Joanna c. maitland; sperry & hutchinson
AMERICAN FURNITURE HALL OF FAME
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
FEBRUARY 13, 2008
HIGH POINT, NORTH CAROLINA
RESIDENCE OF JOANNA C. MAITLAND
Roy Briggs, Interviewer
INTERVIEWER: When were you born and where?
MAITLAND: I was born on January 10, 1919 in Columbus Junction, Iowa, in a little red brick house surrounded by acres and acres of family farm land. My father’s family was one of those who pioneered the Iowa Corn Belt region.
They, at one time, reportedly owned one-third of that corn land before the Depression. They were Germans, Cutkomp, and were so hardheaded that even though the Depression came along and they had to pay all these taxes, they wouldn’t sell the land to pay the taxes. My mother was Southern, and she was a King. Ruth Opal King.
He (my father) was a Cutkomp. She kept begging them, her husband, my father, Herman, and the whole family, to sell some of the land and pay the taxes so they wouldn’t lose it all. “We’re not selling our land,” they said. “We’ve had this since 18-so-and-so.”
They didn’t sell it so they lost almost all of it. They still had some, and they had a literal farm empire in that they even had their own little building where they smoked meats of all kinds. They had a whole chicken farm and they had calves and cows and horses. And they had – one year, I have a picture out there of my father with his champion pulling team of horses of the United States.
INTERVIEWER: How many horses?
MAITLAND: Two horses. They were Prince and Muggins.
He went and took the horses, shipped the horses, which must have been really something back in those years, to St. Louis, Missouri where the contest was for the whole world. The local community at home was so entranced by it all, and all the surrounding country, that down in the bank and in the major buildings, they were making books, like horse races on Herman’s team of horses. There weren’t a lot of radios in those days. It was just almost brand new. I don’t know what year that would have been. I was born in 1919.
INTERVIEWER: 1925, maybe?
MAITLAND: I wasn’t very old. So anyway, it was very early on. Later people told me there were big congregations of people in the banks and in the buildings in town that were large enough to hold people — they were all listening on these radios to this team play. And he won. He had the champion going team in whatever year it was, in St. Louis, in the world.
Anyway, the family had this Iowa land, and they didn’t pay the taxes and they lost a lot of it. They still ended up with some but from their German hardheadedness, they lost most of it. My mother kept trying to tell them all the time, but they wouldn’t listen. They thought there would be something. Nobody could take their land, right?
INTERVIEWER: Except the tax man.
MAITLAND: As you say. You recognize all that, that strong entrepreneurial dogma. You know that we were here first and we did it and nobody’s going to take it and so forth. Anyway, during those years...
INTERVIEWER: This is your growing-up years, which is the next question.
MAITLAND: Yes. I can remember learning to read before I was 4 years old. In those years, they didn’t start school until 6 years old. But, I can remember visiting my grandmother and grandfather, my father’s parents, who lived right across the way from our little red brick house. It was probably a couple blocks, you know, with fields in between.
I used to spend a lot of time over there with her. She was crippled — she had had polio. She had this little kitchen that she could sit in and everything was right where she could reach it from her wheelchair. Or standing up — she could stand up and stuff. She used to serve Sunday dinner to the whole family. I’m talking about like 14, 16, 20 people. She had a large dining room table that they could put leaves in to extend it. So on Sunday, everybody came to her house for dinner and they could catch up on what happened all during the week. All the cousins got to play. She had a huge, big yard that was all mowed — they mowed it all. They had this fence, this gorgeous white picket fence, and huge, big trees with fabulous swings on them with wooden seats and the ropes and stuff. Then she had a truck garden so they had fresh vegetables all the time. She had a pump in the yard, and the water was pumped into the kitchen finally. So, she could get it right out of a spigot in the kitchen. But, it was fun for me to be in on the early beginnings of getting running water in kitchens, and finding out what they did with their garbage, their trash and all that kind of thing.
One of the things I think most about are the barns. Barns are such beautiful things. I just love a big red barn. You know, it’s my favorite building in the world. To see inside these big red barns, because they had these joists that went across and a floor built up above, and that’s where you stored the hay. Then there was this big season where you rode the hay horse, and pulled the hay in from the field and gathered all the hay in these big square bales and stuff. Then piled it up and that was always a big season. That’s when you got good food all the time. But I mean those guys got up and started at like 5:00 in the morning and they ate lunch about noon or 11:00. I’m getting off track, am I too detailed?
INTERVIEWER: Well, it’s what you want to cover.
MAITLAND: Times then were so different. Looking back on it, it’s amazing to me to think that all of these men that surrounded these farms would gather to help bring in the crops from one man. Then they would go to another one and do his crops. That’s how they had those great big farms.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, of course.
MAITLAND: But then these women who had to feed these hungry men who had been up out in the fields since 5:00 — they would come and start cooking at about the same time the men went to the fields. They would have these big tables full of three or four kinds of vegetables, three or four kinds of potatoes, three or four kinds of meats and homemade pies — apple and cherry pies that you could just die for, you know; they were so gorgeous. But anyway, that to me was a very strong experience that stayed with me, all those various details. And at times, I got to ride the hay horse.
INTERVIEWER: Well, then they didn’t have any machinery either?
MAITLAND: Oh, no, no. When you wanted to do the hay, you rode the hay horse. You got up on this big horse and you went back and forth and pulled the hay up in the loft with some kind of a lift. But I got to do all of that, and I got to be in on all of the big action — having the pumps and the water outside. When the water got brought in — you had to carry it inside. And then you had to put it on a cook stove to heat it for baths. They’d pour it into this little round metal tub and you sat yourself in this tub to be immersed.
It was very interesting. Today, we’re so spoiled with luxury that it would seem difficult to live [like this]]]], but I mean it was just taken for granted. But anyway, that’s what my childhood was like.
INTERVIEWER: What about your siblings? You had several siblings.
MAITLAND: The children just kept coming.
INTERVIEWER: Were you the oldest?
MAITLAND: I was the oldest. Every time my mother got pregnant (she told me later on after I was pretty grown), that every time she got pregnant she cried because she knew how disturbed I was going to be, because being the oldest, I always got stuck with the baby. And because they didn’t have a lot of hospital stays and those kinds of things, somebody would come and help out for a couple of days, but then that was it. She said that she cried, but she said there was no birth control.
My mother and father had their troubles later on in life because they went different routes, but they always had a great attraction for one another.
MAITLAND: Physical and mental [attraction]]]]. My father was one of three handsome brothers, and was spoiled to the hilt. He had ego all over him. My mother was this beautiful woman who had won beauty contests and everything. They were grooming her for the opera because she had this great contralto voice. She already had an audition to come to the Metropolitan Opera and people had come down there recruiting her. She married my father and never got to go check out the opera bit. Anyway, it was an interesting duo, an interesting marriage. Being the oldest daughter, I got in on a lot of the relationship — between the two opposites. I think it made for interesting children.
INTERVIEWER: How many sisters and brothers did you have?
MAITLAND: I had one brother and four sisters — there were five girls and a boy.
INTERVIEWER: Four sisters.
MAITLAND: The only sister alive today is my sister, Miriam, whom you know. I’m the oldest but everybody else is dead, except for Miriam. They all drank and played...
INTERVIEWER: Your father was in the chicken or egg business?
MAITLAND: My father, first of all, was this big landowner, a farmer. Then, when they moved to the city, they moved to Rock Island, Illinois. I lived for a while in Davenport, Iowa which was right across the Mississippi River. He moved there and he went to work for the Dewey Portland Cement Company, which was about 10 or 11 miles, as I recall, outside of Davenport. That was the Tri-Cities and the Quad Cities, because there was Rock Island, Illinois and Moline, right adjacent. All these places are big now. Moline has got the tractor company and all these others across the Mississippi River, which is another story I’ll tell you. Remind me to tell you about when I tried to swim the Mississippi. So, across the big muddy Mississippi was Davenport, Iowa. Then you went down the river and you came to Columbus Junction where I was born. It was about 50 miles away.
INTERVIEWER: Is that on the river?
MAITLAND: Well, no, the river didn’t run the whole way. It was just up in Iowa there. What would you like for me to address now?
INTERVIEWER: Well, we’ve passed one question that we need to go back to. Was your family in furniture?
MAITLAND: Never. Except most of our furniture was homemade furniture. It was very elegant, homemade.
INTERVIEWER: But your family was not in furniture, nor your in-laws?
MAITLAND: Except that I suppose — well, a lot of our furniture came from Germany. All of the furniture [pieces]]]] throughout the whole house were antiques that were brought over from Germany. There were some gorgeous pieces. I remember a piece like that, that had china in it and it was filled with all this gorgeous German glass and china. The cut glass was to die for.
INTERVIEWER: Do you still have family in furniture?
MAITLAND: Well, my nephews, King and Warren Carty, have been in furniture from time to time. They’re more in...one of them is now in the import-export [business]]]]. One of them I think has gone into real estate because I don’t think he’s in furniture. I think I have one [family member]]]] left. He makes trips out of the country all the time for some company, buying and selling.
I was in the furniture industry from, I guess, 1974 until 2005 or 2006, whenever it was that we quit the AFMA (American Furniture Manufacturers Association, now American Home Furnishings Alliance) and UFAC (Upholstered Furniture Action Council).
INTERVIEWER: You will get a chance to cover those later on.
INTERVIEWER: So, the next question is: Where did you go to college?
MAITLAND: I did not go to college. I graduated from high school and I had taken an extra year, so I had one year of college under my belt. This was in Rock Island, Illinois. Augustana College, which was a first rate college that was just a couple blocks from my home, was a beautiful Episcopal co-ed college with a very high academic rating.
I took classes at Augustana College all during the last year of high school and the following year. My mother and father were both gone and I had to work so I could not go to college. But I would have — I was all honors. I was on the honor roll all through high school and had great free offers to go to school, some of them. But I had no way to keep myself and my sisters. I had two sisters left at home. My father was not doing well, wasn’t taking care of business and my mother had moved — they had gotten a divorce, and my mother had moved back down South. She moved to Mississippi.
INTERVIEWER: I remember you talked about a Mississippi connection.
MAITLAND: She was a Southerner to begin with, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, I see.
MAITLAND: It was very much a mismatch, this Iowa guy with this big ego. I’ve got a picture of him and his brothers. They just tell me that the three of them had the biggest cars, the best horses and had the best of everything. So, they were the idols of all the girls. My father was very spoiled and my mother was somewhat spoiled. She was very beautiful and she had been (I think I told you), she had been offered this scholarship to sing opera. She had this gorgeous contralto voice.
INTERVIEWER: Would that have been in New York?
MAITLAND: That would have been in New York.
INTERVIEWER: Julliard probably?
MAITLAND: Yes, Julliard, yeah. She had made plans to go up there. She’d been up visiting and was going to go. Then she fell in love with my father and that was all she wrote.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any military experience or your husband?
MAITLAND: Oh yes, my husband was drafted during the ... what was that one-year war we had that they didn’t call it a war?
INTERVIEWER: You mean after World War II?
