John bassett vaughan; vaughan furniture company, inc.
AMERICAN FURNITURE HALL OF FAME
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
NOVEMBER 26, 2001
OFFICE OF JOHN VAUGHAN
Roy Briggs, Interviewer
INTERVIEWER: We’ll start with your personal background. Where were you born?
VAUGHAN: I was born in Galax, Virginia. I was born at my mother and dad’s house on the corner of Virginia and Main Streets, or about two blocks up from the factory.
INTERVIEWER: Was your family in the furniture business?
VAUGHAN: That’s where all my family was really, in the furniture business.
INTERVIEWER: When were you born?
VAUGHAN: I was born on December 24, 1930.
INTERVIEWER: You’re a young guy. I was 7 years old then.
VAUGHAN: Well, you’re the same age as George, or about.
INTERVIEWER: And you lived in Galax?
INTERVIEWER: And your family was, indeed, in furniture. Do you want to outline that any?
VAUGHAN: Yes, I will. As far as the furniture business in our family, what happened was this, and I’m giving you the version as I got it from my mother.
Back in the latter part of the 1800s, my grandfather and his brothers and in-laws lived in Henry County, Virginia, and had gotten into the lumber business.
INTERVIEWER: Was this your Vaughan grandfather?
VAUGHAN: This is my Bassett grandfather. This is my mother’s father and family. He was the eldest of the brothers. I think eldest of the children. A fairly good size family, 10 or 11 kids in the family.
VAUGHAN: I believe that’s right. I believe both my grandfather and my grandmother, who was a Hundley from the same area, came from families of 11. I believe I’m right. I believe mother told me she had 84 first cousins, believe it or not. If you ask me who they were, I couldn’t tell you to save my life. I’ve met second cousins all my life.
But anyhow, granddad and his brothers had been in the lumber business. He and my grandmother were married in about 1892, or thereabouts. She was what you might call an “old maid school teacher.” She was 30, nearly 31, when they were married, and he was about 28 or 29 – 28, I believe, when they were married. About that time a man from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, by the names of Frees – he was an entrepreneur down there from an old, Old Salem family –
INTERVIEWER: Are they the ones that made the wagons?
VAUGHAN: I’m not real sure whether they were or not. I do know that at the school my daughter went to down there, the Salem Academy, two of his sisters were on the walls as two of the people that supported that institution.
But Frees was an entrepreneur in various industries. He was involved in building a railroad from the Roanoke area down to the Winston-Salem area. And, of course, it came through Martinsville, and my grandfather heard about it. He went to see Mr. Frees and told him that if they would come through the Bassett area, that the Bassetts would give them the land, and that they would sell them the crossties and stuff like that, or would like to. There weren’t any places to stay in the area, there were no inns, there wasn’t any Bassett – not as a town per se. So he stayed with them in their home down in that little valley there in Bassett near where the office used to be. It really was not too far from where it is now. And they became really close friends, and he became sort of a good advisor.
INTERVIEWER: The mentor?
VAUGHAN: The mentor. So he told him, “J.D.,” (that’s what everybody called him – John was his first name), “you ought to be selling some of this good hardwood lumber you have up here into that furniture industry that’s starting up in the Winston-Salem, High Point area of North Carolina.” And so J.D. took his advice and went down there and began to ship them.
INTERVIEWER: This is still in the 1800s?
VAUGHAN: This was still in the late part of the 1890s. Well, I say the late, this was still in the 1890s. But there weren’t many cases (companies), he knew about. So he suggested that J.D. go down there and sell to the furniture companies. He went down and sold them lumber, and then he went up to Jamestown, New York and sold them lumber, and went up to Grand Rapids, Michigan.
And sometime about 1902 or 1903, he began to have some thoughts about the furniture industry himself. Exactly when he started to think about it, I don’t know. There was a white oak tree that had been cut down in their backyard. Apparently, there was a stump there on the back of this yard that all the people in our family knew about – a white oak stump where granddaddy did his figuring. Anyhow, he went out there one night and according to my mother, and my grandmother told me, too, he came in and (my grandmother’s name was Pocahontas and he called her “Pokky”), he said, “Pokky, I’ve been thinking about something and I want to ask your advice on it.” In all honesty, the real brains in the family, the really smart person in our family was my grandmother. She kept the books and ran the business for a long, long time in the family. He said, “You know I’ve been going through these factories down in North Carolina and up in New York and Michigan, and it looks to me like if they can make furniture up there, we ought to be able to make furniture in Bassett. That was the beginning idea of it.
So in 1903, my family, through my mother’s family, got into the furniture business. About everybody who got into the furniture business in that area, in one way or the other, got their start working for Bassett.
My Grandmother Vaughan became a widow in 1893, when she was about 31 years old, and she had five children – three older girls and two boys. They were B.C. Vaughan, the oldest of the boys, and my father, who was about 3 years old at the time. They grew up in the Bassett area. There’s a creek up there called Blackberry Creek and they grew up on a small farm up there on Blackberry Creek. My Grandmother Vaughan told me that by the time the boys were 6 years old, by carrying water or whatever to the people out in the fields and the sawmills or wherever, they clothed themselves and bought their own school supplies, from the time they were 6 years old. So they knew what it was to work.
And so later on, when Uncle Bunyon was, I guess close to 20, and Dad was 17 or 18 years old, they had been educated at the local school there. They opened up a small mercantile business and had gotten permission to carry the mail in surrounding areas, which they did by horseback. That was in Bassett by that time because Bassett had become a community.
They were reasonably successful, but they decided that they each needed an education. So Dad stayed there and kept the business open and Uncle Bunyon went to a nice little business college through the monies they had made and what he could do working. Whatever he did down there, I don’t know. That was in Roanoke, and he spent two years there. He then went to work as a bookkeeper for Bassett Furniture Industries. Once my uncle went to work for Bassett Furniture Industries, then he sent Dad to school. They closed up their little business and sent Dad to Nashville Business College and he got through and went to work for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
INTERVIEWER: Was Nashville Business College in Nashville?
VAUGHAN: Nashville Business College was in Roanoke. It’s still there, as a matter of fact. They got their business backgrounds there. Dad worked for R.J. Reynolds just briefly. He and Mother began to see each other, about 1915 or 1916, somewhere in that neighborhood.
And he went to work selling furniture for Bassett Furniture Industries. His territory was I think, if I recall right, West Virginia, the western part of Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh and that area, and went all the way up into Michigan. He got on at the station and went from town, to town, to town, to town, on a train. He’d be gone for several weeks at a time.
As a matter of fact, I have a letter that he wrote some friends in Bassett – an old couple that had befriended him when he was a boy. I’ve got the letter that she gave me. It was written about 1916, in January. He was telling them how much he appreciated what they had done for him at Christmas, or something to that effect. It was written from the hotel up in Michigan and the last words he said were, “I’ll see you when the roses bloom,” which meant that he didn’t expect to get home for a while.
But anyhow, Uncle Bunyon continued to work there and Granddad saw that he had a jewel in Uncle Bunyon and he did – he was a real smart guy and a very, very hard worker and wanted to get ahead.
INTERVIEWER: But he’s a Vaughan, right?
VAUGHAN: B.C. Vaughan.
INTERVIEWER: He was Bunny, right?
VAUGHAN: No, this is B.C. Vaughan I’m talking about. I usually called him Uncle Bunyan. The Bunny you’re thinking of is Bunny Wampler, whose initials also happen to be B.C. Bunny comes into the story a little later. Anyhow, Uncle Bunyon continued to work there and dad, after we got involved in the war in 1916. I don’t know the exact date that he went in, but I believe it was in the early part of 1917 when dad went into the service. He spent a couple of years in the Army. He served over in France during the war and was there for a while after that. I don’t know whether he and Mother were engaged or not, but I know that they were intended for each other. So in early 1918 or 1919, I couldn’t give you the exact date, but I can get it for you if you really need it, my Uncle Bunyon (this is while dad was still in Europe) heard of a plant up here in Galax that might be for sale.
Galax started off as a small community named Bonaparte, but in 1906, it was changed to Galax because of a native leaf that grows here called the Galax leaf.
And when they moved up here at that period of time it was one of the fastest growing cities in the state of Virginia. The reason it existed was because of a railroad spur that Norfolk and Western had run up here, really for the purpose of buying crossties and that type of thing. But at the end of the track, a town grew up. Now it might not mean much to a lot of people, but the person who was president of a little company up here, Galax Cabinet Company I think it was called, was Bobby Dodd’s father. Do you know who Bobby Dodd was?
VAUGHAN: Well, Bobby Dodd was an all-American. They moved from here over to Kingsport, Tennessee after they sold the business. Bobby played for Tennessee and was all-American. He was Georgia Tech’s football coach for 30 years, I guess. He never forgot his heritage here because that’s really where his early years were spent.
But anyhow, they haggled over it. Uncle Bunyon, as he would have, told Grandfather that he was going to leave Bassett Furniture and go up there if he could arrange to buy this factory and to finance it. He had some friends that he was really interested to go into the thing with. He always felt like he wanted a business of his own to run. Maybe not his own, but one that he was running. And Granddaddy tried all kinds of things to talk him out of it, but he had made up his mind that he was going to look into the possibilities. Granddad said, “Well, if you’re going to do it anyway, let’s just do it together”. And that’s how the Bassetts got in on the Vaughan-Bassett side.
INTERVIEWER: That’s also how they found Hooker.
VAUGHAN: Hooker-Bassett, that’s right.
INTERVIEWER: Clyde’s grandfather.
VAUGHAN: Well, he married Ed Bassett’s sister. Mother always said those were double first cousins. There were two sisters who married two brothers. They were more like brothers and sisters than anything else.
Anyhow, that’s how we happened to get to Galax. They opened up Vaughan-Bassett and when Dad came back he had a little retail business for a year or so down in the Martinsville area. Then he and Mother got married in 1920 and it was decided then that he would come up here and work with Vaughan-Bassett and so they moved to Galax right after they were married. He had already been up here three or four months prior to the time they were married. And then they came up here and she spent the rest of her life up here, and he did, too.
Vaughan-Bassett made real furniture. And somewhere in the early part of 1922, they decided that they needed to diversify a little bit. They needed dining room to go with the bedroom so they decided that they would build another factory. A good many of the people that had been listed from the Galax area came from Martinsville originally, or Bassett, or wherever, to these new factories that were opening up here. They decided to do that, and Vaughan was organized in January of 1923. They got a charter and the first part of February, they had stockholders and elected directors and so forth. They got started and built a furniture company to make dining room furniture. Ed was elected president of the company. The same sales force for many years sold Vaughan and Vaughan-Bassett.
Then in 1925 (a merger) was discussed, and if it had been left up strictly to the people running the companies, they would have merged the two companies, Vaughan and Vaughan-Bassett, together. I don’t know exactly why but what I know is what I have been told. These things don’t appear in many books. But for some reason, they decided not to put the two together. I think it was because some of the stockholders of Vaughan-Bassett didn’t want it to be done. One of them was not my uncle – he was in favor of it. So they didn’t exactly go their separate ways because there were some interlocking directorships and so forth.
So, this company really began as a company in 1923 and it was in 1924 before we were ready to ship any furniture. In the meantime, they bought the building and Dad and all the people that were going to be a part of it, they got in there and hammered, sawed, milled, floored, bricked or whatever needed to be done. They put this plant together because that’s what had to be done during those days. They ran the company, ran it very successfully until the Depression. During the Depression, we never failed to make a profit of some kind. Not very much to be sure and you can imagine that was a pretty rough time for everybody in the company.
INTERVIEWER: My Dad went through that also.
VAUGHAN: Yes, I know he did. We had a good strong leadership and a good work ethic in our area, which still exists really. In the summer of 1938, (I remember it pretty clearly even though I was just a little boy), Dad went to the market and saw that they weren’t going to be able to sell any furniture appreciably. This was in the summer. He reduced the prices to where he could write some business up there.
INTERVIEWER: Now, was this the High Point Market?
VAUGHAN: No, this was in Chicago. That’s where the business was done for all intents and purposes. Dad came back home and wrote a letter saying that everybody from him on down was going to have to take a cut in wages and salaries in order to be able to run as a break-even proposition, so everybody would have some kind of income.
Well, there was a group of people, I don’t exactly know who they were, amongst the workers who revolted. They elected that they were going to have a union. Dad was in poor health, and had since found out in 1934, I guess it was, that he had Bright’s Disease, and wasn’t expected to live as long as he already had lived. He knew that his days were not long on this earth.
He decided, along with Uncle Bunyon and the board of directors, that the best thing to do would be to liquidate the company. So it was voted by the stockholders and the board to proceed with liquidating the company because under the present labor conditions, they didn’t see any way that they could operate without sizable losses which the company couldn’t afford.
INTERVIEWER: Now, what year was this?
VAUGHAN: This was 1938. They proceeded to actually do that and they began to pay out the stockholders as the money came in, as they sold the furniture, and as they sold the lumber. They sold – if they could sell it – everything that was already made up. They just finally moved it all through the factory. As they finished whatever lumber they were having to cut on a cutting they were making, they closed the rough end, and went right through the factory and closed it up.
