J. wade kincaid; kincaid furniture
AMERICAN FURNITURE HALL OF FAME
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
DECEMBER 16, 1988
Robert A. Spelman, Interviewer
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Kincaid, tell me about your childhood.
KINCAID: I was born in Northern Caldwell County. My father was a furniture hand for Caldwell Furniture. We lived pretty close by that plant. I was born in 1910. George Kincaid was my daddy.
INTERVIEWER: What was your mother’s name?
INTERVIEWER: Where did they meet?
KINCAID: My daddy was hauling lumber at Yadkin Valley to the furniture plants in Lenoir, where he met my mother.
INTERVIEWER: Then he went to work in a plant there?
KINCAID: That’s right. He went to work in a plant there.
INTERVIEWER: Approximately what year was that?
KINCAID: I’d say that was not long after I was born – 1913, along there somewhere.
INTERVIEWER: You were born in 1910?
KINCAID: 1910, yes. My daddy’s about 21 years older than I am, and my mother was a little younger than that.
INTERVIEWER: He was born in 1891?
INTERVIEWER: Your mom was younger than he was?
KINCAID: She was a couple of years younger than my daddy.
INTERVIEWER: How did they meet?
KINCAID: Hauling lumber. My daddy lived in Lenoir and he was hauling logs, hauling lumber, from the Valley and met her while he was buying and loading lumber. That’s where they got together.
INTERVIEWER: Then they married, and were you the only child?
KINCAID: I was the first child.
INTERVIEWER: How many children were there – eight? Did you all grow up in Lenoir?
KINCAID: Yes. I was the oldest one of eight.
INTERVIEWER: When did you first start working?
KINCAID: I went to school from 6 years old. When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I went to work in the machine room tailing the motor in the machine.
INTERVIEWER: That was in the summertime when you were on vacation?
KINCAID: Vacation time in the summer. Right. I’d say I was 12 years old.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember how much money you made when you first started working?
KINCAID: Probably 10 or 12 cents an hour. I don’t remember exactly.
INTERVIEWER: You did that, and then you graduated from high school?
KINCAID: I did that. You see we only had school six months. Six months I’d work at the factory, and six months I’d go to school. But each year I was changed around. Every year, I’d come back from school and I’d go to another department – maybe in the finishing room, maybe in the cabinet room. My daddy was a cabinet room foreman.
INTERVIEWER: I see. You were really getting checked out on every department in the place. When did you start full-time in furniture?
KINCAID: Then I went in the factory full-time/
INTERVIEWER: Before we leave your childhood, what memories do you have of Lenoir? How was Lenoir in those days? I know there were many furniture factories at the time.
KINCAID: There were probably five or six.
INTERVIEWER: Was Broyhill in business then?
KINCAID: Broyhill was in business then. Bernhardt. Kent-Coffey.
INTERVIEWER: Was Blowing Rock in business then?
KINCAID: No. Oh, Star Furniture. That was later Jack Galvin’s plant. Caldwell was where I worked.
INTERVIEWER: What was your first full-time job?
KINCAID: Every six months, I’d come back to the plant and have a new job in a different department. I would work wherever they had an opening. I got experience in the cabinet room. About the last two or three years, before I got out of school, I was in the cabinet room building drawers. I finally got to be a case-fitter.
INTERVIEWER: Talking in years, when was that approximately? What period of time? You were born in 1910; you started working when you were 12, so did you work through six years, eight years?
KINCAID: About six years. I worked six months, did school six months and then worked in the factory six months.
INTERVIEWER: We’re talking about 1928, ’29, just about the time the Depression started.
KINCAID: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a little bit about the machinery in those days?
KINCAID: We didn’t have a dust system, hardly. There was very, very little suction.
INTERVIEWER: What about finishing? Did you use varnish? What kind of finishing materials were used in those days?
KINCAID: A dust system and finishing is not the same. This suction I’m talking about didn’t remove dust from the air.
INTERVIEWER: It floated in the air?
KINCAID: Exactly. We wore coverings over our faces and something over our heads, mouths and noses to keep from breathing that stuff.
INTERVIEWER: You wore a mask?
KINCAID: Of a style. Mostly it was a stocking or something over your nose and mouth to keep the dust from choking you. Later, I became a drawer boy and inspector.
INTERVIEWER: What was a “drawer boy”?
KINCAID: He would make the drawers. He’d make the drawers and finish them to the case-fitters. I became a case-fitter after that. I was a case-fitter for several years.
INTERVIEWER: Now we’re getting to 1929 and 1930.
KINCAID: 1929 was a good year, I think.
INTERVIEWER: Why was that? It was just before the Crash?
KINCAID: That’s right. Everybody was working well in ’29 and ’30. About ’32 was when the Depression hit us pretty hard.
INTERVIEWER: What happened to Caldwell at that time?
KINCAID: We worked part-time, two or three days a week sometimes, more time on than off.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get a cut in pay?
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall the hourly rate?
KINCAID: They cut it down pretty sharply.
INTERVIEWER: Was it 25, 30 cents an hour – in that range?
KINCAID: In that range would be right. I think a case-fitter made up to about 40 cents an hour as top wages. In the cabinet room when I was there, it was 40 cents.
INTERVIEWER: Was that the most skilled job in the plant?
KINCAID: In that department, yes.
INTERVIEWER: How were they finishing furniture in those days?
KINCAID: They used a whole lot of brush work.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a varnish?
KINCAID: No, it was a stain first, then a filler, and then they’d rub it off and varnish later.
INTERVIEWER: But they did use varnish?
INTERVIEWER: You had the top job in your department? You were a case-fitter?
KINCAID: My daddy was foreman in this department.
INTERVIEWER: Was that tougher on you than if he wasn’t the foreman? Was he tough on you as far as discipline is concerned?