MAITLAND: I think it was in between World War I and World War II. Korean? No, not Korean. Some country, we had a skirmish with or something. Anyway, he was drafted and went into the Air Force. We lived for two years in Deming, New Mexico, where he was in the Air Force. That was quite interesting. New Mexico was what they call the “Land of Enchantment” on the license plates. I thought, “Oh my goodness. Where did they ever get this?” The air was full of dust and the windowsills on the house had an inch or two of dust all the time. It came under the windows. It was so bleak; there were no big green trees or anything. It was all shrubbery kinds of things. It was fine, fine dust and it would sift right through the windows. But, it was an interesting time to be in New Mexico because the landscape was completely opposite from Iowa and Illinois with the rolling hills and green grass. I couldn’t understand how they called it enchanting because nothing was growing; it was all sage. It tumbled when the wind blew, and the wind blew all the time.
But at night when the moon came out, it was magic. I mean there were [some nights]]]] that the moon was as big as some wolves. It would hang right in front of you in the sky, with seemingly not a thing around but that big, beautiful, luminous moon. I’ve never seen a moon since like that. I don’t know why. I guess you can see it because there’s nothing out there around you. It was gorgeous. In that way, it was enchanting.
The sunsets were enchanting because of the same reason. You could see the whole horizon and it would be all these gorgeous oranges and greens and beautiful colors. We had the only flower garden on the block because I had this Iowa background, and I wasn’t going to live in this scrub bush. So, I got Gary out there and we bought...we had no car. So, you can imagine the challenge of getting groceries from town which was a mile away and getting back and forth.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have a PX to buy groceries? A post exchange?
MAITLAND: I think we probably did, but there wasn’t one in Deming. I think there was one in Albuquerque or someplace. I think Gary used to drive with somebody else and get groceries once or twice a month. We were doing a lot of hunting and fishing. We even went wild boar hunting up at the top of a mountain. It was the Sandia Mountain [Peak]]]] and I can remember it well. I can remember driving up and down it with those curves on those little roads. I never thought that we’d make it.
INTERVIEWER: Now, let’s look at your work in the furniture industry.
MAITLAND: Well, I worked for the Sperry & Hutchinson Company in New York.
INTERVIEWER: That’s one of the questions: What was your first furniture job, and that was it, right?
MAITLAND: Well, yes, S&H kept buying furniture companies and they ended up with, I think, about 10, or maybe eight furniture companies, and two others that were insurance or something. They bought all the biggies and I was fortunate in that I started going to Market back when it was like the beginning of things. Would that have been 30 years ago or something?
INTERVIEWER: Let’s hold up on that because there’s a specific question about the Market. We’ll get to that.
MAITLAND: The Sperry & Hutchinson Company, which was famous for Green Stamps, started buying one or two companies, and they kept adding home furnishing to their holdings. These were companies from whom they were buying Green Stamp awards.
INTERVIEWER: Who was your boss, your first S&H boss?
MAITLAND: I only had one boss and that was Elaine Pitts. She had a brilliant mind. She started out with them in Chicago, but she kept rising. The management at Sperry & Hutchinson was so impressed with her.
She was sort of like me. She was so energetic and had so many ideas that she kept starting things and then building — they’d give her the money and she’d build it within the company. So, pretty soon, you know, she was very competent. She ultimately became a vice president, which was unheard of in those days for a woman who wasn’t of the family, to be a vice president.
INTERVIEWER: Now the next question: Tell us about your work there.
MAITLAND: Well, I actually sort of fell into this backwards. It was a result of being asked by a man that was high in the Episcopal Church in Boise, Idaho to lobby for the Sperry & Hutchinson Company, for S&H Green Stamps. It was state-by-state and we were successful in having the governor approve it. I have a picture somewhere on my wall of the governor of Idaho signing the S&H Green Stamp Bill.
See the big thing with the opposition was to have precedent in the first few states, to get it killed, so that it would set a precedent in the other states. The reason the states wanted stamps is they wanted the revenue to run the state. They got a lot of revenue because they got a percentage.
INTERVIEWER: But why would S&H want it?
MAITLAND: They didn’t want it, the state wanted it. They passed the bill to outlaw the stamps.
INTERVIEWER: Who was against S&H? I don’t understand that.
MAITLAND: Well, the druggists, because if they gave [out]]]] S&H Green Stamps in stores, it took that money away from the local stores. If a store, a grocery store, had to give 2 percent of their profits to S&H Green Stamps, that meant less money for them, the state and the town.
INTERVIEWER: Then all of the prizes were awarded out of a catalog, weren’t they?
MAITLAND: Oh yeah, for all around the country.
INTERVIEWER: And the local merchants didn’t get anything?
INTERVIEWER: It was all money going away.
MAITLAND: So, they were not for it, of course.
INTERVIEWER: No, of course not.
MAITLAND: So, lobbying against the local merchants was a very heavy proposition. I had been president of almost every women’s group and political group in the state of Idaho. I mean, what else did I have to do, right? In the Episcopal Church, I was running things, and I was married. I didn’t have a job. I was very intelligent, very active. You know, I wanted to do stuff.
INTERVIEWER: But what S&H wanted to do was get the Green Stamps, to make them legal, right?
MAITLAND: Yes, they wanted to have them given out in the state of Idaho. They were trying to pass this in the state legislature.
INTERVIEWER: So, you were on the side of getting Green Stamps.
INTERVIEWER: OK, you had me puzzled there for a minute.
MAITLAND: So, they just thought it was almost impossible to get it passed because everybody was against the stamps, except the women of the state.
So, I had my little clothing outfit that I bought — it was my lobbying outfit. I was this laid-back, enchanting, elegant-looking lady. I can remember one time calling on...see, the Mormons ran a lot of the politics in Southern Idaho. So, I went to visit a bunch of Mormon women and I chose my gear (what I had on), very carefully. It was all warm and elegant, but very understated.
I was invited to a Mormon women’s meeting. The Mormon Church is fantastic. The Mormon women can do anything. You give them anything to do, you give them just a little time, and they’ll figure out how to do it and they’ll find the equipment to do it with. I mean they can do anything, those Mormon women. Just amazing.
So one of the women that was a big wheel invited me to come to their operation that they did on chickens.
See, what they would do is they would collect food, chickens and all that sort of thing, and they would kill them, process them and freeze them. If they didn’t have freezing they’d do whatever — cold pack or whatever. Then they would have them to give to the poor and the people who needed them in their church. That was part of the whole Mormon thing — to see that everybody was well fed.
So, they set up a big circle in a yard and it had wooden tables all the way around. They had all of the operations for processing a chicken broken down to just single operations. They were singed, plucked and pin-feathered. Then they were cut. One person would cut the wings in something and pass it on; the next person would have legs and stuff. They would go around this circle, and everything was just organized — everything was thought out and done the fastest possible way. They had the right equipment. They didn’t have to go around looking for the right stuff because they had the right equipment.
INTERVIEWER: This would be out in a yard?
MAITLAND: Yes, out in a big yard, in the summer. It was pleasant and just lovely.
INTERVIEWER: Who was doing the work?
MAITLAND: All the Mormon women. See, this was for the Mormon Church. So I went there to find out what they were doing and how they were doing it. I was interested. I was from a chicken and egg family. Also, I wanted to get to know these women and where they were coming from. It all just stood me in good stead because later on, I got a lot of lobbying votes from the Mormon men because of what the women thought of me. You know, what I did was lobby the women.
But anyway, I remember that day well, I still have the hat I wore. They were all just so interested because I could do everything they were doing with the chickens. I came up with an extra step that saved them time. So, I was the hero. I said if you do this, then you won’t have to do this. I just went around and looked first, studied it all. So, they just thought I was fabulous.
Later on, this Helen (whatever her name was), got married to the guy that was made the head of the Mormon Church. He was a really elderly kind of man and she married him. She was a big buddy of mine; I met her down there in this chicken-processing place.
At the time I knew them all. She wrote me and I visited her in Salt Lake City.
INTERVIEWER: In Salt Lake City?
MAITLAND: This young lady that I met, I went down there and traveled around with her and got to know her really well. Her name was Helen Romney.
INTERVIEWER: Spell it.
MAITLAND: R-O-M-N-E-Y. Like the Romney candidate is now.
So, anyway that whole Mormon thing was a very exciting — I still remember the feelings I had going into that big temple building, where you’re not supposed to go. She said if anybody knew she brought me in here, I’d be strung up. But nobody questioned her or anything. So, I got to see that boardroom and stuff, and the money they spent on the rugs in those temples was just ungodly. She told me what the cost was [for the rugs]]]], and the thing that they had on the ceiling in the room where they met, this big painting and stuff. I mean just big money that that church spent.
INTERVIEWER: All right, so that was your beginning at S&H. Where did Elaine Pitts come in? You said that you were with her the whole time at S&H.
MAITLAND: She was my boss. She hired me at S&H.
INTERVIEWER: But this business with the lobbying came before S&H.
MAITLAND: No, after. Before S&H, I just worked for the Republican Party.
INTERVIEWER: Well, you raised money for the symphony orchestra?
MAITLAND: The Boise Philharmonic. My sister and I built the Boise Philharmonic from scratch. We started it.
INTERVIEWER: So, that was your early work in the furniture business, lobbying. What can you tell us about the furniture industry at that time?
MAITLAND: Well, the furniture...now I understand there’s a lot going on in furniture in Boise, but then there was very little of it for sale and none of it was being made in that area.
INTERVIEWER: Oh no, never has been.
MAITLAND: But you would think...see the Boise area has a lot of trees. Boise Cascade is the big lumber company around the Northwest.
INTERVIEWER: Well, there’s a big difference between hardwood and softwood.
MAITLAND: That’s true.
INTERVIEWER: Boise Cascade is in the building side of the wood industry, not the hardwood side. Furniture uses hardwood.
MAITLAND: That’s right. But you’d think that doing forest and doing big timberland, you would get a big mixture of different kinds, but maybe not.
INTERVIEWER: No, the prevailing experience is you may get several species in an area. But, if it’s a hardwood forest, it’s hardwood. If it’s softwood, those are different trees. I know Boise Cascade is in the building side of it.
What about the furniture companies? There were eight furniture companies owned by S&H.
MAITLAND: They were mostly down South. I think we started out with American Drew and then we bought Lea, which is L-E-A.
INTERVIEWER: Lea in Richmond, Virginia.
MAITLAND: Then we bought...there were eight of them. Do you want to know which companies?
INTERVIEWER: Well, it turned out to be an acronym, L-A-D-D, which was Lea, American Drew, and Daystrom. Daystrom was in South Boston, Virginia and was a metal dinette manufacturer originally from New York State.
MAITLAND: We owned the company up North called Kittinger.
INTERVIEWER: Didn’t S&H own Baldwin Piano, too?
MAITLAND: Baldwin United it was called.
I went to the headquarters of Lea and interviewed two or three executives. They always wanted my recommendations because they were looking at my viewpoint of a person that’s completely different from say, somebody who’s been in a job all of his life, you know, someone that doesn’t have people skills. So, I would make a report at the same time. When we called on these people, I would give my recommendations. The woman who had hired me just had utmost respect...
INTERVIEWER: Was that Elaine Pitts?
MAITLAND: ...for my abilities. So she would always want me to go and talk to and spend time with the person and then tell her what I thought. It was a combination of the feeling of the core of the person and the feeling — I mean we weren’t looking for just intelligence or industry information. We were looking for the kind of person that you could rely on, that was confident, honest, energetic, and that would put forth energy and time, and then also contribute brains and skill and that other stuff. So, we were looking for quite a combination with the people we hired. By and large, we got some good people.
INTERVIEWER: Oh yes. You bought the companies and got the
people with them.