And they took the money they were able to get out of that and they paid, I think, something like … they figured at the time, not counting the value of the business that they had sold. They paid the stockholders the money of course, because that was where it would go. Sometime in the latter part of that year, they decided that at a particular point, I don’t know exactly how much money there was, but probably a lot in those days, we’re talking about $45,000 to $50,000 or something like that, they decided that until they knew more about whether or not they were going to find a buyer for the property and the machinery and stuff like that, (which they never did, understandably so), that they would not totally liquidate all the cash that they had.
So Dad was given the job as president of the company, to find someplace where we could put the cash so it would earn a little money. They never could find a bank, and never could find any source anywhere that would give them any interest whatsoever on the money.
Finally, Dad told them, “I’ll put the money to use. I’ll borrow the money from the company at 1 percent,” because they weren’t getting anything for it, and he did, of course. The next year, he paid that back.
Meanwhile, a group of workers and local businesspeople got together – friends of Dad’s and so forth. Dad had gone to Florida because it was a healthier place for him to be with the business closed. His principal interest at that time was the fact that he had been a state Senator since 1930, and had been re-elected in 1938. Well, this group of people had gotten together and they petitioned him and the board of directors to reopen the company. So they had a meeting in 1939. They called a meeting of the board and the stockholders and all, and they decided that they would go back into production.
At the time, they hired a man by the name of Everett Dobson, who worked for us for the rest of his life, and was as fine a furniture man as ever put on earth.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yes, he was.
VAUGHAN: Yes, sir, that ever served in the capacity of the furniture industry for that matter. He and my Uncle Bunyon opened up that spring and Dad died the next February. This was in 1939. Dad had left in his will – he had instructed that the company be sold if possible and that his estate, whatever that brought, be distributed amongst his three children and given to them over a period of time.
Uncle Bunyon and Mother thought that this was a will that he had made at the time of the closure of the thing back in 1938. They didn’t feel like that should be done. They were able to get a court ruling that they could keep the company open, and Uncle Bunyon then became president of the company. He was president until George became president in 1955. Uncle Bunyon took a miserably small salary (I don’t need to mention what it was), and he never would take another penny because what he was doing was for his brother and his brother’s family. He was quite a guy. He came by my mother’s house after work countless times, two or three times a week to see if there was anything in particular that she needed or needed to talk about.
She relied heavily on him and Uncle Bill Bassett, who was her older brother, for advice. Mother ended up raising George who, I think, was 16 at the time, and me – educating us, and looking after us. I think back about what a great lady she was, there’s no question. She was the closest thing to a second mother that George’s friends and my sister’s friends and mine ever had. They all thought of her that way. Because we didn’t have a meeting place in Galax, our basement was the meeting place. Everybody was welcome. Often, I’d come in at night and would find friends of mine down in the basement room, where we all used to play cards and dance and talk and everything. I’d just go down and join them. Mother would always bring punch or potato chips or something you know, and she loved having them.
Anyhow, that’s kind of how I grew up and how our company grew, up to that point in time. Basically, when I came to the company in 1954, the factories and the facilities, I won’t say the buildings and everything were just like the way they were when Dad died in 1940. There hadn’t been much done.
When I came here in 1954, my brother was head of sales and had been the executive vice president for two, or three, or four years, or maybe a little longer than that. He came here sometime in 1947. He’d gone to William & Mary and he was to graduate the next year. But Uncle Bunyon was not in good health and he and Mother thought the best thing to do was for him to come home and go to work, so he did.
But he saw the necessity of two things that had to be done: one thing that had to be done was we needed new facilities, and we needed to update some of the equipment we had. Uncle Bunyon said he didn’t disagree with that, but that at his age and everything (he had three companies that he was looking after: Empire Furniture Company, Vaughan Furniture Company and Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Company), he thought that the best thing that he could do would be to resign as president and elect George as president. He would go on and he would support him in every way he could on his building programs or whatever he wanted to do.
In 1955, we began to expand Vaughan Furniture Company, and we made a major expansion in our production. I’m talking about where you actually make the parts that make the furniture. We didn’t have to make any big changes in our finishing room at the time which was adequate, barely.
VAUGHAN: Our quality, when I came here in 1954, was an embarrassment to be honest with you.
INTERVIEWER: Oh my.
VAUGHAN: I didn’t know any better when I came back, but it didn’t take me long to find out, because the first thing they put me to doing was establishing a Quality Control program. If they had told me to establish a philharmonic orchestra, I would have been just as green. But I did have my education from North Carolina State, and I’d worked at the factory since I was a boy.
We had an interesting time getting things started, and I’ll get into that a little later. I thought maybe I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit.
INTERVIEWER: You’re right on with the questions.
VAUGHAN: Yes, well, I would have thought you would want to catch up a little bit on my personal background.
INTERVIEWER: Let me ask one question. You said your father took the $50,000 and agreed to pay 1 percent?
VAUGHAN: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: What did he do with it?
VAUGHAN: I don’t have any idea. All I know is he knew how to make more than 1 percent on it or he wouldn’t have taken it. There would have been no reason for him to. I have no idea what he did with the money. I know one thing for sure – he didn’t spend it. But what he did with it, I have no idea.
When they went back in business, obviously they weren’t the same – there were new shareholders that came in, they put money in the business, there was a new group of directors. Looking back through the minutes, you see people in there who served, and whose children, even grandchildren, have served since then, since the beginning.
But anyhow, if you don’t mind, I’ll stop right there and we’ll catch up a little bit with my personal history.
INTERVIEWER: All right.
VAUGHAN: Before I forget it.
INTERVIEWER: The next question is: where did you go to college? Fit that in wherever you want to.
VAUGHAN: OK, well I thought maybe I’d give you a little bit of the personal background of my growing up in Galax.
VAUGHAN: You couldn’t have picked a better place to grow up, or a place where there were a nicer bunch of people. I think one of the things that I remember about my childhood, that’s so different from some of the childhoods that I have seen in my own family and grandchildren and so forth, is that I don’t ever remember anybody saying, “I’m bored,” or “What am I going to do today?” I don’t know, we just went outside and did, and had the best time growing up that anybody could ever have had.
One of my earliest friends who is about a year younger than I am, Bunny Wampler, he was born in November, after I was born the previous December. The Wampler family lived two houses from us. Actually it was a block above us and on the same lots that we had at Virginia and Main. They were at Virginia and Jefferson Streets. I could never remember when Bunny and I weren’t friends.
The story is told, I can’t tell you exactly when because it was past the remembering of me – of my memory. They were looking around for Bunny one day when he was a toddler, when he was just getting walking pretty good, you know. And they couldn’t find him. He had come down to my house, across Main Street. Back in those days, it wasn’t as dangerous as it is today. We were playing out in the yard.
We’ve been friends as long as you can be friends. Bunny and I could relate some stories that have no business on this tape, from the time we were little. We did have the best time growing up though.
To make a long story short, and to do it without getting in trouble with Mother, Dad bought a little farm. The reason I bring that thing up is George and I built homes out there. As a matter of fact, my daughter lives out there, too, now. Dad planned on building a house there somewhere along the line. He was one of these guys that loved old things. He wouldn’t have a piece of machinery on the farm. Everything we did out there, up until after the war, until I was grown, was by hand. We cut the hay with a horse-drawn sickle bar, and we put up the hay by hand and all that type of thing. It was great fun looking back on it. I probably thought it was hard work at the time, but anyhow, it was a good way to grow up. Dad also loved his horses and so forth, so one of my earliest remembrances of my father was we had two about 16 hands work horses that we also rode. I can remember riding with Dad over that farm with a little old pony saddle, and this big old horse you know, and sitting up there and feeling like I was Roy Rogers, or somebody.
One of my earliest remembrances of it makes me think of something here involving the furniture company. We had trucks that hauled lumber around and so forth, but until Dad died, there was also a wagon and a team of horses they used out here at Vaughan Furniture Company. They had a fellow by the name of Zack (I don’t remember Zack’s last name), but he was a black man and he drove the horses and saw to it that they were fed and everything. Those days were quite different. The horses weren’t needed at the time I was coming along, but in 1923 they were needed when they first started down there. Dad just liked hanging onto them.
Dad had built an old log cabin on a creek down here, Mill Creek, below where the country club is, just on the back of where our farm is (although it’s not a part of the farm), where he could go down and spend a few summer evenings and stuff like that, on a creek. He wouldn’t put any electricity in it; it had no electricity, which Mother despised of course, no heat or anything like that in it. She did insist that he at least fix the water where it would run. It came from a spring but she wanted it to come into the house. As much as she would have liked to have been back up here on Virginia Street, we spent several, oh, two or three weeks each summer down at the log cabin. That’s just to kind of tell you how my dad loved the old things.
Then I went to grade school here at Galax Elementary School. My first year, the year before I was supposed to start school, the schoolhouse burned down, so they were in the process of building a schoolhouse. There used to be a huge fair here for many, many years – a great Galax fair. They had an exhibit building, so that’s where I went to school my first year. Well along about the middle of November, it caught on fire while we were in there. Of course, all of us got out safely, and we had the first and second grades in there, where the others were meeting. We felt like we were the luckiest kids because we didn’t have to go back to school again until after Christmas while they were repairing the building. We went up to Galax High, the elementary school, later on when they got that finished, and I went through my first three years of high school up there. Like I said, you couldn’t have a better place to grow up. We had sandlot football and baseball. We had a lot behind our house there, it didn’t belong to my mother, but it was the place where all the neighborhood kids came to play softball or baseball, or touch football or tackle football and all. We had a lot of fun doing that. We didn’t have any organized sports in those days except varsity football and baseball. We didn’t have a basketball team here until my junior year in high school. That year, they were getting ready to build the YMCA up here that we were going to be able to play in, or the future people would get to play in. We went down to a place called Low Gap, Virginia, and practiced our stuff down there and played whatever games were away games.
Well, I never was a great athlete, but I went out for football and baseball and all, and I busted up my knee. I didn’t participate or try to participate in varsity sports after that. I don’t know why, but in 1947, I told Mother that I thought I ought to go away to school for my last year. I thought that it would help me, and it did help me, a great deal with being able to take some courses and curriculums that I wouldn’t otherwise have taken. I went to Fork Union Military Academy for my last year. Of course, that’s where my brother had gone to school. He had gone there four years actually. I went down there and it was a wonderful experience. Several people from Galax were down there. I got down there and they assigned me to a boy by the name of Johnny Haymaker who was from all the way out in Southern California. He was the most homesick guy you ever saw in your life, from the earliest time we were there. He was a heck of a nice person. We got to talking, after we had been there about two months, and I said, “Johnny, how in the world did you ever end up here in Fork Union, Virginia?” He said, “Well, my father went to military school in Virginia when he was a boy and he thought that that was what I ought to do.” Later I found out it was because Johnny wasn’t applying himself to studies – he was applying himself to the girls. I found that out from eating with his father when I graduated. Anyhow, to make a long story short, his father had gone to Blackstone Military Academy. Come to find out, he and Uncle Bill had been there together and had played football together, which was an interesting, kind of small-world type of a thing.
I graduated from Fork Union and I had always planned on going to VMI. That’s where my brother went, where Clyde Hooker had gone, and Tom Stanley, and a lot of family members. It was just understood that I was going to VMI. In those days, the children didn’t necessarily decide where they were going to go, if you follow what I mean.
Well, they started the furniture curriculum at North Carolina State University. They began it in 1948. So Uncle Bill told Mother that since I would more than likely end up in the furniture business that he thought I should go down there and take that furniture curriculum. He knew Sig Johnson who ran the program.
They told me that that’s where I was going to go, and I said, “I always thought I was going to VMI.” I had the grades and all – I didn’t have any problem getting in. Mother said that that was what Uncle Bill thought would be the best thing. So that ended that.
So in 1948, I scooted off down there. My two roommates to begin with, the first two years, were Dee Ward and Barton Bienenstock. We went into a brand new dormitory and we had a corner room there that was large enough to hold three boys instead of two.
INTERVIEWER: Which dorm was that?
VAUGHAN: Hillsborough, across the railroad track. Across from where the coliseum, I guess, still is. There was the coliseum, and then there was Alexander and another one, and then there were three dorms that were built. It’s not Hillsborough, that’s not right.
INTERVIEWER: No, it’s the high-rise.
VAUGHAN: Yes, as a matter of fact, we were on the third floor.
INTERVIEWER: They were called A & C, the first two out there and they became Alexander and Turlington.
VAUGHAN: I stayed in Alexander my second year.
INTERVIEWER: I stayed my second year in Turlington.
VAUGHAN: Why can’t I remember? We were in 301. I haven’t thought about it in so long. Things slip away and then unexpectedly come back. I’ll probably think of it. But anyway it was one of the dorms built to the right of those two older dorms. We were three musketeers if there ever were three. Of course, I knew Dee’s family, and then I met an awful lot of people who had family in the various parts of the furniture business – superintendents, the owners, even in the retail business. I really enjoyed the four years I spent at North Carolina State. I made some awfully good friends down there. I enjoyed my life in the Kappa Alpha fraternity. I enjoyed the time I spent with the members of the Furniture Club. The furniture classes I went to, I will always treasure. Sig Johnson was one of the ... well, that guy had a big influence in my life. It was a tragedy when he ran into the side of that mountain, which was after I graduated.