KINCAID: He wasn’t tough on me.
INTERVIEWER: You were probably a good worker.
KINCAID: I was. I volunteered to do his bookkeeping and stuff that he had to have records of. I did that at lunchtime and after quitting time in the evening. We were probably working 10 hours a day and I probably worked 11 or 12 hours a day.
INTERVIEWER: That got you familiar with the records.
KINCAID: Yes. I quit furniture in about ’28. I quit the furniture business for a while and operated a grocery store for about three years. I was away from furniture that long. My daddy continued to be foreman at Caldwell in the finishing department.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you leave? You thought there was a better future?
KINCAID: Yes. I had worked in my spare time in the grocery store and I liked the business. I got a chance to get enough money to get a few goods together.
INTERVIEWER: You were in business for yourself?
KINCAID: Oh, yes.
INTERVIEWER: I see. Did the business fail, or did you just decide to go back?
KINCAID: We had a strike. It hit the furniture plants in Lenoir.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall what year that was?
KINCAID: It was about the mid-’30s.
INTERVIEWER: We’re still in the Depression. The strike caused you to lose your business?
KINCAID: Yes. That’s when I was in the grocery business. We were doing fine in the grocery business until the strike came. Then everybody was out of work. Of course, we were out of business, too, in short order. After that I went to Gluck Brothers in Morristown, Tennessee.
INTERVIEWER: What was your first job there?
KINCAID: I was a case-fitter there. My daddy was a foreman; he went there ahead of me. I went there and he got another job. He was hired to come back to Hickory. I was given the foreman’s job at Gluck.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall the approximate year?
KINCAID: I think it wouldn’t have been in the ’40s. When was J.W. born, Steve?
STEVE KINCAID: He was born in 1942.
INTERVIEWER: Is that your oldest son?
KINCAID: That’s the one that was born in Morristown, Tennessee. He is J.W., Jr.
INTERVIEWER: You were foreman. The war was starting. What happened to Gluck Brothers during the war?
KINCAID: We kept running the plant.
INTERVIEWER: What were you making at Gluck Brothers?
KINCAID: A very low-end, solid maple bedroom suite.
INTERVIEWER: They kept operating right through the war?
KINCAID: I don’t recall how much we worked and how much we lost. After my daddy left Morristown, I stayed there for a few years before we came back to Broyhill.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall the approximate year? How long were you in Tennessee?
KINCAID: Oh, I’d say four or five years.
In the grocery business I had learned how to make liver pudding. In Morristown, even after working 10 hours a day, my boys and a couple of friends that lived close by would help me at night. We’d make up a 300-pound container of liver pudding. We’d stir it with sticks and all. We’d pour it into pans. I had a holiness preacher in 50-50 with me. The next morning, he would take it out and sell it. We would pay all the costs. At the end of the week, we’d pay for the livers, the cooking and everything we’d done. Then we’d split the balance, split the profits.
INTERVIEWER: What was his name?
KINCAID: Reverend Brabson.
STEVE KINCAID: It was called Kincaid’s Liver Pudding, wasn’t it?
KINCAID: Kincaid’s Liver Pudding. It’s still sold in East Tennessee today.
INTERVIEWER: They didn’t have it there until you started making it?
KINCAID: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: You said you and your boys. Did you have J.W.?
KINCAID: J.W. wasn’t born yet. Jim, Joe and Dennis, my older boys, were with me. I left there when I sold this liver pudding business to another party to keep it operating. He sold it to somebody. It’s still Kincaid’s Liver Pudding, but I came back when Broyhill offered me a job as a cabinet room foreman in their Conover plant, so I sold the liver pudding business.
INTERVIEWER: Then you went to Conover?
KINCAID: Yes. I stayed there about four years.
INTERVIEWER: Was this after the war?
STEVE KINCAID: It would have been ’44, maybe.
KINCAID: I came back and was the foreman in their plant there for about three years.
INTERVIEWER: I’m going to back up for a minute. When did you meet your wife? Where? Under what circumstances?
KINCAID: I met her in the grocery store. I had a prior marriage, though. I was married two times. Steve’s mother is my wife, but I had five children by the first wife. Three boys and two girls
INTERVIEWER: OK. When you left Broyhill. . .
KINCAID: I got a superintendent’s job in Mocksville, North Carolina, at Hanes Chair and Novelty Company. They hired me as a superintendent and in a year and a half I was made plant manager over the whole operation.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall how many people worked at Hanes at that time?
KINCAID: I’d say between 75 and 100. It varied. If you needed them, you hired them. You laid them off if you were caught up.
INTERVIEWER: They were making solid wood chairs? What else?
KINCAID: Solid chairs and rockers; mostly, porch rockers.
INTERVIEWER: Out of what kind of wood?
KINCAID: Oak. They made novelty cocktail tables, a lot of little tables.
INTERVIEWER: We’ve gone from 1928 and we’re now approximately 15 years later. What had changed as far as furniture manufacturing was concerned? Did they have dust removal systems at that time? What about machinery, finishing?
KINCAID: Back at Gluck, they were getting some suction pipes, some blow pipes. Broyhill was equipped well for that time.
INTERVIEWER: Had Gluck kept up with dust removal?
KINCAID: They spent money on their plant. They had a pretty good plant.
INTERVIEWER: You were running the whole show? You were the plant manager?
KINCAID: Yes, at Hanes Chair and Novelty Company.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall approximately what kind of money you were making those days?
KINCAID: I’d say it was in the vicinity of $50 a week. I believe Broyhill paid me that. I believe I got, maybe, $75 a week to go to Hanes Chair and Novelty Company.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall what the workers were getting? It was after the war.