MAITLAND: Sometimes we didn’t keep those people. That’s what one of my jobs was, to try to decide whether or not...well, my opinion of them as an executive.
INTERVIEWER: They eventually put all the furniture companies together in one division. As I recall, the reason for their interest in furniture was they were buying furniture to buy the Green Stamps, right?
MAITLAND: To give as awards.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Then why did they decide to spin off the furniture company?
MAITLAND: I guess it was a change in direction. That they just wanted to get down and be a financial firm because they had State National Bank of Connecticut. There was insurance. I mean they were concentrating on insurance.
INTERVIEWER: Baldwin, the piano people were also big in insurance for some reason.
MAITLAND: Yes, they were.
INTERVIEWER: They kept Baldwin.
MAITLAND: I just went through so much that it seems — I still look back on it and I think, Lord, you are so good to me, because who was the very last person in the whole S&H company? When they closed down the building in New York, I was in there, with the chairman of the board and the president.
INTERVIEWER: This was on Madison Avenue in New York.
MAITLAND: That whole floor, the 8th floor. When they closed it down...
INTERVIEWER: Beinecke was the family name that owned S&H?
INTERVIEWER: He’s the one that we met when we had a UFAC meeting in New York City one time.
MAITLAND: There were two Beineckes, his sons, or three, I guess. Years later, after I moved here, I got a book from the head of the company that he had written, or it was about him or something. He said he remembered one time when we were at a big, big party that they threw for us after we had done something... It was the whole company and it was at a big club in New York. It was everything you could want to drink and eat, and dancing. I was alone. I didn’t have a date — I wasn’t married and wasn’t dating anybody. But I was there at a table of certain people and Mr. Beinecke, the whole night long, kept watching me. You know, I could see him watching me dancing and everything. He kept watching to see that I was taken care of and everything was going well.
Later on in the evening, he sent somebody down to say that Mr. Beinecke had arranged for a limousine and had booked a room for me at the such and such hotel. It was one of the big gorgeous ones. He appointed so-and-so to go with me to get me checked in. He didn’t like the idea that I’d been drinking and that I was going to wonder off — maybe take a train home to Connecticut or something.
So, he’d been watching me all evening. He arranged all of this and had somebody go and get me, pick me up at the door, go with me to be sure I was registered at the hotel and then take me upstairs to the room. I mean, I always thought, what a great big brother thing to do. Wasn’t that a neat thing to do? I mean he was taking good care of me.
INTERVIEWER: You have a super story about him with the lady calling from Yale University. I’d like to get that in here.
MAITLAND: Oh my gosh. He did not suffer fools gladly. He could not stand stupidity — he just couldn’t abide it. He would blow up. So, he was on the phone with this lady calling from the Yale library — at the Beinecke Library, and she kept asking how to spell the name, Beinecke. He thought that was sick. The height of stupidity. He told me that he yelled through the phone, “Go outside lady and look at the name on the door of the building.” He was so funny.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a good story.
MAITLAND: Oh, and he did something else. I don’t know whether I can remember the story...about when I was taking people through and went to his office, to show them his office. Do you remember his office?
INTERVIEWER: Yes, at our meeting there, we were shown through, with the carpet and footprints in the carpet.
MAITLAND: The golf clubs that were gold or something...
INTERVIEWER: He had a fireplace in that office and Bob Cortelyou was there, who was president of Mohasco. Cortelyou said this carpet would be perfect for practicing putting. Beinecke took a putter down from the wall over the fireplace. It was a sterling silver putter. He said, “Well, this is what I use.” He had a golf ball in his desk. He said, “But you know the damn thing –every time you hit a ball, you make a dent in the putter.” He said, “I have another one that I won at my golf club. It is a solid gold one. I keep that in the safety deposit box because it’s even worse for denting.”
MAITLAND: Interesting family.
INTERVIEWER: But they put the furniture companies together in a division and then eventually allowed three furniture guys to take them over.
MAITLAND: Don Hunziker then became the president.
INTERVIEWER: Don Hunziker and Bill Fenn were two of them. The other guy was Richard Allen.
Well, let’s see, next question. You wanted to say something earlier about the first Market you attended. What was the first Market you attended? Describe it in detail.
MAITLAND: I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: You said about when it was.
MAITLAND: Well, I went to New York in 1970.
INTERVIEWER: It would have been pretty soon after that, wouldn’t it?
MAITLAND: Yeah, it would have been in ’70 or ’71. I came to every High Point Market, spring and fall from then on. In fact, for the first few years, Don Hunziker was in charge of all the S&H furniture companies and divisions, wasn’t he?
INTERVIEWER: He was president of LADD. Before that he was head of that S&H furniture division. That’s why he and Bill Fenn were together in LADD.
MAITLAND: Bill Fenn, I respected. I felt like he was very intelligent, very levelheaded.
INTERVIEWER: But the Market was in ’70, ’71, your first one. Do you remember where it was?
MAITLAND: Would it have been someplace besides High Point?
MAITLAND: I did go to Markets in Chicago, and I did go to Markets here [in High Point]]]].
INTERVIEWER: We had very few in Dallas, which never did get off the ground.
MAITLAND: I did go to Dallas, too, and it seems to me I did go to one over on the coast.
INTERVIEWER: Well, there was San Francisco.
MAITLAND: Atlanta or...
INTERVIEWER: Well, they had an Atlanta Market.
MAITLAND: I didn’t go to San Francisco, I don’t think. I
remember going to the Chicago Market and it seems to me that there was some difficulty with floors — who was on what floor. I was trying to go to two or three different things and they were on different floors, and I don’t even remember now what they were. I didn’t like the feeling of going up and getting off on a floor and then having to go to another floor. I never liked the Chicago Market. I never liked the entrance down on the street. I never felt good at the Chicago Market.
INTERVIEWER: Now, are you talking about the Merchandise Mart or the Furniture Mart?
MAITLAND: Merchandise Mart.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, well, Merchandise Mart is an enormous building. They had two floors — 17 and 18 — devoted to furniture.
MAITLAND: And then the other one was what?
INTERVIEWER: The other building in Chicago?
INTERVIEWER: That was the American Furniture Mart at 666 Lake Shore Drive. It was across town from the Merchandise Mart.
MAITLAND: I don’t think I remember that. What years would that have been?
INTERVIEWER: It was earlier than the Merchandise Mart. When the Merchandise Mart was built, they did specifically dedicate two floors to furniture. The companies that showed over there were Heritage and Henredon, Drexel and Baker. All high-quality furniture.
MAITLAND: I went to all of them.
MAITLAND: Yes, Kittinger was one of our companies.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, that’s right, I’d forgotten that.
MAITLAND: So, I’m sure I went to those. I remember being
very impressed by some of them. They were very elegant.
INTERVIEWER: The showrooms? Oh yes, indeed. But the buildings were not high quality. One thing that everybody remembered about Chicago: It was a municipal regulation in some way that the elevator cars didn’t have doors on them. You’d get in the elevator early in the morning — they’d pack the elevator just as full as you could get it, and there you would go up to the 18th floor, and one inch from your nose were the floors going by. If somebody gave you a little push, it would take your whole face off. I don’t know that doors were ever added. That’s one thing that everybody remembered about Chicago — those elevators.
MAITLAND: That’s awful.
INTERVIEWER: Chicago was very difficult for a lot of reasons.
MAITLAND: Parking was difficult.
INTERVIEWER: Well, there simply was no parking.
MAITLAND: I know. I don’t think the cab companies were
very good in those days.
INTERVIEWER: Well, everybody in Chicago had an attitude. They had their hand out, and if you didn’t put something in it, you didn’t get the time of day. Cab drivers and everybody else. If you had a car, come evening, you went up to Rush Street where the restaurants and the clubs were. You would pull up in front of a club and the doorman would let you out of the car, and would give you a ticket and drive off with your car. But they didn’t have a parking place. They paid the policemen all around the area so they could double park. They’d park your car in the middle of the street, and when you came back you had to pay $5 to the doorman there.
MAITLAND: I don’t remember that.
INTERVIEWER: It was amazing, that town.
MAITLAND: Full of gamblers.
INTERVIEWER: Full of everything, whatever. So, you had a negative remembrance of Chicago...
MAITLAND: And the Chicago Market.
INTERVIEWER: ...along with all the rest of us from down here. What about the High Point Market?
MAITLAND: Well, I came at different times. I can remember coming down here and working with some local people on signs and so forth for our windows. It seems to me we had show windows in the space.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, they put facades on the front.
MAITLAND: It seems to me our company had some of these windows, assigned them, and I came down here and worked with some designers doing show windows, I remember. I still see the people around here that I worked with occasionally from someplace.
INTERVIEWER: Did your sister, Miriam, live here before that?
INTERVIEWER: I remember you stayed with her all the time at the Market.
MAITLAND: Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. I tried to stay in houses a couple of times. I took a house, but it was very inconvenient because you had to drive back and forth...
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, you had to have a car.
MAITLAND: ...and you had to arrange parking when you got down here. If you were partying, you didn’t want to drive. Of course, I never did much partying. I never drank much or anything. I realized you couldn’t make it as a woman in business or any place if you drank. You know, women are too vulnerable and too repulsive when they’re drinking, I think.
INTERVIEWER: You had the same problem here with your companies being on different floors, but I think most of them were in the big building, weren’t they?
MAITLAND: They ended up, finally, on a top floor. It was 8, 9 and 10 of that one building. They were all spread out, but had certain areas. It could have been done better, but that was...
INTERVIEWER: Well, as they bought furniture companies of course they’d simply...
MAITLAND: Add them on.
INTERVIEWER: Each company took the ownership of one showroom. But they were all around.
The next question: What can you tell us about changes in the Markets since then? You haven’t been to the last several Markets, but would you have a comment on changes?
MAITLAND: Well, it seemed to me in the beginning when I came to Market, there was a real beautiful air of optimism, of creativity, of enthusiasm. There was a different aura to Market. I feel, in those days, that everybody was always looking for a miracle or a new experience or to be educated. I still think that Markets should be a real tool for education and that we don’t utilize that and never have. That would have been my area of wanting to develop it if I’d stayed in the furniture industry. I tried to do that with individual companies early on that I worked for. You know, I was big on education. I did videos for them. I did booklets. I’ve done just about everything to try to further S&H.
INTERVIEWER: As I remember, your title actually then was director of consumer affairs.
MAITLAND: But, I wrote a lot of booklets on various subjects that I wanted people to pay attention to – warranties and all kinds of finishing of the furniture pieces – all the different kinds of finishes that went on them. I was really big on making sure that it wasn’t shoddy construction. I fought against companies that were putting together this hardwood stuff. I wanted to make sure that the pieces they were getting were going to last them [the buyers]]]].
INTERVIEWER: Well, Lea always (before S&H and after) was known for very cheap furniture, but very well made. Particularly they had an excellent finish. Very cheap furniture, but a finish as good as anybody’s, which didn’t cost them a whole lot of money, but sure made the furniture more saleable.
MAITLAND: I thought the concept of one of the companies that didn’t last a long time – I think it was owned by that company in the upper Midwest [that made]]]] shelving units. I’m trying to think of the name of that company. Where you could put together...I even bought some of them myself.
INTERVIEWER: Ready to assemble?
INTERVIEWER: We used to call them KD — knock down — but that wasn’t very elegant, ready to assemble was.