INTERVIEWER: Was Rudy Willard there?
VAUGHAN: I believe Rudy came during my sophomore year. I never will forget one time he asked, (I was not paying really good attention to be honest with you, and I think he noticed it), “Mr. Vaughan, what kind of lights would you put in your finishing room?” I said, “Electric lights.” I thought he was going to die laughing. That was just the first thing that came in my head. Of course, I knew incandescent was what he was thinking about. We had a lot of fun. Boy, what a sense of humor, what a great guy. I’m going to tell you, he was a good teacher.
Anyhow, I graduated from there in 1952. I had gone to Fork Union Military Academy because I had that background. The first two years of ROTC were required by the state. After that, you had some options. Well, in 1950, I had decided that I wanted to take Spanish. I was carrying 21 to 23 hours because all of these people that we were going to school with were veterans. They wanted to get out of college and make a living. They were on the fast track. Of course, we were on a quarterly system so we were on the same track they were on. Not having any electives, I figured I’d get out of ROTC. Well, I was going to summer school to catch up on some stuff.
Anyhow, between the time that school was out and summer school started, the Korean War broke out. I figured I kind of had two choices: one, to volunteer. I didn’t want to get drafted. Nobody in my family had ever gotten drafted, they all volunteered. I didn’t want to get drafted. So I was either going to do that or take Senior ROTC, which would keep me in the program until I graduated. And after talking it over with my brother and my mother and all, I decided that I would take Senior ROTC. So I did, and I stayed at State and finished up my education and got my commission at the end of that period of time in Army Ordnance. My freshman year there I made a big mistake, looking back on it. At the time, nobody told me what all to do. I was able to make some changes with my own children and help them out a lot. The first thing I wanted to do was join a fraternity. My brother had been a Kappa Alpha down at William & Mary and I spent a little time down there you know, on football weekends and stuff like that. That’s where I went to several different “rush” places, but that’s where I wanted to join. A guy that I ran into, who was a member, was a guy by the name of Bob Spilman.
Bob had gone to AMA (Augusta Military Academy) before he had gone to Davidson, and then he went into the service and then back to N.C. State. He had been friends with two of my cousins that had gone there, and he was also friends with a real good friend of mine, who wasn’t as old as Bob, but he had been at AMA when he was there. Bob knew something of the background of the family and so forth. I’ve always thought that probably Bob, and a couple of other guys a little older than I was, sort of saw that I got an invitation to join KA. I did have a wonderful time, and of course, Bob and I have been lifelong friends. As a matter of fact, he met Janie up here at a party my mother gave Ann and me after I got back from Korea. In any case, we’ve know each other since 1948.
Anyhow, the next two years, he was a very, very close friend, and remains so today. The next year, my sophomore year, Bunny Wampler came down to North Carolina State to go to school. Later on in his first year, he also joined Kappa Alpha fraternity. Bunny and I roomed together my junior and senior year at the fraternity house over there on Hillsborough Street. You make lifelong friends that make a tremendous effect on the rest of your life. If it takes more than one hand to count all the best friends you have in the world, then you’re among the luckiest people in the world. And I would have to say I am. And those two boys that I just mentioned, and certainly Dee Ward, you just can’t have better friends than they are.
That kind of brings us up to the time when I went into the Army. I met my wife in 1950. How I happened to meet Ann was she was from Winchester, and her brother and my brother married sisters – two girls that were from Emporia, Virginia. The eldest one of these two married her brother. I think there were five girls in the family; the youngest of these two married my brother. Her older sister married Ann’s brother, Joe. She was teaching school. She had graduated from teacher’s college, and had gone to Winchester to teach school. They met up there after he got back from the service, in 1946 to be specific. They got married. A year or so later, George met Elizabeth, his first wife. The girls were mutual friends – they were suite mates at teacher’s college. They began to date and they got married in 1948. That’s when I met her brother, Joe and George’s sister-in-law, Nancy, because they were involved in the wedding and I was in the wedding, too. To make a long story short, Ann was going to school at Southern Seminary up in Buena Vista, Virginia, and she had been dating somebody up there in Winchester for several months. I don’t know exactly how long, but their relationship had broken off. Ann had been elected to represent her college at the Apple Blossom Festival, as a princess.
She didn’t have an escort all of a sudden. I don’t want to say all of a sudden – I had seen a lot of her during the preceding three years. Joe and Nancy had come to Galax any number of times and spent three or four days visiting with George and Liz. I had gotten to know them pretty well. So she suggested that Ann ask me. She knew me and felt like I’d be the type of person that her sister-in-law could feel reasonably safe with. I happened to be on spring break and I was visiting my mother down in Florida. I got this call and Nancy told me what it was. I had never met her. When they asked me to come up there, that did ring a bell, and I said, “Yes, I’d love to come.” That’s how we happened to meet, and we dated each other several times that summer and early fall. We decided to disagree sometime in the fall, I don’t remember just exactly when. Without getting into a lot of detail about it, neither one of us felt like we had parted company in a manner people ought to. She was working up in Richmond, Virginia. She had already finished her education.
That first weekend I got back to N.C. State, I went up and spent the weekend up there and asked her out to dinner. Of course, one thing led to another, and instead of deciding to say “goodbye” in a nice way, we decided maybe we had made a mistake in saying “goodbye” at all.
About a year after that, we got engaged, and right after my graduation from N.C. State, we got married in the summer, in June of 1948. After going on a nice honeymoon and coming back, and visiting with her family and my family … Thank God we went by to see my grandmother and grandfather in Bassett on our way to report to the Army up in Maryland. We stopped to visit about two or three hours with grandma and grandpa, and she died before I ever saw her again. I was assigned to Aberdeen Proving Ground, which was where all the ordnance people were introduced into the Army. We established residence up there in a small apartment in a neighboring town called Bel Air. Well, we got up there the first of August, and we had been up there about six weeks, and Ann got sick. She was really sick. I called her about 3:00 one afternoon to ask how she was, and she said, “John, I’m just hurting all over. I think I ought to go home and see my doctor.” Like a 21 year old that didn’t know any better, I just left. I went and picked up Ann and took her to Winchester, and waited while they got her settled and everything.
Then, of course, I had nothing to do but go back because I was AWOL. I went straight back to the base and reported to the people that I needed to report to. I forgot just exactly who it was but I knew who to go to, so I did. I told them the circumstances. They said we’d have to go over this with a commander and decide what action would be taken. In the meantime, they said to just continue my regular duties. I went back to the apartment, and there was a call right after I had gotten back there. I found out Ann had polio, and they had taken her down to Richmond to the University. Not to the University of Richmond, but the Medical College of Virginia. I had gone back and told them what the situation was, and that I needed to get down there as soon as I could. That was the middle of the week. I waited until Friday afternoon, and punched out and went down and saw Ann. It was a time in our life that, looking back on it, I felt so sorry for her because one of the first things she said when I came into the room was, “I’m not going to hold you to this marriage.” And I said, “What are talking about?” She said, “I’m going to be paralyzed. That wouldn’t be good for you either.” I said, “Ann, that’s the craziest thing I ever heard. When we married, we married for life. For better or worse, richer or poorer, and in sickness and in health, and there’s never going to be any talk about that”. Well fortunately she got over it and was able to cope. I was assigned to Pittsburgh Ordnance District, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I spent the first two or three months I was up there with an acquaintance of mine, who was also a graduate from N.C. State. We batched it up there for a couple of months, and later on Ann was able to come up. We spent about six really wonderful months up there in Pittsburgh together.
I had a great boss and a great job and met some truly wonderful people from the National Tube Division of United States Steel, who said, “When you finish your tour of duty, come on back. We’ve got a job for you.” Well, you can imagine how good that made me feel. Like I said, we had a good time up in Pittsburgh. One little instance that I think made more difference to my life, in the Army in Pittsburgh, more than anything else, was my job up there as a production expediter. I didn’t know what a production expediter would do, so I got me a book and looked up what production expediters were supposed to do. They assigned me to Christy Park Works out in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, which was part of the United States Tube Division. They were busy making shells for cannons for our services.
The Army had developed an atomic cannon, a 240-mm cannon, to shoot atomic warheads. Then, of course, by whatever treaties, it was agreed that that would never be used as a tactical weapon in the battlefield. So, here they had those guns and didn’t have anything to do with them so they decided that they would make a high explosive shell for them. There had never been a shell that large made. They gave Christy Park Works the job of making these shells, getting the forgings made for these shells. They had to build an enormous, whatever you call it, thrust thing, where you put hot steel in there and that thing was, gosh, it must have been a hundred feet long. It was an enormous thing.
So I went in there, an Army office, and had my first meeting with those people. I said, “The first thing that I ought to ask you is if there’s anything that I can do to help you?” They kind of giggled. Here’s a 21 or 22 year old, 21 year old, I guess, because I was just out of college, second lieutenant, and green as a gourd asking what he could do. I had one advantage – I didn’t know when not to do something. They told me the thing they had been trying to get was a portable generator. They had been unable to get it, and if I could get them a portable generator, well “ha, ha, ha,” that’s what they’d like for me to do.
So I said, “Well, I’ll see what I can do about it.” I went back to the Ordnance District, picked up a telephone and called the light and power company and said, “I want to speak to the president.” Can you imagine? I’d be scared to do it today, but I wasn’t then. Damnit, they put me through to him. I wish I could remember his name, but I can’t. I told him that I was assigned to a matter to help the war effort. I said I couldn’t discuss it over the telephone, but that I needed some help and could I come talk with him. He said, “When do you want to come?” I said, “When can you have me?” He said, “Come on over.”
Well now, they were right downtown where I was, we were on 4th Avenue or something like that. I think they were maybe a block over. I could walk over there. So I walked on over there and told the secretary who I was and she said, “He’s expecting you.” I walked in and he said, “Lieutenant Vaughan, what can I do for you?” So we sat down and I told him what the situation was out there, that they were in the process of trying to make a 240-mm shell for the war effort. It was something that was going to help our boys over in Korea, and that I had been assigned, as production expediter, and I had asked them what I could do. The first thing they said was that they had been unable to get a portable generator. And he said, “It’ll be out there in the morning.”
Boy, after that, I couldn’t do any wrong. I didn’t know enough to know that I shouldn’t do such a thing. The colonel found out about it. I don’t know how he found out about it, but he found out about it. He called me into his office and he said, “I’m not going to reprimand you, but if you think you need to do something like that, just come see me first.”
But anyway, that’s the story. In June, we came home for a nice holiday leave. I was having lunch with a man by the name of Jack Stanley, one of my first cousins. He was president of Blue Ridge Transfer Company.
INTERVIEWER: Now, that was here in Galax?
VAUGHAN: The main offices were in Stanleytown. We were having lunch out there and the phone rang and they asked me to come to the phone, and I found out I had orders to go to the Far East. About two weeks later, I guess, I was on my way overseas. I spent seven months over in Korea. It was one of those things that you would never take anything for, but would never want to do again. I was stationed over there with the 335th Ordnance Battalion.
The job that I had been given while I was over there was security for the base. I had a security group of people that were guards for the various bases. I had a Korean intelligence group that worked for me, that would work with the people in the village at a place today called Hyundai. It was a wonderful place to have been under any other kind of circumstances. It was served as kind of the “Miami Beach” of the Japanese navy for years before the war. Of course, the Korean people just hated the Japanese.
INTERVIEWER: Oh yes.
VAUGHAN: This had been their, sort of the R&R place for naval personnel with beautiful beaches and everything. I had a good situation over there, a good commanding officer. I had a lot of experiences that I don’t need to go into.
Anyhow, I came back in March of 1954. We were back at peace. They had more officers than they needed, particularly captains and first lieutenants. As far as the Reserves officers were concerned, they said that anybody that would like to get out of the service could, three months sooner than they should have. I was supposed to get out August 1, but I could get out in August-July-June-May, and late April. I was able to come home. I took advantage of that and came on home.
So the month of May, Ann and I got reintroduced to each other and got settled in our little home up here on Virginia Street in Galax, Virginia. We began to gather any things that we could out of her mother’s attic and my mother’s attic. Later on, we went down to the Market in High Point, in July. We began to get settled into our life. This was 1954.
INTERVIEWER: How long were you in the Army?
VAUGHAN: I was in the Army actually 21 months. That constituted as a two-year term. Once they said that that 21 months would suffice, that sure sufficed me. And I didn’t stay in the Reserves. I felt like if they needed me, they would call me, and I would certainly go back. But I didn’t want to have to spend my vacation time in the Reserves each summer so I opted out of that and became a novice in the furniture business.
INTERVIEWER: Right. So, we’re back in the furniture business.
VAUGHAN: I went to work for the company on June 1, 1954, and then I worked for them for the next 45 years. I retired on June 1, 45 years later in 1999. We’ll get to that another time. But, like I said, when I came here, George put me out in the factory working for Everett Dobson, and Uncle Bunyon, of course, he was still president of the company.
I’d say that Everett Dobson, and my office at that time, would have constituted about what’s on the other side of this desk to the wall, and about that long. I had a desk about this big, and he had one about this big. And we didn’t spend any time in the office unless we were billing out, or doing whatever we had to do. Between the two of us, we did all of the ordering for the cuttings, and the cuttings were given to us, and we broke them down into orders to give to the purchasing department. But it was up to us to say we need a hundred of this, or a thousand of that, or whatever.