KINCAID: Good cabinet men, good case-fitters and that type of stock, in Conover’s plant would make about half as much as a foreman. I was making $50 a week; they’d make probably $18, $20 a week. At Mocksville, their wages were less than that. It was even lower than they were at Broyhill.
STEVE KINCAID: In every town Dad lived, he’s had a child. He’s up to 10 of them.
INTERVIEWER: Ten all together?
KINCAID: There is one child younger than Steve.
INTERVIEWER: How long were you with Hanes?
KINCAID: I managed them for about three years. We had a really bad fire there. The plant burned down. That threw everybody out of work. I had nothing; I didn’t have any income then. The machine room foreman, Mutt Revis, and I went into the backend of a little dilapidated filling station and took some Sears, Roebuck equipment. We started making some novelty pieces. There’s a piece here in this office.
That was made in that old filling station. We made them out of cedar, mahogany and walnut. We finally got into cedar chests from there.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall what year the fire occurred?
KINCAID: It was during the war and we could not get materials. I went before the war production board with Harris, the man that owned the plant, and tried to get money to buy some equipment. They wouldn’t let us have any. We filed a whole lot of different forms and sent them to different people – politicians and everywhere – but we didn’t get anywhere.
INTERVIEWER: Did Hanes go out of business then? Did that fire take them out of business?
KINCAID: It did, but they built the plant back after I’d left. I was making more money doing this than when I was working for Harris. I wasn’t for going back over there.
INTERVIEWER: It was just Mr. Revis and you when you started making your own furniture. Eventually how many people did you have working for you?
KINCAID: Probably eight or 10. That’s where Kincaid Furniture started, right there.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall approximately when you started your own business with Mr. Revis?
KINCAID: The war wasn’t over yet.
INTERVIEWER: 1944, ’45 – sometime in there?
INTERVIEWER: Did that business prosper?
KINCAID: Yes. We were doing fine in it. I got a little money together; my daddy had some money. That’s when we heard about some local cedar in Davie County, so we bought it and got into the chest business. We made those little novelties out of cedar, like the one behind you in this office.
INTERVIEWER: That’s the novelty; the toy. You were making full-sized, weren’t you?
KINCAID: We were making full-sized, but that is a jewel chest. I sold a hundred of those things to Hugh Bagby.
INTERVIEWER: What did you get for them?
KINCAID: I imagine we got about $2.50 for each one.
INTERVIEWER: Is that all?
KINCAID: Yes. We started to build cedar chests. They were regular 42-inch cedar chests made out of solid cedar. We got somebody to dry the lumber for us in Mocksville. We didn’t get much production out of them. We got 15 or 20 of them a day, I reckon. My daddy and I decided to go into business. He was still at Highland Furniture in Hickory.
So we both quit and came up here. We bought some land below Hudson and there’s where we built the first Kincaid Furniture. That was in ’46.
We moved the cedar chests up here, not the novelty stuff. I sold my interests in the novelty stuff to Revis. He did not enter the Kincaid picture.
INTERVIEWER: Was it the land Kincaid’s plants are on now?
KINCAID: No, it’s down below Hudson. We built a building on it, about 60 by 100, I believe. It was a metal building. We got the cedar chests going really well. We found people liked them. Bagby would buy nearly all of them that we made. We did that for a year or two.
INTERVIEWER: Lane was making cedar chests in those days, I imagine?
KINCAID: Lane was making cedar chests, but theirs were made of veneer stock.
INTERVIEWER: Yours were solid. How many people worked for you when you began your new business in Hudson?
KINCAID: I imagine 20. Steve, when did the first plant burn down? Do you know?
STEVE KINCAID: I was born in ’48, so it must have been about ’48 when it burned.
KINCAID: Steve was a baby when I was burned in the fire. It destroyed the plant and it just about destroyed me. I saw people come running out of the finishing room. I ran in there to get a foam-type extinguisher we had. I could control the fire if I got to it. I reached up with this hand to take it down and it shot “PSHHH!” at me. I fell to the floor.
I crawled on my back to almost where the spray was and then out of the window. Smoke and blaze were shooting out of that window as far as 20 or 30 feet. I was burned up; it burned my clothes off, burned my hair all off my head. I’ve got 48 square inches of skin graft on my body, all over my back, my hands and you can see some of it right there.
STEVE KINCAID: He almost died.
INTERVIEWER: Were you the only one injured in the fire?
KINCAID: Yes. I was the only one injured in the fire.
INTERVIEWER: The other ones all ran out.
KINCAID: I’d have run out too, but I was trying to save the plant. I went to get this foam-type extinguisher. If you take it off and turn it upside down, it would have protected me as I was getting out. But putting out the fire was what I was interested in. I almost died.
We had run the plant down there two or three years. We had it going really well, had good sales. We added the wardrobe to it, too. Hugh Bagby helped design the wardrobe. He came down here and told me the size and width necessary to store clothing.
INTERVIEWER: Was Bagby pretty much your outlet? Was he wholesaling at that time?
KINCAID: He was the wholesaler at that time, a very good friend of mine, and he helped me an awful lot.
INTERVIEWER: Most of your production was going to him?
KINCAID: No, not most of it. After we got started, the first production did go to him but it didn’t take us long to get where we made more than he needed.
On a hot day, we’d pull the chests outside, instead of inside. We’d let the sun dry them. If a rain came up, we’d pull them back indoors.
INTERVIEWER: You’d put those pieces right outside in the sun?
KINCAID: Yes, but it didn’t work so well on a rainy day. In time, they would dry inside, but you’d get the chests to dry quicker if you’d get them out in the sun. Sometimes they’d blister up and you’d have to refinish them.
INTERVIEWER: That was only in the summertime. What did you do in the winter?
KINCAID: We had some heaters. We’d put some stoves around in the corners, in a little room. Wood stoves, if you please. We’d put our wardrobes and chests in there to dry for so long until they were cured.