MAITLAND: I thought that was good.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, the biggest company in that [business]]]] was up in Ohio. What was the name of that? They’re still there.
MAITLAND: Did they make seating? Chairs and sofas?
INTERVIEWER: Just bookcases and all that kind of stuff, but no seats. It was Sauder.
MAITLAND: This furniture, the one on the left, and those
other two units are companion pieces that came from American Drew, I think
INTERVIEWER: Which was an S&H company.
The next question: Tell us about the beginnings of your company (and that would be S&H), and back to the beginning — of course, Green Stamps, I guess, were a fairly well-known area. But we talked a little bit already about S&H getting into the furniture business.
MAITLAND: Did we mention carpeting? Bigelow was our company.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, Bigelow, right.
MAITLAND: That was bought to go with the furniture.
MAITLAND: I went to the head of the company where Bigelow was made down South someplace. I saw all the rooms and it was a good experience. But what was I talking about?
INTERVIEWER: The companies S&H bought into, or who the suppliers were of the Green Stamps or prizes that went with the Green Stamps.
MAITLAND: Well, those huge markets, the food chains, that gave Green Stamps at one time...I forget what some of the big names were. A&P [was one]]]]]]]].
INTERVIEWER: Green Stamps were a wonderful business.
MAITLAND: Oh yes, and we loved the money. That’s where our money came from. Still making money.
INTERVIEWER: But they did everything in the world that they could to sell the stamps, but they didn’t particularly want to redeem them. So, they were kind of at counter purposes.
MAITLAND: Well, they put out a fabulous booklet and they had these stores all over.
INTERVIEWER: Right, redemption centers.
MAITLAND: Redemption centers, which was the selling point. I mean they didn’t have to do much to resell it. Every woman knew if she wanted golf clubs she certainly couldn’t buy them. She’d have to save Green Stamps. The husband was saving for a gun or something he wanted. The kids all wanted them. They used to sit around the fire at night after dinner and look at the Green Stamp catalog. It was the “wish book” like the old Sears, Roebuck [catalog]]]]]]]]. So, it was a real — I don’t know if you could call it iconic, but it was kind of like a real milestone in our own lives.
INTERVIEWER: How was the growth of your company, that’s S&H, affected by labor? I don’t think you would speak to that very much, but spread out into design and advertising, you did have some involvement in that.
MAITLAND: I did have a lot of involvement in that. I remember I recommended, at one time, very heavily, that they design a little upholstered chair in women’s sizes so when they sat down on them, their feet would go on the floor. I mean who wanted to sit on their couches and have their feet sticking out in front, you know, because the seat area between the front of the couch or the chair was so far from the back that if you were going to enjoy support in the back, your knees couldn’t bend.
So I went around to our manufacturing companies and sat down and had them measure. I took with me somebody that was great. I had some clout, but with somebody with more clout, and we went around and explained to them. We sat down and I said, “What do I do with my back and my knees? I’ve got this gorgeous bedroom and I want a little boudoir chair or two that will fit me. I want the stool that goes in front of the vanity to be at the right height so I can sit there and see myself.” I mean they were always the wrong height — some guy did them. The height between mirrors and everything was always wrong. I just did my share of fighting, I’ll tell you that.
INTERVIEWER: Well, you did get changes made.
MAITLAND: I did. I just kept on it until I saw the changes. I had them send me samples of the changed pieces.
I had a breakfront and I said, “Why do we have all these things that we’re not using, and where’s the place where I can put my stuff in this breakfront? Where’s the stuff for me? It’s all men. Do I have a breakfront all my own?” They would just look at me and shake their heads. Men, you know. Like, “Oh my God, this troublemaker.”
INTERVIEWER: ...that you were the pioneer of anything about advertising?
MAITLAND: Well, I remember I had lots of problems with advertising. I remember Bigelow, for example, had a very sexist ad in which they had a couple reclining so that you couldn’t tell whether they had clothes on. I mean it was very drawn, a very ambiguous kind of thing. I remember this was for the sale of a carpet and I remember different ads.
So, I got to the point — a couple of those came out and I raised holy heck. I stormed in and said, “What kind of sexist thing is this? What kind of image are you giving to the women who want to go buy carpet? That only men can lie on the floor and have relaxing carpet? Where’s the family image? Where’s the roaring fire with the family in front of it sitting on a big carpet?”
I would raise sand, and they would just look at me. Oh, it never occurred to them. I would tell management, “If you don’t have any input from half of the household, at least, what can you expect in the way of sales? This doesn’t appeal to them. They’re going to use their mother’s or grandmother’s chair.”
Anyway, I was just really big into being one of the first women to see that changes were made in the industry that reflected the population that was using it. I even think I was probably beneficial in suggesting little upholstered chairs for children whose families had money.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, [there was a]]]] big problem with children’s small-scale furniture and I was involved with it, but you take a big lounge chair, and cut it down...
MAITLAND: No, you have to start from scratch. No, you can’t do it that way.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, you could, and you’d probably sell some that way. Except that it costs about as much labor to make a little bitty chair as it does a great big one.
MAITLAND: Those little kids don’t need lounge chairs. They need chairs, but they don’t need sofa kind of things.
INTERVIEWER: But furniture for children is...
MAITLAND: It should be nice little wooden furniture.
INTERVIEWER: It’s disproportionately expensive.
MAITLAND: I think so, probably. The problem is they outgrow it so fast.
INTERVIEWER: That’s true, sure. Yeah, I didn’t think about that. Oh, one thing about the Market in High Point when you first came. Was Market Square open then?
MAITLAND: No, there was nothing except for a couple of buildings downtown, as I recall. There was just that building now that’s there on Commerce and Main.
INTERVIEWER: That’s the big building.
MAITLAND: Yeah. There was one on...I remember there was something open around where the theater was, but it was an open front. It wasn’t like it is now. You could go in there and go up. Once during Market, it had food in there, a breakfast or a lunch or something, that was served in the space.
INTERVIEWER: Well, there was a separate building right directly across the street from the big furniture building. It was called the Furniture Plaza, which is still there, but Merchandise Mart owns all of that now. I don’t remember any where you went through an opening. That block, the 100 block of South Main Street, on the west side, is very much the way it was all along. The whole east side, they tore it down when they built the Radisson Hotel, so that’s all gone. It was all showrooms.
All right, the next category is your furniture industry involvement. This, I think you’ll find, is less appropriate for what your experience was. But there are some good points in here. What jobs have you held in furniture companies? I think we’ve covered that already unless you’ve got something else you want to add.
MAITLAND: Well, later on after I retired, of course, I took on furniture-related jobs in that I ran the American Furniture Hall of Fame.
INTERVIEWER: Of course, we went into the American Furniture Hall of Fame from UFAC which was the Upholstered Furniture Action Council.
MAITLAND: Oh, UFAC was a 20- or 30-year thing. We started in the early 1970s and we went up through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, didn’t we?
INTERVIEWER: Well, they’re still doing it. But we really struggled starting about 1970 when you first came in.
MAITLAND: Well, see, I was involved in UFAC while I was still in New York.
INTERVIEWER: I know. We had meetings in New York with UFAC.
MAITLAND: And in D.C. we had dinner meetings.
INTERVIEWER: The policy in general was that practically all of our meetings for UFAC were in Washington because that’s where the opposition was, the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, and most of the furniture associations, which eventually merged and had offices there. They had their primary offices in Washington. AFMA stayed in High Point, but we had an office there with the lobbies.
MAITLAND: The problem is I don’t see how an association represents an industry and collects dues and that sort of thing, without a good plan for education.
INTERVIEWER: Education you mean of the member company — its people?
MAITLAND: Of the people that are in the industry. I mean help with preparation and selling skills, financial skills, with all kinds of things ... anything that it takes. I mean there should be good people, not just association people, but people in the fields, that are repairing and writing materials for them and giving them counsel, you know, to be a real association. It’s not just collecting dues and writing all these things and stealing stuff.
INTERVIEWER: Well, the associations did have such programs. They were not in areas that you would have been much aware of. And, of course, both the associations you worked with were manufacturer’s associations. Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association and the...
MAITLAND: National Association of Furniture Manufacturers. I was very aware of both of them. I worked with all of them.
INTERVIEWER: But we had a production division at SFMA.
MAITLAND: I realize that.
INTERVIEWER: ...and that included purchasing. We had a sales and marketing division.
MAITLAND: But do you think the people knew very much about it in the association?
INTERVIEWER: The staff people did not, but basically the...
MAITLAND: Members, the companies.
INTERVIEWER: The members themselves did. There were companies that had sales management...
MAITLAND: Oh, I think they got...
INTERVIEWER: ...they directed...
INTERVIEWER: ...the education, yeah.
MAITLAND: You see that’s not their cup of tea — education. The thing is, you would have hoped that the associations could have gently led them to the skills that they needed to help them realize that they needed those [skills]]]] to do that kind of thing. They don’t know how poorly they’re doing or how much better they could do with education and with proper leading in the right direction.
I never felt they had good leadership. Maybe they would in some little area for a while, but overall, where they were with the education of their members and leading them to what was ahead, I didn’t feel they were ahead of the game at all. I would have hoped that that’s what the association would be — not telling you where you’ve been, but where you’re going, and what you need to be doing to get there.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a very, very interesting area, and one thing I would comment is the experience you and I went through all those years with UFAC. UFAC was probably better directed than either one of the associations.
MAITLAND: By far, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: And you coming in was a totally different...
INTERVIEWER: Attitude, that had a lot to do with it.
MAITLAND: Well, I had the business background. I had the companies to look at. It wasn’t just theory. I also had the ability to say, “Look ahead to see what we are going to have to have, and know that we have to prepare for it.” Most guys in business don’t do that. They just try to make a profit this year. You know, they’re not thinking [ahead]]]]]]]]. Some of them do, but I think they don’t look very far ahead. They’re thinking about this three-month period, this quarter, what the profit is going to be. I don’t think they’re thinking out five years or whatever.
INTERVIEWER: Would you agree that the overall management has gotten better?
MAITLAND: I think so. I think they seem to be more aware. Hopefully by sense of omission, the votes that they missed, if they’re smart...
INTERVIEWER: Well, you remember Bill Richman whom we worked with — he had a Harvard MBA. So, there were...in fact, Bob Cortelyou was a professional manager.
MAITLAND: Oh, I think we had some good people.
INTERVIEWER: But most of them, like Paul Broyhill, and Bill Stevens, Charley Carey, even. Charley was a country guy but he did very well.
MAITLAND: In their area. But see, they don’t necessarily have the skills to think ahead 10 years, or even want to.
INTERVIEWER: I don’t know whether that’s getting any better or not. But, our whole industry is changing. It’s no longer in the United States, the manufacturing part of the industry.
MAITLAND: Yeah, it’s scary. It makes me sick to think we lost it. Maybe what we should do, somewhere along the way, is suggest that people, a committee, should be selected...with a long range perspective on the industry, to look ahead, to always be looking ahead 5 or 10 years to see what’s coming down the pike. But it should be somebody who knows finances and what’s happening in the whole world. We now have to judge the world, not just our region, or not just the U.S.
INTERVIEWER: Well, it’s change, lots of changes.
Well, here’s an interesting question: Describe the support you personally have received from people in our industry. You should have a very interesting point of view on that.
