMONSON: Buy less furniture. Less income and less attention to it. People today still haven’t corrected, to bring it up-to-date to what today’s requirements and usual things are.

INTERVIEWER: You mean comfort and... ?

EDMONSON: Comfort and beauty. Cleanliness, building for the children. Everybody’s talking about the children. Let the children see some beautiful furniture, and not eat ice cream cones on it like they do on the junk that’s out there now. I mean you can make a subject of that.

Everybody is making a deal of the children. Those who have to prepare later wouldn’t have been indoctrinated as nicely.

INTERVIEWER: What about racial attitudes? Now this is more pertinent in the South and most of your companies are in the North.

EDMONSON: In respect to the furniture industry? I don’t think you develop a line for one race only. You have Chinese furniture being imported now, so the styles we have are not what the question is. It’s what the people are.

INTERVIEWER: Racial attitudes, of course, is what this means. I don’t know whether you had many black people working at Les Brown or not, or whether it makes any difference or not. Is there any customer orientation?

EDMONSON: Doesn’t make any difference. I tell you, at the High Point Market, we let that guy manage the whole thing for us. He’s black, a nice guy, too. You know, the big husky guy. But racial relations have never been a problem at Les Brown Chair Company or Kroehler that I know of. It really hasn’t.

INTERVIEWER: Probably less there than in the South.

EDMONSON: We’ve had some black customers that were very good and popular. Buyers at department stores and all the chains are loaded with them. So I can say in total honesty that I don’t think there’s been any problem with race from a standpoint of employment or consumption.

INTERVIEWER: What about women’s issues?

EDMONSON: Women’s issues? We deal with a lot of women. Women buyers everywhere – J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward, and Sears, Roebuck, all together.

INTERVIEWER: Furniture/Today has been talking about this a lot. They point out that 80 percent of all the furniture purchasing decisions are made by women.

EDMONSON: There are two classifications that vary a little bit. Leather now has the men buying more, and also recliners.

INTERVIEWER: OK, good point which de-emphasizes the effect of women.

EDMONSON: And also swivel rocker chairs, because men sit and watch the game for hours.

INTERVIEWER: That’s on one side. On the other side, they are right to say that 80 percent of the decisions are by women.

EDMONSON: I’d say that on living room, yes. On game rooms and television rooms and office rooms, no. They don’t get 80 percent on that.

INTERVIEWER: If it was 50 percent, then why aren’t 50 percent of the furniture executives women?

EDMONSON: Why aren’t the executives women?


EDMONSON: Oh, do you mean in furniture companies?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, manufacturers and retailers both.

EDMONSON: They are getting jobs.

INTERVIEWER: In retail, but not many in manufacturing.

EDMONSON: Not many in manufacturing.

INTERVIEWER: And, of course, 40 years ago when we started ...

EDMONSON: But I don’t think that would matter. Whether the woman is working in furniture or not, they might buy all the furniture for that house anyway.

INTERVIEWER: Then, the people who are bringing the furniture to her ... there ought to be more of a women’s attitude.

EDMONSON: Well, I think you are seeing that. You are getting more emphasis on the style and fabrics.

INTERVIEWER: Are women contributing to that?

EDMONSON: Yes, they are. You wouldn’t sell as many floral pieces to guys with a big cigar watching the Cowboys play.

INTERVIEWER: No. What about shipment? Shipment has changed radically over the years. The way you get the furniture to the customer. You used to sell carloads of furniture. You never sell a carload anymore.

EDMONSON: No, you sell trucks, though.

INTERVIEWER: Everything goes by truck.

EDMONSON: Yes, well, it depends. With any Eastern manufacturer, shipping to the West Coast goes by carloads on rail. The rest is basically trucking.

INTERVIEWER: What about intermodal, where you load the trailer and then take the trailer down and put it on a flat car and ship it to Los Angeles. Is that coming around now?

EDMONSON: Oh, yes, a lot of that.

INTERVIEWER: Ship a trailer of furniture to the West Coast out of High Point and it’s six days before that truck comes back.

EDMONSON: Yes, and, well, it’s cheaper to send it by rail than it is to send a truck out and back.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, yes, but also more complicated. Because you have to hire somebody in Los Angeles to take that trailer and deliver it.

EDMONSON: And not discussed really, but always at the concern of the receiver when it’s shipped by rail. But there have been very few problems in it. They’ve handled it well.

INTERVIEWER: What about the effects of environmental regulations?

EDMONSON: Well, you have to think, what are they really?

INTERVIEWER: Well, much less in upholstery than in wood furniture. In wood furniture, they must comply with rules. They’ve got to spend millions of dollars on dust collection.

EDMONSON: Oh, yes.

INTERVIEWER: Emissions from the finishing room.


INTERVIEWER: Let them use water-based finishes.

EDMONSON: I think just continual study on that with what’s being produced to assist with the problem. What is needed more would be in order for the organizations. See, you’ve got case goods and upholstery in all of the furniture organizations, really. You got both companies. I’d say continued study on it. That’s what I’d say on that.

INTERVIEWER: Now, describe your involvement in social, civic and business activities outside of the furniture industry.

EDMONSON: First, social. I belong to a country club.



INTERVIEWER: Civic, like the Rotary Club?

EDMONSON: No, not anymore. I used to. But are you talking about now?

INTERVIEWER: All throughout your career.

EDMONSON: Over the years, yes. I was with – not Rotary. I am trying to think of the name of it now.

INTERVIEWER: Kiwanis, Civitan, American Business Club.

EDMONSON: You haven’t said it yet, but it is one of the good ones. But I’ve been on the alumni board of my college three times.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, that’s important. And that’s at William & Mary?

EDMONSON: What is the name of that civic club? There’s one that I was on in Chicago.

INTERVIEWER: What is your favorite charity?

EDMONSON: My favorite charity? Well, other than my grandchildren going to college? I would say I give regularly to the church, of course, and also paralyzed veterans, American Cancer Society, Red Cross and some of those that are big. I’m not trying to give you a big list. The college alumni association. I guess that’s different from the other ones. Oh, and contributions, yes, to the College alumni association, and Junior League, my wife’s a Junior League member.

INTERVIEWER: What’s your principal leisure time activity?

EDMONSON: It has been golf, until I got prostate cancer two years ago. I haven’t retooled my game up yet. Golf, athletic participation – in viewing. I’m a baseball and football guy. I watch baseball.

INTERVIEWER: What has been your greatest success in golf?

EDMONSON: A hole in one, and I broke 80 one time. I had a 78 once.

INTERVIEWER: How old were you then?

EDMONSON: I had just moved to Dallas. I was about 66 or 67. No, no, I was younger than that. Wait a minute. Hell, I’m 80 years old now. And I’ve been in Dallas 20 years. 60 years old, yes. I have a neighbor that is 91 years old and has broken the 80s several times. I play with him all the time.

INTERVIEWER: Have you done anything in any other industries?

EDMONSON: I mentioned earlier about mergers and acquisitions, but no, I haven’t been active in that. Just had one situation that is still pending.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you for taking so much time today for this important contribution to our furniture industry. I have enjoyed it thoroughly. I hope you have. Now what would you like to add as a summary?

EDMONSON: It has been very refreshing to review this much in the furniture industry, which I really have enjoyed and still do. Talking about some of the old times and development times, and all of the things that are involved today, with my emphasis on markets, sales, and companies.