INTERVIEWER: How long would it take a piece to dry?
KINCAID: Inside, they’d dry pretty fast. We’d dry two or three times, about three or four different batches in a day. We would probably put eight pieces in where the stove was. Then we’d close the door and they’d be in there for that day.
INTERVIEWER: They’d be dry in a day?
KINCAID: Sometimes less than a day.
INTERVIEWER: When you were burned, someone else had to take over and start running the plant while you were recuperating.
KINCAID: My daddy.
INTERVIEWER: How long were you laid up? It must have been awhile.
KINCAID: I was in the hospital nearly the rest of the year. I was in the hospital until the winter. The fire was the Fourth of July or about that time; I was in the hospital almost until the end of the year. I think I was out a little bit before the end of the year.
INTERVIEWER: The fire must have done a lot of damage. What did you have to do? Did your dad have to rebuild?
KINCAID: The fire burned the plant down – a complete, total loss. We didn’t know what we’d do. My daddy had a pretty good business before and was doing pretty well. Walter Turner and Jim Hogan owned this little building on our present site. They had a little shop right on this same land we’re on now. The land went all the way back. It was a good piece of land. They were partners and they had had trouble, a falling out, and wanted to sell.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the name of their company?
KINCAID: I don’t remember the name. They rented it at first. After I got back, before I got all healed, I worked part-time.
We framed a little office up. It was half as big as this one. Then our business started doing pretty well. The partners, Hogan and Turner, had a disagreement amongst themselves and they wanted to sell. They made us a deal and we bought the office and property. We started building that same year and we’re still building.
INTERVIEWER: That was really the start, the foundation for this present company.
STEVE KINCAID: The original charter was in 1946. That’s when Kincaid Furniture was formed. That was the other location. The fire was in 1948.
INTERVIEWER: You spent two years in the first location?
STEVE KINCAID: I was born in ’48. They probably moved into this plant location in ’49. The company was first formed in ’46. When we burned down, they just moved locations. They moved to the present site in ’49.
INTERVIEWER: Did you start with about the same number of people in 1949 – about 20 or 30?
KINCAID: That’s right. All the people that had worked down there before it burned moved up here.
INTERVIEWER: You were still making the solid cedar chests.
KINCAID: And wardrobes. We were the first company that I know of that made this cedar wardrobe. Other people copied it – in Morristown, down in Jasper, Alabama and different factories. They copied our patterns.
INTERVIEWER: As far as marketing these things, you still had Hugh Bagby working?
KINCAID: We started working with other people about the time I got in better health.
INTERVIEWER: You had reps that went out on the road with your line?
KINCAID: J.I. Miller was the first salesman we ever had. I meant to tell you how we got him. He came by the first plant. We were pulling wardrobes out of the shop, out in the sun to dry. He and his wife came by, and he said, “What is that? That stuff out in the yard?” He came over and saw what we were doing. He wanted to sell the line. He started to sell for us and stayed with us until. . .
STEVE KINCAID: He retired two years ago.
KINCAID: He’s older than I am.
INTERVIEWER: What territory did he cover?
KINCAID: The United States. Everywhere he could sell. Somebody would come pick up a chest and he’d say, “I talked to that fellow about that.”
INTERVIEWER: When did you start taking your products to market?
KINCAID: We hired a salesperson – a Jewish family in Philadelphia – the Adolf Fruchter Company.
INTERVIEWER: He was a wholesaler?
KINCAID: Yes. We were furnishing Babgy with all that he wanted. We furnished them a whole lot. We doubled our production all the time. The Fruchters got the salesmen to sell it in Brooklyn. That northern coast from Baltimore up to Boston was the best area in which to sell cedar wardrobes because they didn’t build houses that had closets in them. That was our best market.
The Fruchter family got us into a Market up there – the Furniture Market in New York.
INTERVIEWER: The Furniture Exchange?
KINCAID: No, we didn’t get in there. We had a warehouse. Somebody had a warehouse rented out to the people that couldn’t get in the exhibit building. We were one of those manufacturers.
INTERVIEWER: Approximately what year was it when you first went to that trade show?
KINCAID: I can’t remember exactly. Fruchter was our sales representative in that whole area. They’re the ones that helped find the showrooms in New York and Philadelphia too. We went that way for several years. We improved production. We needed more distribution. We started putting salesmen of our own from Pennsylvania on south and west and into New England too.
INTERVIEWER: During that period that you were in the New York Market, were you in Chicago at all?
KINCAID: Yes, yes. We were in Chicago too. We used somebody else’s space – some people from over at Conover.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go to the High Point Market too?
KINCAID: Oh, we went to the High Point Market all the time. We’re still down at the High Point Market – always have been. We’ve had several spaces over the years.
INTERVIEWER: I know you’ve been in the High Point Market a long time. Do you recall when you started to first show there?
KINCAID: The first show I remember having there was in Hickory Upholstered Furniture Company’s space. Katherine Hollar had a showroom there, and she let us set three or four wardrobes in the back of her space. That’s the first time we showed in High Point. She let us stay on until we got a space of our own. Even though she could have used the space herself, she let us stay on.
INTERVIEWER: Steve mentioned Sandy Bienenstock, who was the publisher of Furniture World. He did a good turn for you.
KINCAID: He did a lot of good turns for me.
STEVE KINCAID: Didn’t he lend you some money?
KINCAID: Yes. I was talking to him and something came up about needing to borrow some money. He said, “Let me. I’ll take care of it.” He then loaned me some money.
STEVE KINCAID: You needed the money to expand or something.
KINCAID: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall what year that was?
KINCAID: It was the early years. I don’t recall exactly. It was after we were out playing around with these Markets a little bit.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall how much money he loaned you?