MAITLAND: Well, I think that in general the industry’s been very supportive. I think that all the way through, I felt encouragement and I felt that people, more or less, were trying to see the big picture and were trying to support different areas of the furniture industry. I think the people that didn’t have that attitude didn’t last long because I don’t think they could get the cooperation they needed to continue. I think you have to know that this industry is composed of so many different parts that the best we all can do is see that we cooperate and help one another. Particularly if you stop and think about what our competition is. I would hope people would have thought of that earlier but maybe we didn’t. Maybe we didn’t see this coming.
INTERVIEWER: You mean competition between furniture companies or between...
MAITLAND: Between countries.
MAITLAND: Other countries.
INTERVIEWER: Well, yes, that’s a very important part of it.
MAITLAND: Right. Maybe if we’d done a better job of helping one another, we wouldn’t have these companies coming in. But maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference, I don’t know. I mean it’s so hard to tell.
INTERVIEWER: Well, as far as the foreign versus domestic companies, the labor advantage is so great that that’s not competitive at all; you simply cannot compete for people who work for 10 percent of our wages. So, it isn’t the labor — the low labor cost simply wiped out any competitive positions at all.
Now thinking of support, you came into UFAC (I guess we need to explain that UFAC is the Upholstered Furniture Action Council), and because of S&H’s fairly new involvement in the furniture business at the time, we knew that we needed all the help we could get. So S&H agreed to let you come and help us.
MAITLAND: Also, we got to use the corporate offices in New York for meetings and they served us luncheons and dinners and that sort of thing. It was a very elegant, luxurious place to meet. That was very encouraging to the S&H board — that somebody thought that much of them and was being that supportive. The president of our company was very encouraging and talked to people and that sort of thing. So, our company, S&H, was very supportive.
INTERVIEWER: But I think when you came in you were a stranger to all of us, and I think of Bill Stevens, certainly he was very supportive. The Northern ones like Bob Cortelyou, more so than the Southern really.
MAITLAND: Well, eventually we got the support from everybody.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yes, sure you did.
MAITLAND: They worked together as well as could be expected from different parts of the country.
INTERVIEWER: Over all the years (of course we were actively in it 25 years), we found out that we had this organization, UFAC, and as competitive or whatever as it was, we had to work together or we would have never gotten anywhere. I think UFAC did more to bring the industry together than most people would remember at all.
MAITLAND: I think at the time it was successful in what it did, but I think there were so many other things going on. People were so absorbed in what their role was and where they were going that they maybe did not stop and evaluate the whole industry per se.
So, it may be that they didn’t realize how much this was helping them because it wasn’t on their shoulders at that point.
But I don’t think we did it for the accolades anyway. I think we did it because we respected and admired the industry. We want the industry to continue in the best possible condition, from a quality point of view, as well as, an economic point of view. I would like to have seen the industry (a great deal of it), stay in this country, where we have all this gorgeous wood.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, we spoke earlier about the hardwood versus the building wood, the softwood. But the hardwood is being sold to the Chinese, who take it over there and make furniture out of it and send it back to us. Amazing.
MAITLAND: Maybe we shouldn’t sell it to them.
INTERVIEWER: Well, that would have a very severe effect on what they were able to do.
MAITLAND: Of course we’re buying a lot of stuff from them. We’ve got to have something going back, right?
INTERVIEWER: Oh yeah.
MAITLAND: I really regret that this country stopped manufacturing. I wish there was a way we could have remained competitive and...
INTERVIEWER: We’ve grown out of manufacturing.
MAITLAND: Because we were so good at it. Then we could establish the quality.
INTERVIEWER: Well, Bill Fenn said - I’ve heard him say this many times of the Chinese, that as far as quality is concerned, if you want Bassett, they’ll give you Bassett. If you want Baker, they’ll give you Baker. Now, if you pay more for it, for the better end, you expect to pay more. But everybody who is in the business of importing furniture has found out that you’ve got to have very, very rigid inspection over there. Somebody’s got to look at every single piece before it goes into the container because if you don’t, they’ll slip whatever they can in there, like the lead paint in the children’s toys, and whatever it was they were putting into toothpaste. They’ll get away with everything they possibly can. What were they putting in the pet food that was killing all the dogs? They’ll get away with it if they can do it, but some inspector from here has got to be there, all the time.
MAITLAND: See, that’s one of the weaknesses we’ve always had — we didn’t have enough inspection of the products coming into this country. We just relied on people to send us the quality we were paying for. The Chinese won’t do it unless we make them.
INTERVIEWER: Well, we have found out that if you don’t inspect it, you don’t get it.
Well, another question: Is there any particular instance of support that you have enjoyed from the furniture people more than you probably would have expected? Then turn that around: What have you done for other people in the furniture industry?
MAITLAND: One of the things that we haven’t mentioned in
the furniture industry is the American Furniture Hall of Fame.
MAITLAND: I restarted the Hall of Fame because I was having a conversation with somebody in the industry and we were talking about the fact that we were not honoring and cataloging the leaders of the industry. It had been started a couple of times before, but it was so difficult that it just fell in; it was just too complicated of a task. When I started this and thought about it, I mean when somebody asked me, I took it on.
I was walking along the street one day when somebody said you know, we need to honor the people in our industry. I think it was Joe Richardson II. He said, “We had sort of started with the idea of honoring them by putting them in the Hall of Fame, electing them to the American Furniture Hall of Fame.” He said, “The fact that you have had all this experience with management and you know all the players from all these years and you have the time...” I said, “Listen, I am retired. I’m tired. I don’t want to do anything. I’ve run two or three big positions and I want to relax and play golf. I’ve got to have some retirement.” He said, “Well, I tell you what, just put on the banquet for us this year, and then we’ll talk about it.” So, I did the banquet and that was what year? What year did I retire?
INTERVIEWER: You didn’t retire really until last year.
MAITLAND: Maybe ’87 to 2005.
INTERVIEWER: OK. Next question: Describe your business strategies.
MAITLAND: I’m very much a straight thinker from point A to B. I usually try to handle business the same way you would write a good article. You want to get all the basics in the first sentence or two. You want to encompass the who, what, where, when and why — the five W’s. So, it’s the same way with business. You want to firmly set in your mind the goals, the costs and the results — not that goals and results wouldn’t be the same, but the techniques you would use to get where you’re going, to get to the audiences you want to reach, and the kinds of communications you will need to use. When you get all the information you need, you then put it in some sort of outline and start your activities.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, but get your goals first, your objective.
MAITLAND: Oh yeah, yeah, they need to be right up front. You establish those by looking at a lot of different things. You can’t establish a goal if you don’t know why you’re doing the activity. You need to know the reason for what you’re doing, who it’s going to benefit, who it might harm, and the various kinds of techniques that you can use to get there. You need to think about the writing and the voice. Your telephone voice, your persuasiveness on the telephone, and your ability to present your thoughts on the telephone are all important in anything you do that’s going to take the support of other people. So, you’ve got the telephone and you’ve got writing as techniques.
INTERVIEWER: Well, it’s all just communication.
MAITLAND: Well, you’ve got to communicate what you want. You will have to establish that. But, you’ve got to decide ahead of time what you want to accomplish and how to present it. Then you have to decide who you’re going to present it to, and what kind of results you expect or want.
INTERVIEWER: Well, that was one thing in UFAC that we had — that was very well spelled out for us. We knew what we were working for — to get rid of the federal regulation of something that...
MAITLAND: Shouldn’t have been regulated.
INTERVIEWER: It couldn’t have been. Of course, upholstered furniture will burn no matter what you do to it. One thing, of course, is there is a big, big difference from then to now. They’re still fighting that thing.
MAITLAND: I know.
INTERVIEWER: But smoking is down to less than half of what it was back in those days. So, that’s a great reduction in risk.
INTERVIEWER: Next question: What has been your central personal goal in this business?
MAITLAND: Well, it wasn’t something that I sought. It was presented to me. Are you thinking of the Hall of Fame when you say this or the whole...?
INTERVIEWER: Well, I was thinking UFAC, but it certainly applies in both places.
MAITLAND: Well, in both cases, I was asked to do a job that needed to be done for which I felt qualified.
INTERVIEWER: So, the personal goal was to get the job done.
MAITLAND: The personal goal to me, the challenge, was to try to figure out how to do the job with a successful outcome and at a minimum cost.
INTERVIEWER: Cost effective.
MAITLAND: And using top industry people while at the same time creating circles within the industry that would work together. I think everything I tried to do...I tried to present an example that could come after me, when I wasn’t around to do it. I’d like to be thought of as a builder.
INTERVIEWER: In terms of the Hall of Fame, how well did you achieve this goal?
MAITLAND: We have been continuously self-supportive. We have not had, thank the Lord, so far, any negative connotations to what we’ve done. Never has it been said that people were elected because of popularity. The word was out in the beginning that it would only be a popularity contest. But all that’s been achieved through a great deal of effort. It took hours coming up with the names of people who should be honored as American Furniture Hall of Fame members. I was trying hard to cover all elements of the industry, all segments and to cover different age groups from the beginning to the end. Trying to focus on the ones that came from such a long time ago, while we could still get some information on them because it gets harder each year to find out what people did, how they did it, what they were like, and to get photos and that kind of thing.
I have suggested, I have written a letter to the Board of Directors suggesting that we close the addition of people to the American Furniture Hall of Fame and that we spend the next decade honoring the people that we’ve elected. We select five people a year or four that we honor and that we go into great depth of what they did and what they were like as people rather than just skimming the surface. That’s what I would like to see us do now. But to me, we can’t keep adding people because what we’re doing is we’re adding people that are more and more ambiguous and just drawing from a non-qualified pool. We don’t have a pool anymore of people that could be members of the Hall of Fame. We’ve done it.
If you could come up with some names that...I mean I want to see those people that you’re talking about. I sat with lists of the manufacturers, the retailers and all these people, and I went over them. I spent hours and hours. What is the booklet that retailers put out? Going through that whole booklet and reading every company and looking to see who the head of it was and where I could find out about it. I have spent — I can’t tell you how many hours researching people that I felt were the kind of people that we’ve got in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think we’ve got anymore of those kinds of people. Not that fit our description of members of the American Furniture Hall of Fame. Ones that should be members. If you read the description, you think about some of these people we put on last time and you wonder.
INTERVIEWER: True, but you got elected to the Hall of Fame.
MAITLAND: But that was after 12 years, and that was probably only because of Bob Bush.
INTERVIEWER: Absolutely, that.
MAITLAND: But that’s not hardly a way to construct it. You know, to do it that way. Then, if we come putting these strange people in that nobody’s ever heard of, from Italy or someplace, Greece.
INTERVIEWER: Well, we haven’t done any of that yet.
MAITLAND: I know, but they were mentioned.
INTERVIEWER: We’ve got one other question now, that’s probably worth looking at: Describe your involvement in industry trade associations. We’ve gone round and round with that.
MAITLAND: Well, I was very involved from time to time.
INTERVIEWER: You were sort of a bridge between the associations.
MAITLAND: I was on this committee for AFMA that had to do with complaint handling. Do you remember that?
INTERVIEWER: I wasn’t much aware of that. I knew it existed, that’s about all.
MAITLAND: While I was still in New York, I was on this AFMA committee. We had people from the Consumer Product Safety Commission come down. I was in several meetings. But that was rather a departure because the two associations had always been quite competitive before then.