INTERVIEWER: These were completed parts for furniture pieces?
VAUGHAN: Yes. Right in there I’ve got an old, I don’t know exactly where it is since we moved, but somewhere in here, I’ve got an old Click’s veneer book. We didn’t even have anything that gave figures like that, not even one operated by hand. What we were doing basically would have been arithmetic if it hadn’t been for Mr. Click. And we used that in figuring out our lumber consumption.
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Click published that book for years.
VAUGHAN: Down in Elkin, North Carolina.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, that’s right. I remember.
VAUGHAN: We stayed in that little office until 1955, when we built the first addition that was built here at Vaughan Furniture Company. At that time, we built an office out in the plant. We took a little area out in the plant and made us a little office where we could have a drawing table and some stuff that was badly needed. We continued to do the work.
I would come down here in the mornings. I would usually walk to work because it’s only two blocks. I’d come down here in the morning and Everett was usually already here. He was a hard man to beat here, but about a quarter until seven we’d sit down and talk a little bit. Then we would go through the factory, starting with the lumberyard, and through the dry kilns, and we would decide what needed to come out, or what the gauges needed to be changed to. Although, we didn’t change them, we checked the dates that they needed to be changed to make sure that the foremen out there were keeping up with it. And we went all the way through the factory to find out for ourselves just exactly where things were.
Usually, before I really got assigned to Quality Control, which was maybe two or three months later, we’d go through the plant. He’d have me go out there to count and measure parts. Looking back on it, it was more pricey than it should have been. Some of the things that we were doing back in those days were good, and some of the things we were doing could have been done better by processes being used elsewhere in the furniture industry. And we discussed those things along. Everett Dobson – if there’s ever been a man that had never been to Missouri that was from Missouri, it was Everett Dobson. He’s one of those guys, you know, you’d have to prove it to him. But once you did, once he was sold, he was as sold a guy as you ever saw in your life.
But he didn’t want change just for change sake, and Uncle Bunyon told me, it was one of the first things he told me, he said, “John (and he thought I probably knew more than I did), you’re going to see some things that you think need changing. You just are. And they may need changing, but don’t think just because we’re doing them here at Vaughan Furniture Company, and somebody else is doing them a different way, that the way we’re doing them is wrong.” He said, “I have run three different furniture companies.” Actually, he had been involved in four factories, but three different companies. And he said, “I’ve seen each one of them do the same thing differently, and all of them are right.” And I didn’t exactly understand what he was trying to tell me at the time, but later on I realized that there’s sometimes more than one right way to do things in our industry.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, right, of course.
VAUGHAN: But he did a lot. He told us a lot of different things that we called, “Georgeisms,” and I called, “Uncle Bunyonisms.” Some of them that pop up every now and then, and others will never leave your head.
I’ll never forget one of the most astute things he ever told me, particularly after I got involved heavily in the merchandise end of the thing. We were looking at stuff, and he told me, he said, “John, you look like there’s something you don’t like about the design or something we’re working on.” I said, “There’s something wrong with the thing. I don’t know what it is.” He said, “Well, just remember this: If you see something and it doesn’t look right to you, keep after it until you figure out what it is that’s bothering you and change it, because other people will see it, too.” And he said, “What I’m getting at is furniture is sold on first impressions.” Well, I said, “That sounds kind of strange to me because every woman I ever saw that was buying any furniture wanted to look at all of it.” And I asked him for an explanation. He said, “This is the explanation: When somebody, a lady or whoever, comes into a furniture store to look at furniture, and she starts walking down the bedroom line or the dining room line, or whatever it is, and she walks on by something because it didn’t make a good impression, she’s not going to bother with that anymore at all. If you can stop her with a first impression, so she’s going to go in there and pull out the drawers to see how they’re made, and ask some questions about the finish and stuff like that, then you have sold her. But, if you didn’t make the first impression and stop her, that’s it.”
I understood what he was talking about, and we tried our best over the years to spend what our in-house designer, Tom Wilson, who worked for many years and did the largest part of our line for many years, called “the last five minutes.” That’s when you thought you were through, and you’ve gone through the thing and tried to look at everything. You’ve looked to see that the hardware was placed right or if it’s the right hardware, or even if once in awhile you looked at something and decided that the finish was not right. You have to go back and get it right. Spend “the last five minutes.” This is the type of thing that my uncle had taught us to do.
That just became ingrained in the people here at Vaughan Furniture Company. Like, for instance, we could go out in the factory today, and find anybody that’s been out there any length of time, I don’t care whether they’re running a machine, or whether they’re in Quality Control, or what they are. You ask him a question, “If that part is not right, then what is it?” And they’re going to tell you it’s wrong and why.
And that’s the whole attitude that our people have used for the last 30 years, anyway. No, longer than that – the last 40 years now at Vaughan Furniture Company. The word is, “to try.” We obviously know that you can’t make – there’s no such thing as 100 percent quality furniture. It just doesn’t exist because part of it is made by the good Lord. But, we’ve always felt like we were trying to reach for the last rung of the ladder, whether we got there or not. That’s helped us to build relationships with our dealers over the years, to where we stood behind it if it were wrong. But we would give them something that they didn’t have to worry about being able to deliver to their customer most of the time.
If I were looking back on my career in the furniture industry, I’d say the more important thing that George and I did was to build a relationship of trust, and a relationship of, I hate to use the word “personal” relationship, because some of them were more personal than others, but our customers felt like they could pick up the telephone. They didn’t have to call a sales manager. They could if they wanted to, they could call the person that looks after their sales from the company, but they could call George Vaughan, or could call John Vaughan, and they could get an answer. We would do what was right. We didn’t always do what they would have liked to have been done, but we did what was fair for them, and fair for our company.
I think the relationships that we established with the people running retail furniture companies, and those buying for them, was that they trusted our company, and the people that ran it, and they trusted the product. That they could buy it and sell it and make a profit themselves. Looking back on the years that I was in the business, and the years that I spent with my brother, I don’t recall any time when I looked back and was ashamed of any decisions that we made as they affected other people. Neither in the relationships with our customers nor the relationships with our people.
Then there was a period of time when I went through union elections at three or four different Vaughan factories, and one at Webb. I’m happy to say we won all of them, very handily. And it was because of the good relationships we had with people that had worked with us for many, many years.
Going back to the growth of our company. We really began to grow in 1956. That was when we began to get some of the effects of our first expansion since back in the ’20s or ’30s. Along about this time, we hired a young man by the name of Perry Frye. Perry had worked up here in Galax, and actually went to school with the mortician, or they said it was the mortician up here. Those people are very dear friends of ours still. That’s how we got to know Perry. We had a vacancy in North Carolina, and Perry had told his boss that he’d like to get into sales. So he traveled in North Carolina, I guess from 1954 to 1956. We were in the process of needing a sales manager because the company was growing. George had more time he had to spend on other things than sales.
So we ended up hiring Perry, and he worked for us, I don’t know how long. Perry has been retired maybe five or six years. He worked for us the rest of his life. He was one of the people who was very instrumental in building up our company, and our relationships, particularly west of the Mississippi.
When I came here in 1954, that year we shipped a little under $2 million. I don’t remember just exactly what it was. I’d look it up, but it’s not all that important. Almost every piece of it was sold on the eastern side of the Mississippi. We had a couple of jobbers out there that bought a little furniture, but almost all of it was bought on this side. We began to develop the western side, and began to develop the whole country which is what it amounted to.
Perry Frye had a great talent for meeting people and he also had a great talent for finding the right salesmen. As territories began to open up, he built a really fine sales force – him and George working together. At this particular time, I was working in two capacities. When I was in Galax, I was involved almost totally in the production facilities, here at the only plant we had in those days. But I was involved from the beginning in the development of designs, and working with the designers and so forth. George knew that that was an element that I was going to have to know something about. So, I went to New York for the design meetings, and I went to the markets, and so forth. The rest of the time I spent in production, up until the ’60s.
Our company grew right rapidly from 1956 until about 1960. That was a rough year, but we got through it and managed to make a profit.
By 1964, we were in an expansion mood again. Along about this same time, we decided that we should be hiring some younger people to come in, and I told Everett Dobson that we ought to go down and interview the people at North Carolina State. So I got in touch with the folks down there, and they set up some interviews for us, and that’s when we hired Press Turbyfill, who was the choice of the class.
So we brought Press up here. They came up here on a Saturday because he was still going to school. He came with another guy that we also hired who didn’t last with the company, but I won’t mention his name. It’s not that he wasn’t a great fellow, but it didn’t work out for us. But we took them through the factory, and George wasn’t here. I can’t remember where he was, but he was traveling somewhere. We came down there, and I asked Everett Dobson, “What do you think, Everett?” He said, “We’ve got to hire that boy.” I said, “You’re talking about Press, aren’t you?”
He said, “Yes.” And I said, “Well, let’s get him over and talk to him.” We did hire him, and we hired the other boy as well. But like I said, that didn’t work out. But Press did, and of course, he’s still with us.
INTERVIEWER: Sure, and his sons are with you, too.
VAUGHAN: Both of them. He has two sons and an adopted son. John runs the B.C. Vaughan plant and did run our import division. Mark is in charge of our Quality Program. He’s a heck of a good guy. Both of those guys have worked out awfully good. Hiring Press was one of the smartest things we ever did. He got here at the time when we were in our second major expansion. At that time, we built the building next to the building where the warehouse was, and the finishing room, and put in, at the time, a state-of-the-art finishing room, which we had needed very badly. We hadn’t been able to before but, at that time, we went from varnishes to lacquers which was one of the best moves we ever made. We could then do things like glazing and so forth, and striping, and things we couldn’t do in the old facility. There just wasn’t enough room to do it.
We also expanded, moved, and put in our brand new rough end, and packaged dry kilns. We added packaged dry kilns and at the time, we had older progressive kilns that we kept as well. But we put in some packaged dry kilns, and we put in a rough end, and redid the whole machine room, sanding room, glue room and that area, and veneer room and all. That proved to be one of the best things that we’d ever done here.
Matter of fact, George and I, we had the benefit of being able to talk to our uncles. I’m talking about Uncle Bill Bassett and Uncle Doug Bassett. We talked to them, and we had an opportunity, actually, to buy the Carol Plant as they called it. We call it the #2 Plant up here at Webb now. So we had an opportunity to buy that. Either that, or expand what we had. The advice we got from them was try to get the factory that you’ve got as efficient as you can before you do anything else which is what we did.
This project was finished in late ’64, or early ’65. From that time on, we had a pretty solid rate of growth. We continued that until the terrible business climate we had in 1974 and 1975 due to the oil embargo. Everything just quit.
Well, as luck would have it, in 1969, the Empire Furniture Plant came up for sale. George and I, well, I have to say George, basically speaking, because of all the expansions we did in those days, he was president of the company. Anything we did like that, he certainly deserved the credit for. But, we decided to buy the Empire plant over there. It was held together by bailing wire, literally, but it had a wonderful reputation. In the late ’40s, they made the finest quality furniture made in the South. They just did. It was solid cherry and solid maple. It was mostly early-American type stuff, 18th Century.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, I remember it very well.
VAUGHAN: A wonderful product. And they had changed it and gone into some of this modern stuff, and had given up what they had to go into that. They had been doing between $1.7 million and $2 million worth of business for 20 years.
If they had been of a mind to expand their business with the reputation they had for quality and so forth, back in the ’40s, that was all they had to do. What they did was they made good money and gave it out to stockholders, instead of putting it back into the factory. So we ended up with a real white elephant. It took us a long while to get it to where it is today. It is a very profitable factory now. But we were getting along good, and we had managed to sell that product. We were still selling it under the Empire name. We had managed to get along selling it.
We decided that by that time, we couldn’t make all the furniture we could sell in our Vaughan line. We’d gotten a good reputation for quality and sales and so forth. So we decided we would build another plant, the B.C. Vaughan Plant. We named it after Uncle Bunyon. It still exists today. Very much, as far as the walls are concerned, when we built it, we built it to be a modern furniture factory. We built that in 1972. We should have financed it through a long-term loan, but we didn’t.
In 1974, when the bottom fell out of everything, we were still paying for the Empire Factory, and we’d paid the stockholders and everything. We’d bought the company, though we were still having to go in and re-machine and refurbish it. We had just built a factory, and we owed all this money for the Empire factory, which we had borrowed on a long-term note that was not absolutely protected on how much it could go up.
INTERVIEWER: You mean on interest rates?
VAUGHAN: On the interest rate. Well, to make a long story short, in 1976, after Carter came in, the interest rates went crazy. We were really, really pinched for money.
I’ll go back a long way ago and tell you a story. In 1929, they were going to build a chair factory to make the chairs for the dining room line here. Uncle Bunyon and Daddy went to Richmond, where we borrowed money from the First American Bank down there, and they went down to borrow the money. They said, “Yes, we’ll be glad to loan the money.” And so Uncle Bunyon wanted to know what the interest rate was, and they said 12 percent. He said, “What?! Well, I want to thank you. You’ve made me a whole lot happier with what I have.”