KINCAID: I don’t remember the amount. I would say it would be in the $20,000 range. He just wanted to know how much I needed and when I’d have to have it, and he got it for me. When he got his money back, he wouldn’t accept any interest.
INTERVIEWER: You’ve obviously enjoyed a remarkable growth in this company with the modernization you’ve done. Tell us a little bit more about how you continued to grow. I know you were expanding your sales.
KINCAID: That’s right. We were expanding our sales and reaching out further in different territories. We were hiring new salespeople to cover those areas. There were more all the time. We never went backward a year. Every year was a climb.
INTERVIEWER: As far as the expansion of the plants themselves, you had certain landmarks.
KINCAID: We have been in the building program almost continually. We started with a little old shop – nothing – and went all the way to the creek and back to branch on that side.
INTERVIEWER: Do you attribute that to your quality? What do you attribute it most to?
KINCAID: We made a good quality product. And we worked. We had good production. We’ve always been able to be really competitive
INTERVIEWER: You have approximately 1,400 people working in 1988. Were there periods during that growth that were significant, more important than others?
KINCAID: I don’t think so. They weren’t spurts; they weren’t just one surge. We never said, “We’ve grown enough.” We just keep steadily expanding.
We never quit our cedar stuff. We’ve stayed with solids from day one. We never made a piece of veneer stuff.
STEVE KINCAID: You got in the bedroom business in the mid-’50s? I think it’s interesting how you got in the bedroom business. Wasn’t it in the early ’50s when Mr. Carpenter joined you?
KINCAID: Yes, it would be the early ’50s, I’m sure.
INTERVIEWER: You were making solid cedar chests and wardrobes in the early ’50s.
KINCAID: We had some solid maple or other woods too.
STEVE KINCAID: Wasn’t the first bedroom we built out of mahogany?
KINCAID: Oh, yes. My friend George Cartledge, from Grand Piano Company in Roanoke, called me, asked me to come to Roanoke. I took our plant manager, went up there and looked at a little suite he had purchased from somebody. He wanted us to duplicate the suite because they couldn’t ship it. It was a little solid mahogany suite. We saw what he wanted. I came back and got a hold of a lumber man I knew, and we bought a whole lumberyard full of thin mahogany lumber that was many years old.
STEVE KINCAID: All air dried?
KINCAID: All air dried. Drexel’s lumber. We put it on a lot they had in Marion.
STEVE KINCAID: Tell him what the name of the salesman was.
KINCAID: Grover Robins.
INTERVIEWER: The dealer’s name was Cartledge?
KINCAID: George Cartledge. He owned the Grand Piano Company in Roanoke. He told me, if we could make that suite for a certain price, he could “sell every one of them you make”. I came back and checked with Grover Robins. We tied up that yard full of mahogany of Drexel’s. They’d had it for years and years, and they almost gave it to me. I got it awfully cheap.
INTERVIEWER: They just had no use for it?
KINCAID: It was thin – 3/4 to 5/8 in thickness. They thought it was too thin to go in solid wood.
STEVE KINCAID: It was during this time that Grover Robins, the lumber salesman, went on to develop in the mountains near Boone – Tweetsie Railroad, Hounds Ear, Beech Mountain.
INTERVIEWER: Then you started making mahogany bedrooms?
KINCAID: Yes sir. I imagine we had 50 or 60 people working when we started that.
INTERVIEWER: How many pieces did you have in your first suite?
KINCAID: There was a dresser, chest, a bed and a nightstand – four pieces.
He asked me, “How many pieces can you make?” I said, “We can get the lumber, if you can get the order.” He said, “Give me two days.” Then he called and told me of retail chains in Atlanta and all around.
STEVE KINCAID: Rhodes.
KINCAID: Yes. He wouldn’t sell them unless they placed big orders. He said, “I’ll sell it to you if you’ll take it for this price and take a hundred suites.”
INTERVIEWER: You got a hundred suites for the first cutting and then you grew. Do you recall what year that happened?
KINCAID: Cartledge is the one that called these other people and got orders for about 2,000 suites of the mahogany suites.
STEVE KINCAID: It would have been ’53 to ’55, ’56.
KINCAID: I’d say that’s right. The lumber was dry as you please. We just hauled it in here. We’d dress it and it’d come down to about 3/4 or a little thinner than that on the ends. We’d put the thicker pieces on the fronts and tops and thinner ones on the ends. It’d be 1/2 inch on the ends.
INTERVIEWER: It was a light scaled suite, then, of mahogany.
KINCAID: The lumber was real light. It sat there and air dried for years. We used that lumber until it was gone.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember how many board feet?
KINCAID: I’d say it took us a year and a half to use up all that mahogany lumber.
INTERVIEWER: We haven’t covered when Steve came into the business. Are you the only son in the business?
STEVE KINCAID: I have a brother who’s a sales representative.
INTERVIEWER: When did you come into the business?
STEVE KINCAID: In 1970.
KINCAID: That mahogany was wonderful but we used it up. We had to have something else. That’s when we started bringing in the pine, the maple and other lumber, other furniture.
INTERVIEWER: We are in the early ’60s. How large had Plant 1 become before you built a second one?
KINCAID: Did we double the capacity when we got Plant 2 done, Steve?
STEVE KINCAID: Not quite.
KINCAID: We went pretty close to doubling it.
STEVE KINCAID: We went from 100. Then we went from 200,000 square feet to about 400,000 square feet.
INTERVIEWER: Plant 2 added another 200,000 then.
KINCAID: That’d be right.
STEVE KINCAID: That’d be in 1962, somewhere around there.
INTERVIEWER: What are the most significant, important changes that happened in furniture production machinery in the last 20 years?
KINCAID: Every type of machinery that I’ve seen work has been improved on every few years. Molders, routers, sanders, saws – every type of equipment sped up.