INTERVIEWER: Right. It seems it’s no doubt to me that UFAC was clearly unique in getting the two associations to work together.
MAITLAND: It’s the only time, I think, that they did until they were merged into one.
INTERVIEWER: Ever, yes.
MAITLAND: I think they have since, but not often.
INTERVIEWER: Well, early on the many things that bureaucrats said in Washington...that this was a fractionated industry. We were a whole bunch of little guys fighting each other.
MAITLAND: But it’s interesting, see, I came from a different point of view because I wasn’t a partisan. I’d had a lot of experience in bringing groups together because that had been part of my job.
INTERVIEWER: Well, nobody else ever had that experience.
MAITLAND: So, I was very good at getting all segments of the group together, and trying to come up with...basically to work together on something that would make it even better. So, I think I did do a service to the industry by bringing a different viewpoint and a different method of gathering and using information.
INTERVIEWER: That’s very important, particularly since I don’t believe there’s been anybody else that did very much of that — that anybody would remember in that area.
MAITLAND: I was working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission before then, so I was able to. I remember getting the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to come down here and we took her to showrooms and stuff. I think I did a great deal to keep their regulation from passing. It still hasn’t passed yet, so hopefully we’ll have somebody who has that kind of savvy, although, I don’t think people now work with politicians the way I did.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned you tried to swim across the Mississippi River one time.
MAITLAND: I was always trying to make records — to see what I could do that was beyond somebody else. I was this little skinny, rag-tag girl with arms about this big and skinny, and I had a big long mane of hair that was all down my back and probably braided.
I had cousins that were about the same age — not too much younger. We were very competitive. We would run races and see who could chin themselves the most. I almost killed myself once in a contest to see if I could chin myself across a tremendous barn. I got in the middle and I didn’t think I could go any further. My little skinny arms were just shaking. My whole weight was hanging and it was not a good grip; it was a board with sharp edges. I looked down and it was about two floors because it was the hay mow, and down below was the barn floor. I thought, “You don’t have a choice. You’ve gotten yourself in trouble with your smartness.” You’ve got to get across or else. It’s just as far back as it is across. So, I went on across it and fell down in the pile of hay. I just sat there and cried and cried. I had been so scared and I was so angry with myself for having overextended. That’s the way I felt when I swam the Mississippi. I got out in the middle and I felt...
INTERVIEWER: You had somebody in a boat with you, didn’t you?
MAITLAND: No, I didn’t know; I didn’t plan on it. I was just this little skinny ugly thing with this drippy horrible bathing suit kind of like a YWCA gray suit. I had knobby knees and big eyes, and a big mane of hair that was hopefully braided. I was out in the middle of the river and I was lying on my back floating. But the waves were so big and the currents were so bad. See, I didn’t count on the currents. I just didn’t know about them, and I didn’t have anybody that was an adult who was schooling me or watching over me doing it. I was doing it myself. I was the adult and I had these little cousins that had started out with me. They were little boys, about my age, who wanted to do it too, but they turned around and went back. But, all of a sudden, I began to see boats all around me, canoes, and it turns out that somebody had noticed me from a plane, a little low flying plane. They had gotten in touch with the authorities, and sent some boats out. They pulled me in.
INTERVIEWER: Did they pull you in on the far side or on the same side?
MAITLAND: Oh, I was past the middle. I was doing well. I was getting there. I was sure trying. I tried to float on my back to get rested, but the waves were so big, they’d keep washing over my face. It was pretty scary. That water was so horrible — it was putrid, muddy water, it was after a rain or something, maybe. I can’t remember.
I used to get myself into some terrible, terrible messes with my exuberance and my feeling that I could do anything. As you grow older, you have to become sensible enough to recognize it and try not to give in to that desire to do the impossible. You know, when it’s not going to be possible. Just as the Hall of Fame sure seemed impossible when I started.
Of course, I didn’t plan to do it all. I was just going to do a part, just that one opening banquet. Then I did the follow up because they had to pay the bills. Then they came back and said, “Do one more thing, and one more thing,” and then I was hooked. Anyway, it was a long nice ride we had.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, it was.
MAITLAND: It was done well and we got a lot of good information collected.
INTERVIEWER: This is a good place to come in on the next subject, that is, changes in the furniture industry.
MAITLAND: Oh my goodness, it has transformed since then.
MAITLAND: It’s no longer the furniture industry the way we knew it. Manufacturing has moved elsewhere, a great deal of it or most of it. We do have some retailing left in this country.
INTERVIEWER: Well, we lost two of them according to the latest Furniture/Today. Domain, do you remember Judy George up in New England?
MAITLAND: I sure do.
INTERVIEWER: Bankrupt. And Wickes out in St. Louis
MAITLAND: It’s become impossible to survive in this country because of wages mostly. It’s wages and taxes that did them in, and cost of materials and labor. The labor unions were just the biggest problem, don’t you think?
INTERVIEWER: Well, they were a major part of it. But you would think that any effort to get workers more money would result in the workers spending more money, and buying more manufactured stuff.
MAITLAND: But, if you can’t produce more furniture, you can’t stay in business.
INTERVIEWER: But if the furniture is being produced in China, that doesn’t help anybody in the United States.
MAITLAND: Of course not. This is the same exact status of every industry in this country. They’ve all gone out of business because the workers have priced us out of the market.
INTERVIEWER: Well, it’s not our workers being too high, it’s the overseas workers being too low.
INTERVIEWER: And their cost of living is so much less.
MAITLAND: Well, our workers went up a great deal because of labor unions.
INTERVIEWER: Sure they did.
MAITLAND: I mean wages just doubled and tripled.
INTERVIEWER: Well, the biggest example of that is steel. Do you know the steel industry is totally gone from the United States? The biggest steel company in the United States now is in Georgetown, South Carolina, believe it or not. What they do is take old automobiles, melt them down and make concrete rebars out of them. But there’s nobody making steel in the United States now — nobody.
But the subject of changes in the furniture industry is where we want to stay. So, the question is: Describe how the industry has changed over the years. You’ve been active in three areas — manufacturing, the marketplace and then your own business. So, what about manufacturing?
MAITLAND: Well, furniture manufacturing has almost disappeared from this country. When I came into this industry, we had a great deal of the market. I don’t know what the percentage was at that time, but I think most or almost all of the furniture that was used in this country was made in this country. I mean very little was imported.
INTERVIEWER: Only 10 percent was imported.
MAITLAND: So, with the large population we had, we used a lot of furniture. We had a lot of furniture manufacturers that were good ones. You know, we had several price levels so that from the consumer’s point of view, they could find their cost level — the price level that they could afford. The furniture, even in the lowest ranges, was very adequate and very well-made.
INTERVIEWER: Now by level, you mean the lowest price level?
MAITLAND: Yeah, the lowest price level. But the quality of the pieces was so good. I remember we, the Sperry & Hutchinson Company, owned 10 companies. Now, they weren’t all furniture companies. I think about eight of them were furniture companies, and they weren’t all upholstery. There was Daystrom and...
INTERVIEWER: American Drew?
MAITLAND: American Drew had upholstery. They had some upholstery.
INTERVIEWER: Not much.
MAITLAND: No, not much, but they had leather, step chairs and stuff.
INTERVIEWER: The first one is Lea.
MAITLAND: But one of the things that I contributed to the industry (as a woman) was when I would go around with them to tour the showrooms. I would go to critique, and number one, I would critique the size of the furniture they were trying to sell to women because they didn’t make any furniture for women. There were no small rockers to rock babies. There were chairs in the showroom and I’d sit in them and my feet wouldn’t hit the floor. Even in bedroom stools at women’s cosmetic tables. Mostly, they’d make them with nothing to sit on. I would go around and say, “What am I supposed to sit on?” Then I’d sit in the chair and my feet wouldn’t touch the floor. Are my legs supposed to dangle all the time? I’d go up to a big chifforobe on the wall, I mean a major piece kind of thing. They’d make two for a big master suite. The interiors were all the same and they all had places for ties and men’s stuff. I said, “Where’s my jewelry drawer with the velvet lining? Where’s my drawer for scarves and panties and this kind of thing?” They would just go around and these guys, they’d be all men, they’d make notes. I don’t think they ever did anything with any of the notes.
INTERVIEWER: Some of them did.
MAITLAND: Unless I just raised hell.
INTERVIEWER: Now, all this was with S&H.
MAITLAND: Yes, well, at all their plants.
INTERVIEWER: Right, their furniture factories.
MAITLAND: Yeah, well, I didn’t work for any others.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, I know. I just want it to be clear.
MAITLAND: It would be all the ones that we owned. I was director of consumer affairs for all of them. So I would let them know I was coming and that I wanted to take a tour. They’d give me the royal treatment. I’d go in and I would sometimes say, “I want to tour the manufacturing facilities, as well as the finishing parts of the furniture.” I would go through the whole huge business, about putting the furniture together and cutting it. I made a lot of very practical suggestions that they very soon changed to — the manufacturing procedures. It would be my desire...I had always thought I would work on this more to make sure that we had really good solid practical women that were around.
INTERVIEWER: You were talking about changes in the industry.
MAITLAND: What was I raving about?
INTERVIEWER: The size of the furniture.
MAITLAND: There was no thought to scale of furniture for women. It was all male-like.
We had rocking chairs. I do remember my grandmothers having some — even without arms, these little rockers that you could rock babies in. They all breastfed a lot so they needed a rocker.
INTERVIEWER: But, those are pieces of furniture specifically oriented to sell to women.
MAITLAND: Right, and they quit doing that for some reason. I don’t think they had women necessarily in the factories back in the early days either.
I remember people going into furniture factories, going through and looking at everything because I used to tour them — I used to love to go to Kittinger and look at Kittinger’s stuff.
INTERVIEWER: They were always so proud of that grandfather clock they made. What did they sell that thing for? $10,000 to $12,000, do you remember?
MAITLAND: You know who I think about sometimes...who was the guy that was early on, that was with clocks. He was with the Hall of Fame.
INTERVIEWER: It was Kittinger.
MAITLAND: A nice, nice man. My grandmother, I can remember, her clocks came from Germany. She had some gorgeous things. They would do everything but tell you what your name was. They had the day, the month, the week, the time, and the chimes. They were elegant. There were a lot of beautiful standing wall clocks in those days, too.
INTERVIEWER: The next question is: Describe how the industry changed. I think you covered that quite well. Next question: What do you see as the most serious problem facing our industry today, short-term and long-term?”
MAITLAND: I’m very sad that we gave up manufacturing, that we weren’t able to make some agreement with the labor unions and keep the manufacturing in this country where we could have some influence over styling, quality and that kind of thing. Just to keep the market here. I don’t like the fact that we’re giving up all of our manufacturing. I think that’s where the creativity comes in, in this country...that we’re able to use that creativity to manufacture and style things, and not copy somebody else’s. I’m very sad that labor got so expensive that we can’t have American-made products.
INTERVIEWER: But it’s not that our labor is so expensive, it’s that their labor so cheap. But it amounts to the same thing.
MAITLAND: True, true.
INTERVIEWER: Now, what about marketing? Do you think the Chinese are familiar enough with our lifestyles and everything, to design and market furniture for the United States?
MAITLAND: I think they will hire Americans.
INTERVIEWER: OK, good point.