And they didn’t build it. Imagine what would have happened in 1930 if they had been in the midst of a building program and couldn’t have paid the note off. But, anyhow, to make a long story short, we were short of money, not one single time during the Depression. We had a few instances where suppliers were worried about getting paid because we were paying in like 60 days. They wanted 15 days. If they did ask for their money, they never walked out the door if they didn’t have a check that wouldn’t bounce for their money. Every one of them was paid. But, when they left, they also took with them any orders that we may have had outstanding for that company. We established relationships with other companies and we’re still doing business with those that are still in business. There weren’t any hard feelings or anything like that about it, but we just told them, “We bought a factory, and are building another factory. We’re trying our best to stay in business, and be a good customer to you and other people. But, if you’re worried about your money, we’ll pay you. We’d appreciate it if you would go along with us until we can get out of this thing and you will have a good, loyal customer. But if you want your money, you got it.” A lot of them said, “No, we’ll stick with you.” Well, most of them did. Those that didn’t would always walk out with their money. We felt awfully good about that.
Anyhow, we got through that period of time. And from 1975, we had a fairly constant rate of growth – every year from then on, well, right up into the ’90s. As a matter of fact, last year was a little bit less than the year before, and this year will be a little less than that. Those are the only two years that we didn’t grow in that whole period of time.
I was over there in, oh, I’ve forgotten which city it was – it’s not important. I was over there and called up George. Well, what had happened was Burlington Industries had come up here in 1937, and built a plant here. They’d always had the best wages, and a very profitable operation. But they had begun to close some plants, and they closed this plant up here.
Of course, George and I – they worked a lot of women, and we did our best to get some of them. We knew a lot of people in the textile industry, and we couldn’t get anybody interested in the plant up here. So I happened to be overseas, and I called George to ask him how things were going and he said, “We’ll let you know. I just bought the Burlington Industries plant.” Well, when we bought the plant, of course, the one thing they didn’t need that we did need, was they had 11 and a half acres and they were using maybe three of the acres. The balance of it had to be used. We had built a dry kiln, an extension out there, and a lumberyard and all, and we got to building it and all, back in the early ’40s. Up until then Galax had flooded once or twice a summer. In 1940, we had the worst floods we’d ever had here. We had flooded everything. Flooded our lumberyard, floated it away. In the machine room there, it was up to your chest. Mr. Kirby woke up in the middle of the night when all of this was going on. He went down and waded through all that water, and got to the safe before the water got up into the safe. He got all of our important papers, including our accounts receivables and took them up to higher ground.
But, anyhow, so that came through here, and it straightened out the creek, and lowered the creek, which was part of the factory we had down at our old plant. The building is actually where the creek was, and even on the other side of where the creek was. There was a curve in the creek. Here was the building that we bought from Burlington, and here’s all this other, and that creek had come through here like this.
After the flood, everything in Galax, down in the bottom, was blue mud. There’s no bottom to blue mud. So, we had to dig out and haul away, I don’t know how many acres of that blue mud. We had to haul in clay, and build up our lumberyard. It turned out to be, well, we got it at a hell of a bargain. Until the last two or three years, the Burlington plant has been the most profitable plant we’ve had, percentage wise. After the B.C. Vaughan Plant, that was our next big move into case goods in the furniture business.
We had at one time owned the Walnut Cove Veneer Company. We got to the point where we could buy it cheaper than we could make it. We closed that down. That was an old company. We also bought Galax Chair Company, back in the late ’60s, early ’70s – I’ve forgotten exactly when it was. And, we went into the upholstery business for six or seven years, I guess. We just never had the right manager there. That’s a different business.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, it is.
VAUGHAN: We never did have the right person to run it. And, really, Galax was a tough place to try to get into the upholstery business because there was no upholstery background. The people weren’t here to hire.
Anyhow, those were two that didn’t make it, but everything else did, thank God. Everett Dobson had died in the meantime, and we named the Everett C. Dobson Plant after the guy who was really instrumental in saving this company and making it grow.
In 1976, Webb Furniture Company, which had been purchased by Bath Industries, which later became Congoleum Industries, reached the point where it figured there was no way in the world for it to survive. They had a corporate charge of 15 percent. There was no 15 percent to be made in furniture to cover the corporate charge. So they decided to get out of the business. This business had been started by my uncle in 1925. He was married to my father’s middle sister. He was the oldest, she was the middle, and then there was the youngest. They came up here, moved up here from Henry County, and opened up Webb Furniture Company in 1924, after Vaughan was opened up.
Also, in the ’20s, they had built a mirror plant up here, called the Galax Mirror Company, which was owned by various members of the family in the industry. They had hired a man by the name of John Messer to come up here and run it.
INTERVIEWER: He was from High Point?
VAUGHAN: He actually came here from Bassett. He was running the mirror company down at Bassett. That’s how they knew him. He came from High Point, I’m sure that’s right, up to Bassett, and on up here. A very interesting person. I don’t remember all the details or anything like that, it’s unimportant, but he acquired the mirror company. Then when Mr. Webb decided in 1930 or 1931 if I recall right, that he wanted to sell the Webb plant, Mr. Messer managed to buy the Webb plant which became Messer Industries.
Then later on after the war, he built the second plant up there that we called Plant #2, and he called the Carol Plant. Anyhow, the mirror company was not part of the purchase because that never was part of Congoleum. Of course, they closed it out later on. But we bought the other two plants from Congoleum. Vaughan and Vaughan-Bassett went in together – a beautiful, beautiful deal. It couldn’t have been any better. We bought Webb, and George became president of Webb, and he began to build the thing up there. They had something like, it doesn’t sound like a lot today, but they had about $3 million worth of furniture in their warehouse, and George sold every bit of that at regular prices. It took him awhile to do it, but he did, and that more than paid for the company.
Anyhow, that would prove to be a very good thing for us, and I’m the CEO there today. Dee Ward is president, and was at the time of the purchase. His father, Dwayne, had retired at this time. Did you ever know Dwayne Ward?
VAUGHAN: He ran the Messer Industries. We had purchased part of it from Dee’s daddy. A heck of a man and he’s still living. Anyhow, we ended up with – that was another big step we took in seven years. We’d bought the Empire Furniture Company, and we’d built a factory, the B.C. Vaughan plant, and we’d bought half interest in the Webb Corporation.
So we had really steady growth. Our growth, of course – half of Webb was part of Vaughan’s shipments for the year. And then last, but not least, we began to think. George and I had looked all over; we went all the way out to Gate City and looked all through the Tennessee area. We looked through all the land along Highway 58, or I-81, from here to Johnson City. We were
just trying to find, looking at different properties, and over to Rural Retreat.
And, finally, some way or the other, we ended up down in Patrick County. We found a home down there for a place to build a factory when we would build our next one.
Those people really needed the industry. I mean, Patrick County needed it really badly. And they were glad to have us. We got a very favorable piece of property down there, and began to build down there. Let’s see, George died five or six years ago. We started building down there, I believe, in 1993. He lived to see the factory built and operating. But he died soon thereafter. But we named it the T. George Vaughan Plant before he died. He did know that. He didn’t approve of it, but I’m sure that he was awfully glad that we did. That plant began to show a profit the first year, and has shown vigorous growth, and has become one of our better plants.
That, so far to this point, other than going into a rather extensive dining room program from overseas, has been the extent of the additions that we have had to our furniture sales. Those sales are growing pretty rapidly, and when we first started trying to do this thing, we were designing dining room suites. We were not very successful at it. As a matter of fact, we never shipped any of it. We showed twice – at two Markets – at least three groups. Then we changed our tactics. We decided that what we would do was bring out a dining room suite to go with each of our best selling bedroom suites. The designs were already proven. The dealers had confidence in them because they were already selling them. That program has gotten off the ground big time. We’ll probably concentrate our efforts in that area, and continue to keep our plants as modern today as we possibly can. We’ve been on an extensive program working with some advisors. This is something Bill has done since he’s been president and CEO of the company to lower our production costs, and also our overhead costs.
And, even though it’s been an expensive proposition, I think it’s going to pay off big time over the next few years. I know one thing – nobody is going to last as an American furniture manufacturer, if they don’t keep ahead of the times, literally speaking. I think probably the finest minds, as far as developing styles, suites and designs, and so forth, still reside in the 48 states.
And that’s an advantage that we have. We are able to get suites into a customer’s hands quicker than they can from overseas, with a lot less risk to them. Here, an order is not an order until it is shipped. But over there, if you order something, it’s not an order until it leaves port, and then it’s yours.
So I feel like if we will continue with the programs that we’ve had in the past, we’ve got outstanding leadership at the top, we’ve got an outstanding first team, second team, and a real good third team, all coming along, and I think that our future in the industry will be strong. It’s not going to be easy, but I believe those of us who are – I’m going to put it on a very positive note – able to stick around, that we’re going to have a wonderful, wonderful future in furniture, right here in the United States. I don’t know that the furniture industry will be what it was before in the United States because there’s so much cheap labor all over the world.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, there is.
VAUGHAN: Not just in China.
INTERVIEWER: No, that’s just a beginning.
VAUGHAN: In China, the Chinese people, the government in China, they have invested heavily in getting that industry started over there. We went to South Africa last year. It was one of the nicest countries, and I loved the people over there that we met. I know they’ve got their problems, but according to the papers I read over there, they are the most prosperous country on the whole damn African continent.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, that’s true.
VAUGHAN: And at the time we were over there last year, they had nearly 40 percent unemployment.
VAUGHAN: Doesn’t that blow your mind? And there are areas over there in Africa that have much higher unemployment than that. People still living like they did, God knows how many centuries ago.
INTERVIEWER: That’s right.
VAUGHAN: And so there is an unlimited supply of cheap labor, not necessarily an unlimited supply of capital, but if the playing field were leveled somewhat over in China, just like it is in Taiwan.
I remember we were once in the dinette business. We used to make dinettes that went with our suites here at Vaughan Furniture Company. It was back in the Danish days, and we bought our chairs from Liberty Chair Company.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yes.
VAUGHAN: And, we made the rest of it here at Vaughan Furniture Company. And then we bought some chairs from Yugoslavia. At the time, there was more furniture coming from Yugoslavia than any other country into the United States, except maybe Canada.
INTERVIEWER: Southern Seating was selling them.
VAUGHAN: You’re darn tooting right.
INTERVIEWER: Stanley Taylor and Bob Friedman.
VAUGHAN: Sure. As a matter of fact, the designer that worked for us in-house also worked for them. His name was Tommy Wilson. He was a wonderful person.
But anyhow, I feel good about our company. I feel good about our people running it. If I had not felt good about it, if we’d hadn’t had the situation that we had with people that are not only stockholders, but very much interested in seeing the company prosper, (it’s not just a job to them), I would have been in favor 10 years ago of making some kind of an accommodation of becoming part of a larger company, or something like that. But, it was never considered. And, if it ever is, it will be somebody besides me to consider it.
But I feel really good about the future. I keep telling them, remember one thing: The business that you’re in is a manufacturing business. Don’t ever forget to concentrate a large share of your efforts in making sure that the furniture that you’re making is as cheap as you can make it. We’re not in the high profit end of the business, but when times are tough, these are the people that survive.
INTERVIEWER: That’s right. But, you’ve got to make it right.
VAUGHAN: You’ve got to make it right. Got to make it right, most of the time.
INTERVIEWER: Most of the time.
VAUGHAN: Well, nearly all the time for sure.
INTERVIEWER: The next question is: What was the first market that you attended?
VAUGHAN: Well, the first market that I ever went to I was still in school at Galax High School. That was in the summer of 1946. I went to the New York Furniture Market with my brother. We had a situation where our salesman in the New York area – a man by the name of Al Kap, who had a family that worked with him – had a show space up there that was actually in his name. We rented our space from him, and there were three companies in the same space. In addition to Vaughan Furniture Company, he represented Kemp Furniture Company, and he was also a representative of – what was the one the Philpott’s had?
INTERVIEWER: Was it United?
VAUGHAN: United Furniture Company. So we all three showed in the same space, although there was a division of some wall or something between the three spaces. There was practically no decoration. None.
INTERVIEWER: What year was that?
VAUGHAN: That would have been 1947. I stayed up there. Of course, I observed the market.
INTERVIEWER: Was that a summer market?
VAUGHAN: That was the summer market. Of course, I was going to school during the winter markets. But, that was very interesting for me. I don’t recall a great deal about the type of furniture or so forth that I saw there. But, I was able to familiarize myself with one of our principal markets. The New York Market, in those days, was second only to the Chicago Market in volume. The next market that I went to was the fall market in 1948, in High Point.
I beg your pardon. I went to Chicago in the summer of 1948. I was there for just three or four days, but I remember that trip very well. We had a space up on the ninth floor. Again, our salesman was a man by the name of Wolfe. He sold the same three lines, too, so we were all three in the space up there. We had small spaces, a little wider than this room here, and a little deeper, and we could show here, but not one opposite of it. We had to show like this in order to get in the market there. They had to leave a little bit of space in the back. Kemp had about the same amount of space. At that time, they were making mostly beds. United had double the space that we had, so there were four bays across there. We sold with them for a long time in those spaces.
The next market I went to was in the fall, as a student at North Carolina State. I went down for a day and a half or something like that, to the fall market, in High Point.
INTERVIEWER: Now, what year was that?