INTERVIEWER: Specifically, can you give us some examples?
KINCAID: Tenon machines are one example. They do so many things. The heads come down and cut a place in the stock; it’ll bore, cut and rout it in one operation. It saves an awful lot of time. We can put the work through a tenon machine and do enough applications to almost put the piece into a case. What used to require four or five different machines can be done on one. It used to be that we’d take it to one machine and do that to it. Then we’d go to another machine and do something else to it. But now you can put it through the tenon machine and it does many operations in one pass.
INTERVIEWER: Set-up times have been shortened.
KINCAID: Yes. Set-up time was once a time-consuming problem. No more. It takes fewer people to operate now.
INTERVIEWER: You don’t have to put through huge cuttings the way you used to.
KINCAID: I’ve always put in huge cuttings no matter what. There’s no way to make it unless you’ve got a big cutting. Little cuttings are for the birds. We wouldn’t run it if it wasn’t something you could run a whole lot of.
INTERVIEWER: What is a big cutting in your operation?
KINCAID: A thousand suites, 500 suites, maybe along about there.
STEVE KINCAID: An average sized cutting is 500 suites for us. A large cutting is 700-plus.
KINCAID: We wouldn’t put in a cutting of 50 or anything like that. We wait until we have the orders.
INTERVIEWER: What’s happened in finishing?
KINCAID: You still have to stain it, fill it.
INTERVIEWER: How does it now compare to how they used to do it? What about the time factor? Quality?
KINCAID: The quality is a lot better.
KINCAID: It’s sanded better and the spray equipment is better and with the pumps, you have more control over your air.
STEVE KINCAID: Conveyor systems are better.
KINCAID: Conveyors, all finishing. Nobody tries to finish a piece of furniture without a conveyor now.
INTERVIEWER: When do you recall the conveyor becoming an established part of furniture manufacturing? It was certainly not when you were first working?
KINCAID: No, no. Conveyors first started in cabinet rooms. You’d put a track along and pull the cases down from one case-fitter to another. Then you’d put a top and base on it. You’d start it down; somebody would put drawers in it; somebody would start fitting drawers and all, down at the end.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall when that happened? When that started?
KINCAID: No, I can’t. But we had that a long time ago – 40 years ago, maybe. Conveyors are everywhere now in the factory. We’ve got them on our case lines, our drawer lines and every place.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s talk about marketing a little bit, as far as changes are concerned. You started out with Bagby and then with Fruchter in Philadelphia. Then you expanded to a sales force. That was your rep force?
KINCAID: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: What had happened with the consumer as far as your product is concerned? Acceptance, change, your catalogs, your advertising, all the things that you do in marketing – how did that change?
KINCAID: Steve can help me along on this. The one thing that we’ve done that I’d say most important of all is that we’ve made out of solid woods forever. We’ve never made a piece of veneered furniture. Solid wood is the name of our game.
INTERVIEWER: Why is solid wood better?
KINCAID: Well, sir, it’s just better. You don’t have veneers to come loose.
INTERVIEWER: Don’t people say that solid wood warps and splits?
KINCAID: We’ve had some experience with that. We know about that too. If you properly dry your lumber, properly glue it up, don’t put two big wide boards together – rip them in more narrow boards and put them together – you can eliminate warping and splitting.
INTERVIEWER: Tell us about kiln drying. You have pre-driers?
KINCAID: We have pre-driers.
INTERVIEWER: What is the source of energy? What have been the changes in the kiln drying?
KINCAID: It has just got plenty of circulation. The circulation comes from motors overhead and it goes four hours one way and then switches back and goes four hours another way. All of our dry kilns are like that.
INTERVIEWER: What did they do years ago? Did it take long?
KINCAID: Years ago, there used to be just some pipe along each side of the kiln and there were no fans at all. You just put it in there and just left it hot enough, maybe enough to burn you. That took a long time. Not now.
INTERVIEWER: Did it dry as well?
KINCAID: If you leave lumber in long enough, air dry it long enough and then put it in the kiln where there’s nothing but dry heat, it’ll cure it out so you can work it. You keep the load all in the same condition. Your moisture contents would be more on the boards outside. Then when you get the circulation of air through there, both sides are getting the same amount of air that the edge gets on the plank.
INTERVIEWER: When did you start with dining room furniture and why?
KINCAID: We needed the production, for one. We had about all the bedroom we needed, and we started making dining room. What year was this – ’63?
STEVE KINCAID: ’63, ’64.
INTERVIEWER: What percentage of your total volume is dining room versus what you had before you started? What percentage did you pick up by putting in dining room?
KINCAID: My guess would be the bedroom would be 60 and 40 for the dining room.
INTERVIEWER: That wasn’t immediate, though. It took you some time.
KINCAID: That’s right. That’s about where it got to after a little experience.
INTERVIEWER: You had a lot of competition.
KINCAID: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go to N.C. State, Steve?
STEVE KINCAID: No, I went to Appalachian.
INTERVIEWER: You majored in Forestry?
STEVE KINCAID: Business Administration.
INTERVIEWER: When did you come into the Kincaid Furniture Company?
STEVE KINCAID: I joined in 1970 as a sales representative.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you stay on the road?
STEVE KINCAID: Nine years.
INTERVIEWER: Then you came into the plant?
STEVE KINCAID: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Did you stay in the business side? Obviously, you were into production, information and whatever. Somebody taught you the business.
STEVE KINCAID: Leo Kahn. He joined our company in ’63, I think.
INTERVIEWER : He was your mentor.
STEVE KINCAID: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: By then you were an executive, of course, but you wore a lot of hats besides marketing.
STEVE KINCAID: Yes. My background was in sales around the state, basically, up until ’83. Then I got more involved in all aspects of the business.