MAITLAND: They’re already hiring them. I mean my two nephews in the business have been hired, partially I think, by overseas companies, both to help with picking fabrics and to assist with manufacturing. The Chinese adapt; they’re fast learners. They’ll send their people over here to work in some industries and so forth so they pick up all the tricks of the trade on finishes or whatever.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think we still will be able to keep the marketing in America so that we can keep our people employed in marketing?
MAITLAND: We need to be very careful about what’s being taught in universities and colleges. They must put a really, strong emphasis on marketing. They need to have people who are keeping up with and making sure that the furniture industry is introduced into their curriculum, so that somewhere along the way, we have somebody who knows the whole picture of construction, finishing and marketing.
INTERVIEWER: Right, exactly.
MAITLAND: [Someone]]]] that can put it together in a package that will really be affordable.
INTERVIEWER: Well, let’s look at this. For years we manufactured in the United States and marketed primarily in the United States. It was very limited that the furniture made in the United States was for exporting. Broyhill had a pretty good export line when Sam Troy was with Lane. I believe they probably exported more furniture than anybody else. But now, what will sell in Chicago, will also sell in Berlin. I don’t say potentially because we’re doing it now, but we need to market the furniture globally and let it be manufactured globally. But we’re still the best qualified to do the marketing and the merchandising for the whole world.
MAITLAND: Absolutely, but we must have some responsibility for the construction. I mean seeing that it’s done properly, that there’s quality control.
INTERVIEWER: Quality control. The Chinese will get away with whatever they can. Somebody’s got to be there and look at every single piece.
MAITLAND: One of the biggest problems with products in this country is that we do not have the government involved in quality control. We don’t want the government to do a lot with our products. But if we don’t want the government to do it, we have to do it as an industry. We don’t have any set-up where toys and products have to be submitted for some kind of overall construction. This should include the parts that are put into it, the wood, the metals, the paint job and the stuff that puts them together — the glues. There should be someone like the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission doing a much better job. They should be given a bigger scope as far as what they can do and what’s demanded of them. Or we need some industry association to help with it.
INTERVIEWER: Well, the Consumer Product Safety Commission should be doing that, but they’re not given enough money to do it.
MAITLAND: They don’t know how. Well, it shouldn’t all fall on them. It seems to me that there should be some responsibility given to our manufacturing people to have a crew of people that would have to OK this and be responsible.
INTERVIEWER: We have no manufacturing people anymore. It would have to be a Chinese group or a group of knowledgeable people who would oversee the quality control.
MAITLAND: Then we shouldn’t let it into the country.
INTERVIEWER: Well, that’s where the CPSC, Consumer Product Safety Commission, has the authority and responsibility to do that, but they’re not given enough money to do it.
MAITLAND: I wonder if it’s a possibility to have some kind of international employee that goes to all the places that ship to the United States — to their manufacturing plants and test the products.
INTERVIEWER: I think that would be a great idea. Even if it were a total United States effort, if we set the standard, the Chinese people are not going to make the same furniture two different ways. If they have to comply with the U.S. standard, it would be made the same for everybody, around the world.
MAITLAND: That would be very fortunate, wouldn’t it?
INTERVIEWER: There is an organization called the American National Standards Institute, ANSI.
MAITLAND: Yes, I’m very familiar with that.
INTERVIEWER: They qualify factories to make products to ANSI standard levels. It seems to me that that would be a very good answer to what you’re talking about.
MAITLAND: They could just extend it, build it up.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, I got it. Next question: What has been your own greatest contribution to our industry?
MAITLAND: The ability to identify the important leaders of the industry from its beginning. The basis for that ability lies in my 40 years in the industry, in all areas from the top executives down to medium executives. I was working for a corporation that had eight furniture companies, from which I could draw information on finances to everything else in the business. I mean they would give me anything I asked for.
INTERVIEWER: The next question is: Describe your other most important contributions. This means beyond this idea of keeping the marketing in the United States, the global marketing, including safety and everything else that goes with it.
MAITLAND: Now, what are these ideas supposed to be about?
MAITLAND: To do with the industry?
INTERVIEWER: Yes, of course, I think you’re leading in that you gave to S&H...telling them about the sizes of the furniture. That was a very important contribution.
MAITLAND: The other thing I would like to see is that we do some concentrated work in universities, teaching about furniture and home furnishings, from manufacturing to design application. I think as a general course, not only in civilized living kinds of things, but in our “nesting” patterns. We can work in there the safety issue, and the comfort issue, and how much the home environment contributes if you want to have a well-ordered family life.
INTERVIEWER: What would you call this, curriculum “our living environment?” Global marketing?
MAITLAND: That’s such a big and important issue that it’s almost incomprehensible. Improving family relationships because it keeps families together, keeps them talking to each other and comfortable, and that kind of thing. I think it’s important
because it makes the home more of a focus, and we need that today in our country.
INTERVIEWER: We sure do.
MAITLAND: I think it has a lot to do with the focus on family and on homes, rather than these fly-by-night, pick up and move tomorrow kinds of things. Stability, comfort and dependability count. The concept works into all phases of our living securely. It’s a big part of our security because it’s such a major part of the happy home.
INTERVIEWER: The breakdown of the family is a very, very serious problem.
MAITLAND: Oh, it’s the worst.
INTERVIEWER: It’s much bigger than anything in the furniture business.
MAITLAND: Right, it’s what I’m saying.
INTERVIEWER: But, it’s something the furniture business is fairly uniquely situated to be effective about.
MAITLAND: Precisely. In several ways, both from a job point of view, and from the importance of a comfortable home in keeping families happy. It’s hard to breastfeed a baby if you don’t have someplace comfortable to sit. I think it’s very important — this whole business of relationships. If we’re to succeed as a country, we certainly need solidarity in our families.
INTERVIEWER: Now, basically you’re doing something (and I know for a long time that this has been a habit of yours), you’re not thinking backwards, you’re thinking forward, and an oral history is looking backwards. What you have been saying here is that you’re not thinking backwards, you’re thinking forward.
MAITLAND: You’re right, absolutely.
INTERVIEWER: That’s very typical of you and it’s a very important part of you that isn’t structured into this oral history.
MAITLAND: Now, what is the question?
INTERVIEWER: Well, the question is: What has been your own greatest contribution to our industry?
MAITLAND: Well, it’s hard to think backwards on your own activity and forward in your contributing. I think I’ve contributed for how many years now? I don’t know. I worked very hard for 10 years with S&H in furniture marketing. I learned a lot of lessons and I taught a lot of people. I was one of the best public relations persons for the furniture industry that there’s ever been.
INTERVIEWER: The best, nobody’s going to question that.
MAITLAND: I gave parties for the National Federation of Press Women of 1,000 people, and parties in Sun Valley for all the press people in the United States. That was a big one. It was for the top press people from each state. I had skits. I had food flown in from Seattle on planes and different things. The food was to die for, and the decorations were just spectacular.
INTERVIEWER: So, now we’re onto a different subject, outside factors and those are the Depression, World War II, racial attitudes and women’s issues. How have those four things affected the furniture industry?
MAITLAND: OK, what was the first one?
INTERVIEWER: The Depression.
MAITLAND: Oh, I think it put a lot of businesses out of business. I also think that it changed the labor force. We lost a lot of furniture people who couldn’t afford to stay in it and went on to other things. So, we lost a lot of training and experience.
INTERVIEWER: We did, but we also trained other people to do the work because somebody had to do the work.
MAITLAND: Well, we weren’t doing the work during the Depression. I mean it just was not done and a lot of sales were lost.
INTERVIEWER: But after we had to get back to doing it.
MAITLAND: I know but then, they might not have had the same skills and experience, and the same outcomes.
INTERVIEWER: But they were learnable skills.
MAITLAND: There’s just something about experience and having been in something all your life that gives you a different touch.
INTERVIEWER: Well, is that just a done deal — it’s all gone so forget about it? Or do you still have all of the skills?
MAITLAND: Oh, you have to do it all over again. It’s a developing process.
INTERVIEWER: Find somebody else to do it.
MAITLAND: Absolutely. If they will. Now you have a whole different attitude today about learning things that are not top management duties. We would have some good labor available here, but in many states it would be very hard to find people who are interested in doing unskilled types of manufacturing jobs.
INTERVIEWER: So, let the Chinese do the unskilled stuff and let us do the skilled, management stuff. They will work [for]]]]]]]]
MAITLAND: I don’t want them to do anything.
INTERVIEWER: You’re not going to stop them from doing it. They’ll do it for 10 percent of what we’ll do it for here.
MAITLAND: But I don’t think they’re going to do it right.
INTERVIEWER: You can make them do it right by looking at every single piece.
MAITLAND: Who’s going to do that?
INTERVIEWER: American inspectors.
MAITLAND: Where are we going to get those [people]]]]]]]]?
INTERVIEWER: [Get]]]]]]]] the people that used to work in furniture factories.
MAITLAND: But how do we get the Chinese to do it right?
INTERVIEWER: Morrie Futorian had a sign in every one of his factories, right at the end of the production line that said, “People don’t do what you expect them to do, they do what you inspect them to do.” And he was right.
We are talking about the influence of outside factors on our business. But now, World War II is what you have talked about, as an extension of the Depression. We had an enormous number of people who went away to the war and came back and had to have employment. They learned to do these things because somebody had to do them.
OK, the next factor is women’s issues.
MAITLAND: But I think there was a different attitude in those days. I think people expected to work and wanted to work.
INTERVIEWER: Sure, they did.
MAITLAND: I’m not sure there’s the same attitude today. I’m not quite sure where we get a good workforce, the way children are coming out of school, what they’re learning and the lives they’re leading at home.
INTERVIEWER: But, you can’t clone them. You’re going to have to make them out of the people we have somehow. That’s what education is for.
MAITLAND: It’s awfully hard to educate somebody on attitude if they haven’t had it all their lives.
INTERVIEWER: But it’s got to be done, somehow or other, it’s
got to be done or the whole thing will go to pot.
MAITLAND: That’s what I’m afraid of.
INTERVIEWER: It hasn’t yet. I’m putting too much of my own stuff in here, but I will tell you one thing that I am thoroughly convinced of and that is: I worked in every job in the furniture business — in the upholstery side of it, and the whole factory. One of the strongest impressions that I have is that most people working for furniture manufacturing companies are working far below their intellectual ability. The black guys in the lumberyard right up to the plant managers. When you get above that, pretty much they seek their own level. Most people working in furniture factories, whether they’re running staple guns, cutting fabric, running a sewing machine, whatever, they are much smarter than the jobs that they have.
MAITLAND: Does that mean we’re going to have to have more mechanized operations?
INTERVIEWER: No, it means we’re going to have to have more education. See, you’re still thinking in terms of us doing the manufacturing.
MAITLAND: Oh, I see, so we can go into something else.
INTERVIEWER: Into something better, something that requires more intellectual power. The people are there, that’s what I’m telling you. I saw them all my life in furniture factories, working far, far below their intellectual capacities.
MAITLAND: How do we do something about that?
INTERVIEWER: Education. That’s the only way you can do it.
MAITLAND: What kind of education?
INTERVIEWER: Specific education for specific ...
MAITLAND: Who gives this education?
INTERVIEWER: Well, in my opinion, the best qualified people to do it are the community colleges, no question about that. North Carolina has 100 counties and 60-some community colleges.
MAITLAND: How long would it take to get a movement going? Who would do it?
INTERVIEWER: The community colleges.
MAITLAND: Who would start the movement and press for it and see that it’s funded?