VAUGHAN: This would have been in 1948 also.
At that time, there was just one building. The old, old building and we were on the eighth floor.
INTERVIEWER: At that time, it was an “unofficial” market.
VAUGHAN: The spring market and the fall market were introductory markets for Chicago. I went to that market and spent, I don’t know, a day, a day and a half, and we were on the eighth floor, where we are today. We own a whole lot more space up there now than we did then. But, you know the old elevators that you go in when you come in off of Main Street, the elevators to the left. We were just opposite one of those. We had one bay, and there wasn’t a lamp there. Probably ashtrays, back in those days, were about the only decoration that we had.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, and linoleum on the floor.
VAUGHAN: Linoleum on the floor, and everything there was about as basic as you could possibly get. The next time I went to a market was again in High Point, but they had built the building that adjoins to it, as part of it.
INTERVIEWER: All now part of the Main Street Wing.
VAUGHAN: All part of Main Street. We got a space over there just opposite the freight elevator. We had two bays over there and Vaughan-Bassett had two bays. We were facing each other. I don’t remember all the people. I ought to be able to, but I can’t think right now. I can’t think of who was across the hall from us. There were two bays over there. Anyhow, we were there, and we had more space, and a bit more of a line, and we had begun to put some lamps on the nightstands, and stuff like that. We did have carpet on the floor. I don’t remember exactly the market, but I do remember it was a High Point Market, that Williams Furniture Company really decorated their space, like you’d want it, in a fine way.
INTERVIEWER: And Hy Covington.
VAUGHAN: Hy Covington was the boss at Williams.
INTERVIEWER: They were on the fourth floor.
VAUGHAN: Down on the fourth floor. Our Ohio salesman sold for Williams as well. So we did go down there and take a look. We weren’t competitive with Williams – they made a different product than we did, but we went down there and saw that decorated space. It was an eye-opener for the industry.
INTERVIEWER: I remember that well.
VAUGHAN: So, at the next market, we began to do some things. We finally closed in the space. Back in those days, I’m talking about when I first went there, there wasn’t a space there that wasn’t open to the aisles that I can remember.
INTERVIEWER: Williams enclosed their entire space with a door in front.
VAUGHAN: Yes, they boarded it in like a house.
INTERVIEWER: It started to be like a house.
VAUGHAN: Yes, that’s right. That was the start of something good, really, because at most exhibitions, people began to spruce up their showrooms, and we did, too. We probably didn’t do it as rapidly as some did, but we stayed there in that space for a long time. That was a good floor. When we moved there, Martinsville Novelty moved over next to us. Hooker finally took over Martinsville Novelty’s space.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yes.
VAUGHAN: And, so there for a while, we had Vaughan, Hooker, and Lane – all of us there on the same floor. A powerful floor. In the building, you don’t get much drop-in business. They either come to see you or they don’t.
INTERVIEWER: That’s true for the big companies. It is an interesting difference between the big companies and the little companies.
VAUGHAN: Really? Well, I didn’t know that. We’re not that big of a company, but most of the people that come to us, if they’re there for the first time, they’ve been invited in there by their salesman.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, if you’re on their itinerary, if you’re doing business, then they come to you.
VAUGHAN: That’s right. So, we gradually increased our space there before we bought Empire. We needed more space so we moved back where we had been, and got that whole side over there. We stayed there for several years. Then we got the space on the right of the elevators.
VAUGHAN: You know when Cochrane moved out, we got the Cochrane space, and that’s when we first started serving meals in our space. And, we were the first company to serve meals in our space to our customers in High Point. We still do.
And about the time we bought Galax Chair Company, they may have moved, but Kemp was up there on that floor also. We got a hold of the two Kemp spaces, and the corner space there, which was Stoneville, the people that made the dinettes. So, we had the whole area over there, on that part of that floor.
INTERVIEWER: And you all were in the Main Street wing of the building?
VAUGHAN: Yes, and, then when we bought Empire, we got two bays directly across from our entrance there where we are today. The same entrance we’ve had since we got the Stoneville space. Gradually we ended up with the whole floor up there, part of which Webb uses now.
So it’s been an evolution in High Point. We’ve gone from just about a shack to the Ritz. Really, we spend a fortune each year, or twice a year, decorating our space and everything, but you have to.
INTERVIEWER: Sure you do.
VAUGHAN: I like where we are. As long as we stay in that building, and that may be forever, but as long as we stay there, I’d expect we’ll stay where we are.
INTERVIEWER: Sure you will. That’s where people expect to find you.
VAUGHAN: I used to go to the markets and, beginning in about 1957 or ’58, I would go to the Chicago Markets, and we would go there about Wednesday or Thursday and set up the space, and spend two weeks there, or most of two weeks.
INTERVIEWER: You’d have to spend the weekend.
VAUGHAN: And, about by Thursday, you remember it was a two-week Market, and about Thursday of the second week, I’d get on a plane to fly over to New York (I don’t think I ever took a train to New York), and spend the weekend there. Usually Ann would come up and meet me at the New York Market. When we left the Market in Chicago, I don’t remember the exact year, but, I can look it up and tell you. It was the year everything went to pot up there, and we decided that we would drop out of the Chicago Market. At that time, we had the four spaces, and had been in one of them. The Kemp space and the United space, we were together in four spaces.
We had grown to the point that we needed that kind of room. We had begun to decorate our things in a respectful manner. What happened to the Chicago Market, as you know as well as I do, the thing that broke the camel’s back … We were up there one winter, I stayed at the Morrison Hotel, and Saturday, before the Market was supposed to start on Monday, people started arriving from all over the country. All the hotels up there had overbooked their rooms. There were people sleeping in the halls, all over, anyplace they could find a place to lie down, they were sleeping. The next day they got back in their cars, or trains, or whatever, and went home, and they never did come back.
That had as much to do with closing the Chicago Market, as much to do as did the meeting down there at the Greensboro airport. Wasn’t that where we had the meeting? We decided that the Southern furniture manufacturers were going to introduce their goods at High Point.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, there on Albert Pick Road at the interstate.
VAUGHAN: When that was decided, we might have stayed in Chicago for another two markets, but we have never missed Chicago. I’ve missed some of the good times I had up there.
INTERVIEWER: Good times in Chicago had a way of being very costly.
VAUGHAN: Talking about markets, we were one of the first people in the Dallas Market. As a matter of fact, I know we were. We showed down there the first time they ever opened. That was a very productive market for us for a long time. That was a market where, if we needed to, we could introduce something else, if we hadn’t been as successful as we thought we should have been in High Point because most all the majors came there. They might not have stayed long, but at least they came.
We stayed with that but the people down there did just about the same thing as they did in Chicago. They got everybody dissatisfied.
INTERVIEWER: They were greedy in Dallas, as they were in Chicago.
VAUGHAN: We went down there to the Dallas Market. I guess I went to most of the Dallas Markets, I don’t have any idea how many. I’ve never missed a High Point Market, even back then when they were having four of them. The only markets that I never did attend on a regular basis were Los Angeles, and San Francisco. We showed out there, but I never attended them on a regular basis. But I did attend the Dallas Market, which was a wonderful market. We had a wonderful, wonderful girl – a wonderful, wonderful woman now, but her name was Colleen Barker, from here locally, who was Miss America. She graced our space down in Dallas. We had her down there for two or three days. The next one was from Oklahoma.
We always had a big party for our dealers. We called it a Key Dealer Party. We had it at the hotel down there, and it was really a nice affair. We were down there and didn’t have a photographer. We had Miss America down there, but we didn’t have the photographer, and everybody wanted their picture taken with her. I told them all, “I can’t give it to you tonight, but come by the Vaughan space tomorrow, and I’ll let you have one.” Now, that’s good selling, as far as I’m concerned.
INTERVIEWER: Now, that was smart.
VAUGHAN: Oh, that was fun. We’ve been a market line, in the sense that that’s where we depended on establishing our real estate with our dealers in the furniture industry, for the next six months.
INTERVIEWER: That’s right.
VAUGHAN: The market has changed a lot from 1960, anyway, to 1995-96. We usually came away from the market with a lot of orders, for not only the first cutting, the second cutting quite often, and the third cutting from time to time.
INTERVIEWER: That’s unusual.
VAUGHAN: So, we used to come home with a month and a half of business, or something like that.
Today, two things have happened down there at the market. It’s not that the line is any less popular than it was before. People come down there and make commitments, but they don’t spend the time to write orders.
INTERVIEWER: That’s right.
VAUGHAN: The reason they don’t is because the doggone market has gotten so big that you can’t cover the cotton picking thing and do it all. If you’re going to cover the market and what’s available, you don’t have time. I can see that they don’t have time to sit around and tell people, “I want six of this, and five of that, and 10 of this, and three of these.”
For that reason, our Markets, as judged by the amount of volume that we bring home on paper, are not the same as they used to be. The salesmen have got to go home and call on the people. It’s critical that the things you’re going to sell by, like your pictures and so forth, are ready for them when they leave to go to the market which means you’ve got to roll the dice a little bit. Sometimes you’re going to photograph one that you’ll never even cut. But if you don’t photograph it, somebody’s going to get in there ahead of you.
So, we still consider ourselves a market line, but we realized that, as far as sales at market are concerned, we have to keep tabs with the commitments we have, more than we do with the orders we get. We still get orders, but we don’t get anything like what we used to get.
INTERVIEWER: No, no. That makes sense.
VAUGHAN: We’re only showing at one market now. We used to show in Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles ...
VAUGHAN: … Dallas, Atlanta, and High Point.
VAUGHAN: So we’ve spent some time at markets.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, you’re lucky to get one done before the next one comes.
VAUGHAN: Well, fortunately I like the way it is now myself.
INTERVIEWER: Now, we have covered the beginning of the company, and the growth of the company. The next question is: How has growth been affected by labor? You mentioned that you were organized one time in the early ’30s. In fact, that happened all over North Carolina, probably about the same time. The textile industry and furniture as well.
VAUGHAN: Well, in the late ’40s, I can’t tell you exactly when it was, but Vaughan Furniture Company, Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Company, and Webb, I believe (I’d have to make sure of that), but I think all of us lost elections here in Galax. But, we never would sign the Collective Bargaining Agreement that they wanted. And they never would sign one that didn’t have the check-off system. So, we just wore them out. We finally convinced our people that it wasn’t good for them. After that, every time we ever had an election, we won it handily, but it wasn’t fun. Never fun. What happened the next time was the union came in here determined, this was after our election here, this was probably about 1958 or 1959. There again, I haven’t written down anything like that, but if you’re interested in knowing the exact date, I’ll be glad to furnish it for you.
Anyway, the union came in and started organizing industries again here in Galax. The Dixon Lumber Company, then to Webb, and they were voted in at Webb. They went to Vaughan-Bassett, and they were voted in at Vaughan-Bassett. Well, we always thought the reason they came to us last was because we had the best relationship with our people.
We’ve always, ever since I have been with the company, George and I, one or both of us, have written a letter to the employees every quarter, at the end of the quarter, telling them exactly how their plant had done, and how the company had performed. When I say exactly, I don’t mean maybe we may not have put down 15 cents, but if we made $243,862, that’s what was put down there. If we lost that amount, that’s what was put down there. Whatever it was, we were totally honest with them, so when they got letters from us, it wasn’t all of a sudden. We’d been in touch with them all along.
INTERVIEWER: Very good.
VAUGHAN: So, the union decided to take us on. It was very fortunate timing because we always paid good bonuses to our people at Christmastime when
we had the profits to do so. We always paid a bonus.
But they came after us. We started fighting them, of course. We had the best attorney in the country, as far as I’m concerned. Blakeney & Alexander I think was what the firm was known as, from down in Charlotte, North Carolina. And he came up here and worked with us. I remember very well the first question he asked was, “Is your house in order?” I said, “Oh, yes.” He said, “What percentage of your people can you count on?” We named some 60 or 70 percent. He said, “You might want to check to be sure.”
So Everett Dobson and I went down the list, and we knew the people better than anybody because we worked with them every day. And we put down the people that we could absolutely depend on, the people that we thought we could depend on, but weren’t positive about, and the people that might fall into the other category. We got through and we had less than 30 percent that we knew we could count on, I mean, we had 30 percent, instead of 60 percent.
So, we went to work on the thing, talked to our people and everything that you can do, in every way that you can legally fight it. We had a meeting up here at the courthouse on how we were going to do the voting and everything like that. When we walked out of the courthouse (this was a week before the meeting), Mr. Blakeney said, “They think they’ve got you beat.” And George and I, and Everett said, “We don’t think so.” So, we voted a week later, and we won six to one. And that was the end of the union. Not just in Galax – it just faded away. People fought signing what the union wanted signed, and there hasn’t been anything up in Galax since then, except one later at Webb, and we won that handily, too. But this is not a union town. Almost every problem that anybody ever had in a town like this, in a working community like this, it’s usually because you have somebody in your organization that they have a grievance against. It’s not money. That’s usually what precipitates it. And we’ve tried to be very careful not to let that happen. But, no, the union hasn’t been a factor. Our labor, I guess over the years, it’s not that way anymore, but our labor up here would be comparable with any labor in the furniture industry today. But for many years we enjoyed a somewhat lower overall cost of labor up here, more than some people experienced in some parts of the industry.