INTERVIEWER: What would you say are the most important lessons that you learned in business from your dad?
STEVE KINCAID: I think the hard work that he has exemplified and his integrity, which has built this company, are two of the primary things that make it what it is. Plus he always said, “You can’t be all things to all people.” I think the fact that we’ve found our niche, which is solid wood, and have stuck with it these 42 years is one of the reasons we’re successful.
INTERVIEWER: Wade, were you ever tempted to leave solid wood and go into veneer construction?
INTERVIEWER: Did anybody ever invite you?
KINCAID: Yes. I don’t want any part of it.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you fall in love with solid wood?
KINCAID: You could buy a plank and make something out of it. You didn’t have to take it, dry it and buy veneer and put it on – do all of that kind of stuff.
You asked what I have taught Steve and what he’s learned from me. I think he would tell you – and I think everybody that knows the situation here would agree – that we don’t lose good people. When we get good people, they stay with us till we go with them to the graveyard. We’re loyal to them and they work their butts off for us.
INTERVIEWER: Obviously, you must be good to them.
KINCAID: We’re good to them. We treat them right. We’re just like a nurse to them if they’re sick. I’d go into my pocket for any of them who deserve it. We keep our people. Nobody hires Kincaid’s people. Not the people we want to keep. Nobody hires them.
INTERVIEWER: You say you’re good to them. That means you compensate them well. You have personal interest in them.
KINCAID: If I miss a time or two going through this shop out here, they say “Mr. Wade, where have you been? I haven’t seen you today.” If we miss a week and go out there, many people will holler, “Mr. Wade, where’ve you been?” Even now – that’s talking about today.
INTERVIEWER: Do you do anything on quality circles, that type of management?
STEVE KINCAID: No.
INTERVIEWER: Participating management? You do it, probably, informally. If an employee comes in and makes a suggestion, what happens?
STEVE KINCAID: We, of course, listen to it. If it’s important to him, it’s certainly important to us.
INTERVIEWER: Even if you think it’s a bad idea.
KINCAID: That’s right. That’s always been our style.
STEVE KINCAID: We don’t ever tell them that it is a bad idea. We tell them we’ll investigate it and get back with them.
KINCAID: That’s right, even if it won’t work.
STEVE KINCAID: You may know it won’t work at the time, but you don’t want to discourage him.
KINCAID: Sometimes it’s too expensive.
INTERVIEWER: Steve, you’ve had 18 years in the business. Besides progress and steady growth, what do you think are the most dramatic changes that happened in the industry that have affected your company in the last 10 years?
STEVE KINCAID: I think what affected our company was self-induced. I think that we were very fortunate to have someone like Leo Kahn to help us with the marketing of our products. He opened up a lot of doors that had not been opened previously with some major accounts. I think early on we committed ourselves to rapid expansion because of our aggressive sales efforts.
INTERVIEWER: Both of you think the world of Leo Kahn. Besides saying he’s a great salesman, what else can you tell me about him that’s special?
STEVE KINCAID: I think he had an excellent eye for product and what would sell. He’d been in the retail business for 35 years, so he certainly knew that part of the business. That was beneficial. He also knew an awful lot of retailers on a first-name basis, which opened up some doors for us.
INTERVIEWER: So you see him as a major contributor to your success?
KINCAID: We loved him like a brother, and he did us. He loved him (Steve) like his son.
STEVE KINCAID: I think what endeared him to us was that we would go through periods of soliciting business and we had the reputation of being over-sold an awful lot. Then as our backlogs grew, we’d expand the manufacturing. It was that kind of growth. It was the catch-up by demand.
INTERVIEWER: At least you had the happy circumstance of having to catch up, which is very important.
We’ve been talking about the past. Can you take an educated guess, Wade, at the future? Where is Kincaid going?
KINCAID: If you’ll go back five or 10 years or whatever, we did what we had to do to compete. But what do you see out there in the future of this company?
STEVE KINCAID: I think that one of the things that has really changed the industry has been the advent of the gallery programs.
KINCAID: Now it’s caught up.
STEVE KINCAID: We started this about four years ago. We’ve come to have over 100 galleries in operation. We plan on opening another 30 to 40 galleries in 1989.
INTERVIEWER: How many galleries do you have now?
STEVE KINCAID: One hundred in operation.
INTERVIEWER: And you’re projecting 40, 50?
STEVE KINCAID: Forty more.
INTERVIEWER: Why has the gallery concept been good for Kincaid?
STEVE KINCAID: I think the nature of our product lends itself to that kind of display. If you look at all the other manufacturers’ galleries, they’re basically just promoting a manufacturer’s brand name. But at a Kincaid gallery, retail salespersons can take a customer in there and say, “Ma’am, this is all made by Kincaid,” which may mean nothing to her, but when he says that it’s all solid wood, he’s made a statement. It’s very positive. I think the customer perceives solid wood to be a better value, a better quality. I think that having a complete display of solid wood enhances that. It’s easier selling on a retail floor. The bottom line is we sell more product. A retailer is not going to put it in unless he gets a better turn and that’s what we’ve experienced.
KINCAID: I’ve visited one of our galleries. I went in the store with him. The buyer that owns the store told me that he sold twice as much, got twice as much dollar volume out of a gallery as he did other space on the floor.
INTERVIEWER: Was that a million dollars? What was the figure?
KINCAID: No matter. It was the gallery. You got twice as much out of it as you did other spaces on the floor.
INTERVIEWER: Doubled his sales?
KINCAID: He told me a different salesman worked for him and had an application for a gallery. If another one came in, they’d want the gallery.
INTERVIEWER: What’s the average size of your gallery?