INTERVIEWER: Somebody’s got to start it, maybe you can start it, I don’t know.
MAITLAND: Don’t give me anything. I’m dying of old age. I’m 90 years old.
INTERVIEWER: That’s all right, you aren’t dead yet, and neither am I.
MAITLAND: But I don’t want to work anymore, Roy. I’ve retired three times in my life.
INTERVIEWER: Well, what are you doing right now? You’re sitting here and thinking through this problem. You’re not going to have to do the work.
So, we’ve talked through the subject of this particular question, which is: How have outside factors affected the furniture industry? We’ve talked about two of them which were the Depression and World War II. The other two are somewhat broader, one of which is women’s issues and the other is racial attitudes. Now talk about the man who designed and presented the furniture that was too big for the women to sit in. Back in those days, I remember (and so do you), that when we were in a group talking about a customer, we always assumed the customer was female.
MAITLAND: That was the retailer.
INTERVIEWER: No, the customer was the female who bought it. But we never referred to the customer as “him,” the customer was always “her.”
MAITLAND: But then there was one whole point in time where I’d be so frustrated because manufacturing always talked about the customers as being the retailers. So the customer was always the retailer.
INTERVIEWER: But the customer is no longer the retailer. The customer is the lady that buys the furniture, and she has always been thought of as female.
MAITLAND: There are a lot of men now, though. I’ve known
that for quite awhile because there are so many singles.
INTERVIEWER: But at the same time, say 30 to 40 years ago, how many females were on the road selling furniture?
MAITLAND: Not many.
INTERVIEWER: Hardly any. How many are there today? Over half.
INTERVIEWER: When my daughter went to medical school, Joanna, there were two girls in her class at Duke. She told me that this academic year, 51 percent of the students in medical school are female. It’s the same thing.
MAITLAND: It’s amazing change isn’t it, from when we were growing up?
INTERVIEWER: Women are taking over the furniture business — the management — to a very high degree. The things that need to be done...
MAITLAND: Will be done.
INTERVIEWER: ...by women. It’s not going to be all men anymore.
INTERVIEWER: Next question: What has been the affect of environmental regulation?
MAITLAND: Yes, but we haven’t had many environmental regulations, have we?
INTERVIEWER: It hasn’t been apparent, but yes, we have. If you’re driving around in a strange town, how do you tell a furniture factory when you’re looking for one?
INTERVIEWER: You’re getting close. No more smoke anymore. The way you do it is to look for these great big silos out in the back. There’s a company named Carter Day, and in the process of cutting up wood, you make an awful lot of particular matter — sawdust and smaller particles from the sanders and so forth. Those silos connect with a vacuum system through the whole factory. It sucks up all the wood debris and it’s stored in those silos.
MAITLAND: Like corn used to be and grain.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, it still is. But that wood particulate has a value.
MAITLAND: I would imagine.
INTERVIEWER: What has been the involvement of your family business in your community?
MAITLAND: The only thing germane about the community is the fact that I was given my job at the Sperry & Hutchinson Company because of my community work. It was my community and church work that got me the job that led to my S&H job, which ultimately led to my furniture involvement. I ended up, I think, working with 10 or 11 furniture-related companies.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, that is an involvement, although somewhat indirect. All right, the next category: Civic and social involvement.
MAITLAND: I got my first furniture job because of my civic and social involvement. I was asked by the biggest lawyer in Idaho to lobby for the Sperry & Hutchinson Company because of my success in the community. I had been instrumental in starting the Boise Philharmonic Orchestra. I did a lot of work for Boise University, helping them to finance buildings. I did a lot of work for the Episcopal Church.
INTERVIEWER: You had a symphony orchestra you were working for.
MAITLAND: That was the Boise Philharmonic. And I sang in an acappella choir. For a while, I was a radio commentator. I had a program every day, and it was very highly accepted.
I finally had to give it up because my husband was very concerned that we had a child, and I was leaving him with the babysitter too much to do to all the church work and the radio thing and stuff. So, I thought it was best to give up the radio job because it was getting bigger and bigger. But, I was so big in the Republican Party that it flattered me. I went to Reagan’s house when he was the Governor of California, and I met both of them. That always gave me a laugh when I’d see them.
My sisters and I were very big in the Republican Party. They had a national convention in Sun Valley, Idaho. They had about 1,000 or 1,100 delegates from all over the United States. My sister, Hope, and I were up on the platform, both of us, in different roles. We had dinner with one of the Rockefellers, and met a lot of important people. We were both good looking, young, dressed like a million bucks, spoke well and had lots of backers in the party.
It was a very interesting life doing Republican stuff, Republican politics. So, between the Episcopal Church...Gary was an Episcopalian. I’m more of the Baptist, the holy-roller type myself. I had just grown up in the Pentecostal-type church on my mother’s side. I mean it was all the Southerners, you know, she was a Southerner. They were quite a match, my father with his German heritage, who was brilliant. At the University of Iowa where he went, he was considered the brain that got all these great awards for these things that he did.
Besides that, he and his brothers were the three sons of my grandmother and grandfather. I started to tell you at that time they had reputedly owned one-third of the corn land of Iowa. Did I show you the family tree?
MAITLAND: Are you interested in looking at it?
INTERVIEWER: Well, I am interested, but we can’t put it on the tape.
MAITLAND: Remind me, it’s in the bedroom.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, all right.
MAITLAND: You can just unroll it and look at it briefly and see. The Cutkomps were very wealthy. They had owned one-third of the corn land in Iowa and they owned...I think they had a bank. My father had the champion pulling team of horses in the world. There’s a picture of him out there.
INTERVIEWER: In St. Louis, right?
MAITLAND: He and his brothers were considered the catch of the Midwest because they were handsome, they had the finest carriages, the finest horses and they were just good looking and charming, and were all really fine musicians. My father was a clarinet and oboe [player]]]] and his brothers both played. There was a symphony orchestra, if you can believe it in Columbus Junction, in Columbus City, and they had a bandstand, one of those gorgeous white ones that you see in the movies.
Every Saturday night, everybody went to town. They put on all their best clothes and went to town and the band played in the bandstand. It was a bit removed from the city, the one street with all the stores and stuff. Everybody would put on their finest. We’d see families come in from the farm with all the little boys’ shirts and the little girls’ dresses made from the same cloth by their mother. I still remember that.
Later on when I was grown, occasionally if I was down there [in Columbus City]]]] for some reason (if somebody was not well or something), I would try to manage on Saturday night, to go sit in the car and watch the people. I’m a great people watcher, I’m fascinated by that, and to see those families coming in, getting an ice cream cone — their big treat of the week. Walking down the street with all their shirts alike and their dresses, and their ice cream comes, fascinating.
INTERVIEWER: The next question is: What is your favorite charity?
MAITLAND: I did a lot of charity work, I guess. But I don’t have a favorite.
I’ve always kind of watched the leadership of the charities. I’ve watched the finances and what the treasurers do. I’ve watched how they allocate their funds to see what their focus is. I sort of study the...I don’t just give to a cause. I want to know that the people working in it...
INTERVIEWER: Next question: What is your principal leisure-time activity?
MAITLAND: Well, I had hoped when I retired that I would get a lot of reading done, but I hadn’t had time for that. It hasn’t turned out that way.
For many years, I read a book a day and I carried it with me. But I’d get into a book, like when Gone With the Wind came out — I read it in one day. I started early in the morning and I read until about 3:00 the next morning or something. I read it straight through. I don’t even know if I ate. But, I just love books. I just adore them.
INTERVIEWER: Are you reading books now?
MAITLAND: Oh yes, I keep one going all the time. But, I don’t really have as much time as I thought I would have.
INTERVIEWER: What has been your greatest success in reading? Gone With the Wind in one day?
MAITLAND: I don’t know if that’s success, that’s just being tenacious. I think my biggest success in reading would be the tremendous increase, all the time, in my vocabulary. I also think that it has done a lot for my ability to think through things from several directions, in seeing how people tackle problems and what the thought process was. I think we all have a lot of different brain processes available to us, but I don’t think we use them the way we should. I think that reading is one thing that introduces you to a new subject, a new way of approaching it.
Even looking at the way the book is laid out and the way the author approaches his descriptions of the characters, where it’s sandwiched in. Also, the absolute delight in being introduced to a character that is not quite like anybody you know. It puts together different characteristics that you admire, and don’t admire, and you still end up admiring the character. So, I think it’s the study of the way human beings work, and also the study of the way life unfolds with different reasons and for different purposes. It’s just incredible.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have a specific example of that? Of your today’s reading.
MAITLAND: I’ve tried to go back and read every day some of the Bible and it’s different...
INTERVIEWER: The next question is really the same as that one: Describe your best experience in this activity.
MAITLAND: In reading?
INTERVIEWER: Yes, because it wouldn’t be far from being your greatest success, I think.
MAITLAND: Well, my greatest success I think, I don’t know whether I expressed it this way before, but I think my greatest success in reading has been my introduction to different worlds and individual characters that I would not have ever met in person. Knowing that there is so much variety in the world.
Also, I think it gave me a greater understanding of the people around me, to know that these people were just as serious and important, and they would come from a whole different background, a different ball game.
INTERVIEWER: Well now, we have one last category, and that is retirement. The question is: If you are retired, what was the date? Let’s talk about S&H first, and then we can talk about the Hall of Fame or UFAC or whatever.
MAITLAND: Well, I retired...I’m trying to think how long I was with S&H. I went to work for them, when? Do you have that down there?
MAITLAND: I should know this.
INTERVIEWER: But when you first came down here to Market you were with S&H. And you stayed with your sister, Miriam.
MAITLAND: Oh, that was just during Markets.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, but you were still working. So you hadn’t, at that time, retired from S&H.
Then you got into the UFAC stuff with the Association. That lasted a good deal longer. Then when UFAC phased out you went with the American Furniture Hall of Fame. So as far as I know you’ve retired three times.
MAITLAND: Well, I retired from the Sperry & Hutchinson Company in 1972.
INTERVIEWER: I think we’ve covered everything. I know about them, but not in an orderly, systematic way.
MAITLAND: My position was new at S&H. I was then the main decision maker as to the public relations audiences, techniques for costs, and determining results of those to justify budgets...national and political convention sponsors...anything having to do with organizations or churches, I guess, and organizations who used S&H Green Stamps as fundraisers for schools and other things. The S&H Green Stamp catalog was a dream book of practical household, yard and sports equipment.
So, I kept that in mind when I was advising them for the S&H Green Stamp catalog. It was the wish book for years in everybody’s home. You went in and they would show you that...and families would pour over it at night and save their stamps to see what they could buy. The wife always wanted something for the kitchen, and the husband wanted golf clubs or something for him. The kids always whatever their pursuits were — sleds for the snow and stuff. So, it was the dream book of the American family back during the Depression and after, for household goods and sports goods, and anything.
When I lobbied, I did something very big that I don’t suppose is done now. When I began to lobby, people typically lobbied men, they lobbied the congressman, the state senate and house members. Instead of lobbying their members, I lobbied their wives for Green Stamps. I thought that was a big departure from the whole.
INTERVIEWER: What would you like to add in summary?
MAITLAND: I thank the Lord everyday for a perfectly fulfilled life in every way. I can’t think of anything that I haven’t done or been able to do that I wanted to do.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a pretty near perfect summary.
MAITLAND: For a perfect life.