We’ve been very fortunate in the years that I’ve been here to have a good work ethic. When I first came here, there weren’t any women, and of course, no blacks working for Vaughan Furniture Company. Today, we still don’t have very many African-Americans in this area. We have a good representation of those at our plants. Some of them are the best workers we have. But we’ve been blessed with a good work ethic in this part of the country.
When I first came to work for Vaughan Furniture Company, what people were telling me was, “Boy, people just don’t work like they used to.” They tell you that people just don’t like to work as well as they used to when you first came into the business. And yet, as near as I can tell, I can’t tell any difference from 1954 to 2001. We’ve had some outstanding workers. We’ve had some that were good workers, and we’ve had some that weren’t so good.
One of the things that has saved us up here – today things are quite different than they have been up here, but people are looking for jobs that haven’t been looking for jobs. A year and a half or two years ago there was no unemployment for anybody that wanted to work.
One thing that really saved us was the fact that we’ve had Hispanics that moved into our area up here. They have proved to be, most of them anyway, just like most whites and most other folks. Most of them have turned into good citizens, and some of the best workers we have. These are people that if you need somebody to work overtime, you don’t have to worry about whether you can find somebody.
We feel very fortunate to have them, and they’ll be a part of this community 40 years from now. They’ll just have a little different ancestry than some of the rest of us. But they’ll be nonetheless very much a part of the community. The children, of course, are all bilingual.
We have run literacy programs here. The first thing we started out doing (this was my brother’s idea and it’s still going on) was we offered, for anybody who was illiterate that worked at Vaughan Furniture Company, we opened up a school. It wasn’t something that we paid people to do, but if they wanted to learn to read and write they could come to this place for an hour or two, four or five days a week. We hired a teacher. We also had some people who volunteered to help, you know, volunteer workers. You ought to see some of the letters people have written us, that couldn’t write before, couldn’t read their Bible, and so forth, and how much it has meant to them.
Then, when we began to get these Hispanic people in here, they were originally migrant workers, most of which worked in the fall in the Christmas ornament business. You know, pine roping. They came up here to cut the pine tips, and rope together all kinds of stuff.
INTERVIEWER: Now, trade associations. Is there anything you’d like to say about AFMA (American Furniture Manufacturers Association)?
VAUGHAN: I don’t know of anything else in particular. I’ve been going to AFMA meetings since 1954. I always learn a lot.
INTERVIEWER: I’m going to call Doug and tell him what you said. He’ll like that.
VAUGHAN: Well, it’s the truth.
INTERVIEWER: What other business enterprises or joint ventures have you been a part of outside of your own company? How did they work out?
VAUGHAN: Well, to be honest with you, of course I was on the board of Vaughan-Bassett. That worked out pretty good. The little things that I have invested in over the years, in a small way, I’d have to say on the average, they worked out pretty damn poorly. Those that I was involved with on a more personal basis, they seemed to get along pretty good as long as you paid attention to them. They didn’t run themselves.
But my experience in investing in a little of this and a little of that, has not been good. I wish I could tell you it had been but it hasn’t. I’ve been so involved in things. A lot of people, as their businesses have evolved, they have opened up different types of things. They have opened up separate companies to do things that really the parent company ought to have been involved in, as far as I’m concerned. It’s like the veneer business. We built a veneer company about 15 or 16 years ago. It has seldom made less money in a year’s time than it cost us to go into business the first year. We’ve got one customer and that’s ourselves. We sell some to Webb. We keep it busy ourselves.
But George and I, we could have built that business ourselves if we’d wanted to, and sold veneer to Vaughan and made money on it. We always felt that we owed it to the company, that whatever we could do to save the company money was most important. Hell, we’re the biggest stockholders in the company anyway. What was good for Vaughan Furniture Company was good for us and our families and our future. So we haven’t ventured into many other avenues.
INTERVIEWER: In Lenoir, they got together and set up a glue factory.
INTERVIEWER: My recollection is that it wound up belonging to just one of them. And then in Bassett, in that area, they set up a particleboard factory.
VAUGHAN: Tell me about it. I was involved in that. He was going to make boards for buildings and stuff.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, out of the factory waste.
VAUGHAN: Yes, what I was involved with was one of the lumber companies down there. Anyway, they had a German process that made a lot of sense. You took woods that wouldn’t make anything else out of the forest, I mean it was soft hardwoods. It chewed them up and made boards out of them, eight feet long, two feet wide – as long as you wanted it. That was another one of my unsuccessful ventures. I don’t like to laugh about it, but that’s the truth. I think I’ve always done better putting my money into something more in the neighborhood, like Lowe’s Industries or one of the stock markets. I’ve usually done better there.
INTERVIEWER: Now, we look at changes in the furniture industry. Describe how the industry has changed over the years that you’ve been active in manufacturing, in the marketplace, and in your own business.
VAUGHAN: Well, the industry has changed over the years, given the fact that the products we’re making today as an industry are so much better than the products we used to make. There’s more style and they cost more, too.
But the value of furniture in our industry today is as high as or higher than it has ever been in relationship to the dollar, or what the dollar is worth today, than what it was before.
I think the biggest change in the manufacturing industry has been that when I came in, as far as I know, all the companies were privately owned. They were all privately owned or family owned. Well, it certainly was family run. I was sitting here trying to think of one that wasn’t, and I can’t. In 1950, the late ’50s and early ’60s, some of the larger companies came in who wanted to get into the home furnishings industry. I’d like to say it was with a varying degree of success, but I can’t think of a single one that came into it at that particular period of time that was ever successful at it.
INTERVIEWER: No. Drexel, maybe?
INTERVIEWER: That worked for a while. Burlington stumped their toes big time.
VAUGHAN: Yes, they really did. And you couldn’t have bought a better company than United. But you know the worst thing that they ever did – they had a policy when you got to be 62 years old or something like that, that you had to leave the company. They had definitely, without any question in my mind anyway, Robert Philpott was among the top five manufacturers in the industry, easy. When they let him go it never was again what it was before that. I saw Robert down in Florida. I ran into him at a restaurant, and I said, “How are you liking retirement?” He said, “I just hate it.”
INTERVIEWER: So he didn’t like retirement?
VAUGHAN: No one does, especially if it’s forced on you.
INTERVIEWER: What are the most serious problems facing our industry today, short term and long term? What is the most serious of all?
VAUGHAN: Well, the most serious problem in our end of the industry, and probably in the upholstery end of it, as far as with relationships with the American furniture manufacturers, is the imports coming in here from the rest of the world. That’s something that we’re going to be faced with for a long time, because there are so many people in the world that would give anything for a job, much less a job like you get in this part of the world. I see that as a long-term problem for the American furniture manufacturers. I think the playing field will tend to level over the years for those of us who can make it. I want to put us in that category. I can continue to grow and continue not just how much furniture you can make, but grow in relationships with your customers.
It’s a different business today. There was a time when people would wait a certain length of time for their furniture. Those that didn’t want to wait usually gave you an order for this cutting and the next cutting, so they were backed up and had merchandise. That’s over and done with. People are expecting service today. Our furniture that we sold in probably the last 24 months, I’d say 60 percent of it or maybe more, was sold for immediate delivery. They want it right now. If I wanted it tomorrow, I would have ordered it tomorrow.
They expect us to do the warehousing and so forth. We’re answering the call. There is very little that you would order from us today that you would have to wait very long for. Most anything you order, you could have before the week is out. People are not ordering the quantities they used to order. This makes it very difficult. Even if they’re using the same quantities over a period of a year, they’re not ordering as much furniture at a time, and they aren’t placing orders as far ahead as they used to. It’s very hard to know which suites to cut from time to time.
INTERVIEWER: As you say this, I’m seeing that there’s an interesting dichotomy – you’ve got two things that oppose each other. One is, indeed, people want it right now. On the other hand, if it’s coming from China, if nothing else, you’ve got 30 days on the water.
VAUGHAN: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: That’s not delivery right now.
VAUGHAN: No, I would expect the next wave from China, the next big move that the Chinese people will make, will be United States warehouses. That would be something that I think we should expect to have to deal with somewhere in the future.
INTERVIEWER: Have you heard about the Universal Furniture distribution center down in High Point?
VAUGHAN: Yes, I have.
INTERVIEWER: Almost half a million square feet.
VAUGHAN: That’s what I’m talking about.
INTERVIEWER: The biggest structure in Guilford County since the Sears distribution center over in Greensboro.
VAUGHAN: My goodness. This is one of those things that we’ve got to deal with but nonetheless, our reaction time should be quicker than theirs because if they run out of something, it’s got to come a long way. If we run out of something, I can have you some of it in pretty damn short order. I say I can. That’s the way it used to be. But Vaughan Furniture Company can.
The relationship with your customers – we have customers today that we have traditionally sold. We’re selling more today to these customers than we were last year, or the year before, or the year before that. Because you have certain things you have to do with protection and so forth within a community. It’s a difficult thing to do, where you have a retail company that is in more than one state. If it’s just in one community in a state, your manufacturer’s representative can handle it OK. In many instances, we are experiencing growth with customers we have done a little business with over the years. Particularly in the medium to – well, there’s a small, medium and large – somewhere between the medium and large. This group of people in here, they do a lot of business but don’t fall into the top 10 or 15 in the country. These people likely are doing more business, and why, exactly? I think it’s because of the fact that we’re giving them better service. We give them better backup and we give them better tools to work with, to advertise. I say this with all honesty, in my opinion, I’m telling you the truth, we make a better product than they make over there. I think we do. From what I can see, we do. That doesn’t mean that they don’t make a good product, but I think we make a better product than they do. We’ve got to do that if we’re going to stay around and be successful. We’ve got to do it. You can’t miss any beats anymore.
INTERVIEWER: No, you can’t.
What has been your own greatest contribution to this industry? How much of this was built on existing knowledge, and how much came from innovations that you and Vaughan Furniture Company originated before other companies did?
VAUGHAN: That’s one nice thing about having five factories. If we had one factory doing all the business that it could, we might be more profitable than we are today. I don’t know. Having five factories, you’ve got five different machines operating. You’ve got five different finishing rooms operating, etc., etc. We have learned a lot from each other.
I have found that you’ve got to give each man the equipment to run with. About every really good operator that I’ve ever seen, regardless of the machine, regardless of how automatic the machine was, after awhile, he found something that he could do to improve the operation of that machine.
INTERVIEWER: The operator?
VAUGHAN: The operator himself.
INTERVIEWER: He would look at a given part and say, “Is there anything wrong with this?” If so, then, “What can be done to correct it?”
VAUGHAN: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: He’s the guy that can tell you.
VAUGHAN: Yes, he’s the guy that can tell you.
INTERVIEWER: I haven’t talked to anybody else that had that thought.
VAUGHAN: Well, we have. I can’t remember everything that we’ve done. I’ve never been in a factory that I didn’t learn something. Not one of ours or anybody else’s. And I’ve never known anybody to come through one of our factories that didn’t learn something. If I’ve ever been in anybody’s factory and saw something that I thought that I could, as a way of thanking them for letting me come through, to tell them something that I knew, that I didn’t see them doing, that I thought would be beneficial, I always passed it along. We have any number of things. I can think of things that people have done. It’s like finding ways like, where we were making a single part, now we’re making a multiple part.
Bobby Thompson is the guy I mentioned to you that was in our Quality Control. He was head of our Quality Control. His son came to work for us, and he was the first person who came to work for us that really understood big time CNC stuff. He was able to program it and that type of thing. He’s been our corporate engineer, and has been engineering products for several years now. He’s one of the best men that I know of in the industry. He’s come up with lots of different ways – where you’re making one part, you can do the same operation and make the two or three parts at the same time. It’s kind of like, I remember when we got the first profile shaper we ever had, which was a wonderful event. I went out there one day and here they had tables this long and they were running a part like this, and the thing went this way and back this way. I said, “Why don’t you put two pieces up there so you can make two of them at the same time?” After that, the guy that ran that thing, he’d found every way he could to save space on that pass that was being made. Little things like that are what make a big difference on that bottom line at the end of the year. But to give you a list of them, I swear I couldn’t to save my neck. We haven’t invented any kind of special finish. We’ve made a bunch of machines here at Vaughan Furniture Company. Machines that do things like mold sanding and stuff like that, back before you could buy one. We’ve made a lot of our own equipment. We can make machines if we need to, and you know how many hard big things that you’ve got to pour steel for. I bet you Bobby Thompson could enumerate many things that have been done out there by our people. Personally, I’ve always felt like, when I walk through the factory, my goal was to see what was wrong, not what was right. If I missed what was right, it was still right, but if I missed what was wrong, it was still wrong.
INTERVIEWER: That’s right.
VAUGHAN: That was one of the things that my uncle taught me when I went through the factories. He said, “Whether you’re looking for quality, or whatever you’re doing, look for what’s wrong.” We’ve tried to encourage, not just foremen, but our people that work on our machines, to be innovative. When somebody has done something special, we reward them for it.
INTERVIEWER: You say, “Nice job.”