STEVE KINCAID: Average size is about 5,000 square feet. We’ve enlarged them. We started out with a minimum requirement of 3,500 feet and today the minimum is 5,000 because we’ve expanded the product line.
INTERVIEWER: You see the gallery as being a major success?
STEVE KINCAID: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: You find that the retailers have responded well to the gallery program and now they are committed to the gallery. They’re doubling their sales. Is that unusual?
STEVE KINCAID: I think that other companies experience the same thing. It’s not just us. We think that in the very near future, the majority of our business will be done through our gallery program. Because of that, it influences how we run our business on this end.
INTERVIEWER: Has there been any backlash from retailers who are cut off as a result?
STEVE KINCAID: We haven’t had to eliminate that many customers. What we try to do is fairly successful: We try to convert our regular dealers over to gallery dealers. We don’t have a real firm company policy in eliminating dealers. We try to take what we have and expand with them. Of course, we’ve had for the last 10 years a policy of limited distribution. Most companies our size will have three times as many customers as we do. We’ve never had an abundance of people to cut.
KINCAID: Have we ever had one that we took out?
STEVE KINCAID: We’ve had one, but it was a financial situation – slow pay.
KINCAID: That’s the only gallery that has been discontinued – because of finances. We have 100 of them in operation now. It was one at the other store in Roanoke. Grand Piano has a whole lot of stores – on up to Harrisburg, Winchester and down to Bristol. How many does he have?
STEVE KINCAID: He has three in operation and three more on drawing boards. He has one they are working on up in Charlottesville now.
INTERVIEWER: Is he the largest?
STEVE KINCAID: He will be when he has six. We have a customer now who has four in place in Houston.
INTERVIEWER: You’ve been able to capitalize this investment and continue to grow that way.
KINCAID: Did we have the biggest Market in High Point this time that we’ve had in a long time?
INTERVIEWER: October 1988 was the best Market you’ve had?
STEVE KINCAID: It’s hard to judge Markets. As far as reception and commitment, it was definitely the best.
KINCAID: One good thing we’ve had is a financial record – no bankruptcies, good relations with the bank.
INTERVIEWER: You’ve always been able to make a payroll.
STEVE KINCAID: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s talk about outstanding furniture men you have known.
KINCAID: The one man I felt like had everything on the ball as a leader in furniture manufacturing was Ab Clark.
INTERVIEWER: Who was Ab Clark?
KINCAID: He was a superintendent over two or three factories for Broyhill at Newton and Conover, all of their factories in the Newton and Conover area.
INTERVIEWER: Why was he important?
KINCAID: He taught me more things about taking a fellow that was going to quit and going after his spunk. I was going to fire him. He’d tell me “Now, Old Timer, he has to make a living just like we do. Why don’t you give him a little bit more time?” He put his arm up around me when he was telling me that. He’d say, “Old Timer, maybe you can put him on another job.” He said: “I’ve had people on a job and I’d just get mad enough at them to fire them, but instead, I’d put them over on another job and they’d make a real success at it. That boy has been here too long. Why don’t you do as I’ve just told you?” What would you tell a fellow like that? I’d say OK. He was right, of course. You gave the fellow a second chance.
INTERVIEWER: He showed you how to work with people.
KINCAID: That’s right. Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Anybody else you can think of on the positive side?
STEVE KINCAID: George Cartledge, Daddy.
KINCAID: Oh, yes, Mr. George Cartledge. He is the smartest furniture man I’ve ever known. He understands. He knows what a piece of merchandise is when he sees it; he knows the value. He’s helped us bring out the things that fit us, make the things that fit a certain gap in the industry, and he’s never steered us wrong. Everything he’s ever helped us bring out or develop has worked out great.
INTERVIEWER: George Cartledge. That is Grand Piano in Roanoke.
KINCAID: Yes, he has a chain of stores, Grand Piano stores. He’s president of Grand Piano. They started it. I can go to him with my problems about sales or changing something – whatever needs to be done. He helps. I received lots of help from George.
INTERVIEWER: Is he still alive?
KINCAID: Oh yes. I’d go to the beach and spend a week in the spring and a week in the fall. My wife and I with him and his wife – we’ve done that for 15 years or more. We’d stay in the same motels, stay in the same rooms every year. We’d go right after the April Market and in the fall sometimes. The four of us would eat fish together and play golf.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have anybody else that you can think of – perhaps an organization man in association business, in the local business community? You mentioned Bienenstock and how he helped you.
KINCAID: Yes. I liked him because he’s a good fellow. He’s a good guy.
STEVE KINCAID: What about the banker that worked for Mr. Foster? Didn’t he help you a lot, Daddy, when you were getting started?
KINCAID: Yes, the North Wilkesboro banker.
INTERVIEWER: Why is he good?
KINCAID: He studied our situation, got acquainted with us, believed we were honest and loaned us money. I got to know him going to furniture meetings. His wife and my wife would be around together some. He is a nice guy and I liked him a lot.
INTERVIEWER: Did he do something for the industry or for you?
KINCAID: He’s been a leader in the industry ever since I’ve known him.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me why the furniture industry is so good.
KINCAID: For me, because it’s a job – one I can work at and one I can do and one I’ve made money at.
INTERVIEWER: So was the grocery business. What’s the difference between this and the grocery business?
KINCAID: It wasn’t very good. There were too many people.
INTERVIEWER: The liver pudding business?
KINCAID: It was great, but it was a side-line.
INTERVIEWER: Is there something special about furniture?
KINCAID: There’s something that’s so exciting. You’re making something different all the time. You’re coming out with new things and you’re anxious to see what other people have and see how you can tie that in to your operation.
INTERVIEWER: So you’re not going to change? Not going to go out of the furniture business? You’re shaking your head.
KINCAID: No sir, I’m not going to change.
INTERVIEWER: Well, thank you, Wade, very much.