VAUGHAN: They told me one time, they were talking about something we were doing, and my uncle said, “I think we’ve always done this.” I didn’t think we had, but that’s what he said. And he said, “John, there are two things you’ll never have to worry about. First of all, anything you ever do to help this company save money, you can count on me bragging on you. In the meantime, I expect you to do what you’re being paid for. You’re not going to hear me bragging on you – just do your job.” And I can understand that. He was right.
I don’t know of any particular innovations, but we’ve done a lot of things in design that were original at the time that we did them. In the large part, you could credit it to the designers more than to us. The designers have learned as much from us as we have from them. Really, they have. It’s a give and take thing.
One of the things that we try to do is not say that we can’t do it. We’ve got an attitude here that if it was worth doing, we’d find a way to get it done. We’ve brought out things and made changes in our cases from time to time, and have run into problems in our assembly operation, one place and then the other.
Then we’d sit down, the people that were involved in the thing, and talk and you might say “blue” and I’d say “red.” And somebody comes up with an idea that they wouldn’t have had if you hadn’t said what you said. It’s kind of a brain session. So far, we’ve been almost 100 percent successful in solving problems that made suites successful, even though we had never done them before.
One of the things that I learned one day in High Point, on how to save money – I’ll never forget the day. When we went down there and they were running Raleigh Road. Do you remember the Raleigh Road plant? Raleigh Road, of course, that was the name of the street. They had bought it from Burlington or somebody. It had been a textile plant.
INTERVIEWER: It was over in Lexington.
VAUGHAN: Yes, part of United. I went down there, and it was the first time I had ever seen triple-dresser cases made without center mounts for each drawer. They had done away with the center mounts. We came back home, changed our construction, and saved a bunch of money. It’s not necessarily things that we develop, its things that the industry has developed as a whole. I wish we had some secrets. Everything that we have done, has been very successful and has helped us a lot in design, merchandising and sales. When we have had what we thought was a design that could be protected we had gone to the trouble of getting the design patent on it. We have had suites that have the design patents and other people have copied them. I don’t mean just the thoughts and ideas, but really copied them. We have always gone to court, if we had to, to get them to stop. We have been very successful at it.
INTERVIEWER: I hadn’t realized that.
VAUGHAN: People have tended to leave our designs alone where we’ve had design patents on them. Most things are not patentable because things are done too often. But when somebody comes up with an idea that is patentable, we’ve always applied for the patents. To my knowledge, they’ve never refused a patent.
INTERVIEWER: How have outside factors influenced the furniture industry?
VAUGHAN: Well, I’ll explain to you that the Depression and the labor movement of the 1930s just about put us out of business. As a matter of fact, it did for a few months. World War II, on the other hand, we were able, about the time the war started, to get a little bit of an increase in our prices, which helped us immensely through the war years because everything was frozen.
During the war years, we made as much furniture as we could make, with the parts that we could get. For the first time, we worked a lot of women. I’m giving this to you all secondhand because I was too small to know what was going on in the industry those days, not having anybody from the family that was involved, making a salary or anything. My mother didn’t work in it, my Dad was dead. George was away at school or in the Army. I spent some time down there, but not a lot of time at the factory. World War II was a time when they took ninety-some percent tax if you made over a certain profit.
INTERVIEWER: That was the excess profits tax.
VAUGHAN: Excess profit tax. There was a time when there wasn’t any money to be spent on equipment because you couldn’t buy any. Not only were our prices and the cost of our products frozen, so was the cost of nails and screws and everything else, when you could get them. All of them told me that where you were using four nails, you used two. You just managed to get along.
As far as World War II is concerned, at the end of World War II, our family was in better shape than it was at the beginning of the war for obvious reasons. We had closed the thing down and had a terrible flood. Within the next year, the war had started. But I think we got along very well during the war and under those circumstances.
Racial attitudes have never been a big problem. Obviously one of the reasons is, we never worked those people here. We should have been working them. The people in Bassett, they were working with the African-Americans down there long before we were. We should have, even though we only had a few of them. Then we applied for some government help down there, for training some people. The person that they sent from the labor department up here happened to be a black lady. We were talking to her and she was asking us about the number of people we were working, and she said, “I noticed walking through the factory, that there aren’t many African-Americans.” Maybe she called them blacks at the time, I’m not really sure. George said, “That’s true. Not many live up here. We need workers if you can find some. We’ll be glad to hire them.” And she went back and checked the records they had, and sure enough, she found out what he told her was exactly right.
As far as women’s issues, since we started working women, I don’t ever recall that we had one problem where we had a woman get upset at one of her supervisors. I’ve always told all of our people that were in charge never to leave any kind of complaint unresolved. Even if it’s unsigned, it might be true. You better check into it.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, check it out.
VAUGHAN: To the best of my knowledge, we’ve never had to pay anybody anything because of the fact that they weren’t treated right.
INTERVIEWER: When did you start working women? During the war?
VAUGHAN: During the war was when we started. After the war, when the men started coming back out of the services, the women gave up their jobs willingly to the veterans that came back. We really began to work women again in the late 1950s.
I guess not a huge portion is women. It wouldn’t be as many as half because there are so many jobs that require a lot of strength. I’d say 35 to 40 percent of our work force, or close to it, are women. I’d say, somewhere between 30 and 40 percent, I don’t know the exact figure. We have a tremendous number of women that work for us. They do an awfully good job. In certain areas, they’re far better than the men.
INTERVIEWER: How has shipment of your products affected your company? Primarily for everybody, it’s been a transition from rail shipment to truck delivery.
VAUGHAN: That’s exactly what it was. When I first came here in 1954, I don’t know what the percentage was, but a very large percentage of our goods were going out by rail. Then that got less and less and less. When the railroad finally left here, I think we were shipping by rail about 4 percent. We were shipping a lot more volume, but it had gotten down to where it was only 4 percent of the volume we were shipping. Of course, it got to the point where it wasn’t possible for the railroad to operate. They offered to sell us the equipment and the line from here to Pulaski. There was some talk about it for a time, but we decided not to.
We haven’t missed the rail. George and I went down to the closest point on the railroad, down to around Fort Chiswell. We went down there with the idea of maybe buying some property because we felt like the time might come, with World War II and the Cold War, you never knew what was going to happen.
The time might come when we would need to ship again by rail. Of course, we couldn’t ship by rail from Galax. There was no longer any rail up here. But we finally decided that we’d stay out of the transportation business. We got into it briefly, and had some two, three, or four trucks.
INTERVIEWER: You don’t run your own trucks?
VAUGHAN: We don’t run any now. The only thing we run trucks for is from factory to factory. We have to do that to consolidate loads sometimes. We don’t deliver any of our own furniture anymore. We did for a while. We don’t anymore. Ours is all done with common carrier.
INTERVIEWER: What have been the effects of environmental regulations?
VAUGHAN: I’d have to say that the environmental regulations have been good for the country by and large. They have been tremendously expensive for our industry. I don’t see that getting any better. I think we’re very fortunate to have lived where we do, and not in a heavily industrialized area like some places are. I think we’ve been very fortunate to live in a non-attainment area or attainment area whichever it is, I forgot.
The environmental regulations, frankly, they could have been so onerous if it hadn’t been for people like Joe Gerard and some of the folks that worked with AFMA and so forth. I hope I did a little good while I was involved. I did enjoy the work I did with Joe. What a guy – what a great guy. They (regulations) have had a major effect on everybody’s bottom line, and also on our net worth.
INTERVIEWER: I see about $50,000 worth of Carter Day filters on top of your factory.
VAUGHAN: We’ve got a situation like that up at Webb right now. We put in a new finishing room up there at Webb, state of the art, at Webb #1. We had to have it to finish the average $100,000 worth of furniture a month going through there. It puts out a lot less emissions of all kinds, whatever kinds they are. I’m trying to say BTU, but it’s not BTU, but it’s something like that. Parts per million, PPM.
Then we still had the $100,000 coming through the #2 plant. We could finish all the furniture for both plants through our new finishing room.
What we had asked the EPA to do was to give us permission to go ahead and increase production. Of course, if you put more furniture through, you’re going to have more emissions. But you’re going to have far less emissions than you would have running both factories like we still do. We couldn’t even get them to talk about it. That way, we could finish our goods cheaper because we could do it with fewer people. They wouldn’t allow it. They just stonewalled our request.
Both factories are running now with fewer emissions, and it looks to me like that benefits everybody.
INTERVIEWER: What have been the changes in purchasing?
VAUGHAN: The biggest thing that a purchasing agent does today is to keep up with the cost of things – what other people are paying, making sure that we’re not overpaying for anything. She has to try to find bills and so forth, where she can keep up with the products that are out there in production. I’m talking about purchasing parts and that type of thing. That’s the biggest thing that the woman that looks after it today has to do. You couldn’t go anywhere and find a better one, as far as purchasing agents are concerned. She is a local girl. She was trained here at Vaughan Furniture Company. She worked her way up through the department. When we had the loss of one of our purchasing agents, when John Faddis died, we had to hire somebody from outside of the company. We didn’t have anybody. He was a relatively young man, and died unexpectedly. So we hired a very excellent guy that worked for us about 10 years and trained this lady.
I had known John his whole life, I guess. He was a little younger than I was. When I was involved in the purchasing end, like I described before, we actually had to give an order to the purchasing department to order a certain amount of stuff. It was done mathematically, but by the hardest method.
Today, there is so much more time because all of that is done by computer. She has time to really buy. I’m talking about shopping, buying stuff like that. She’s a mighty sharp lady.
I know one thing – we made a mistake here about five or six years ago and had somebody come in, one of these people that want to help you out. I have to say I wasn’t very happy about doing it, but they wanted to do it. They came in and went over all of our purchasing to decide whether or not we were paying too much for stuff. They said they hadn’t been anywhere where anybody was buying stuff for any less than we were.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, that’s unusual.
VAUGHAN: That was not good information for somebody else to have, but I thought that was a fine compliment for our purchasing department.
It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten into purchasing. Most of the purchases I’ve made over the years have been things like when you have a piece of hardware you like.
The guy says, “I want 47 cents for it.” We’ve got to have it cheaper, bargain for things, parts and so forth, into the area of design and so forth. But as far as purchasing lumber, it is purchased here by one person who was trained by my brother. He’s my son-in-law. He’s 44 or 45 years old, so he’s got a lot of career left and he’s just as tight as a big fat man. He does a good job of keeping our lumber. He had a lot to learn. He learned it and he had to learn when to buy and when not to buy. He’s learned when you start buying and when you stop buying, when to cut prices and when you have to bump them a little bit, in order to get enough to stay busy. It’s a talent.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, sure it is. Now, you’ve covered sales and merchandising quite thoroughly. Is there anything that needs to be added to that?
VAUGHAN: Well, of all the people I’ve ever worked with, Tom Wilson was our house designer for 30 years. Tom was not the best person that I ever worked with in design as far as his own personal research was concerned. Not that he didn’t know what was going on in the industry – I don’t mean that. You’d have an idea and I’d have an idea, and Joe would have an idea, and Pete would have an idea, and George or whoever it might be, and Tommy could put your ideas on paper.
He could take your idea and my idea and his idea, put them all together and blend. Now that was a great, great talent. We had some damn good talent that knew more or less what we needed, but didn’t know how to put it down.
So Tommy did that and, of course, he did the layouts of the suites and the details for the suites, and then our people would take the sizes off the details and so forth and make a building sheet. We used to have to build out everything by hand – you’ve seen those cards that you have to fill out one after the other, every day. Like I said, you put that in a thing and it spits out everything you need. It’s wonderful.
INTERVIEWER: What about First Union?
VAUGHAN: Well, I learned a lot about finance. If I had to do it all over again, or if I was going to educate my boys again … David went to N.C. State and took the same curriculum I did. He finished top in his class in that curriculum so he got a good education out of it. Bill finished at North Carolina State after going to Richmond first and VCU, where he did well enough, but he didn’t want to go into the furniture business.
Did you ever know Hugh Chatham with Stanley Furniture?
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yes.
VAUGHAN: Well, Hugh left Stanley and went out to the West Coast. He had a wonderful friend who started Holiday Inns.
INTERVIEWER: Hugh’s wife is the one who wrote the Bassett genealogy.
VAUGHAN: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: She gave us a fantastic history resource.
VAUGHAN: Tremendous. Westward Migration of Virginia Families or something like that. Early Virginia Families and Their Westward Migration. Something like that. Anyhow, she’s a great girl. She’s like a sister.
Hugh was sales manager of Stanley. So this guy comes to the Market, and he’s had one of the greatest ideas anybody has ever had. The Eisenhower Program was just getting going really good for the interstate highways. So this guy in Memphis had this idea that there’s going to be a lot more traveling. If they are going to travel, they’re going to have to have someplace to stay. He came up with Holiday Inns. So he goes to the furniture Market. He doesn’t have any money, doesn’t have any credit, doesn’t have much of anything except a hell of an idea. He already had some inns that had been built. I don’t know how much of them he owned. The profitable end wasn’t the people sleeping there, it was the Holiday Inns … what did they call their thing? It wasn’t the motels, it was furnishing the motels. You know, all the stuff you had to buy through that end of the business, which had nothing to do with the operating end of the business. He and Hugh got to talking, and Hugh went to talk to Uncle Tom – Tom Stanley. His wife and my mother were sisters. He talked him into giving him credit. They became Stanley’s largest customer through that.
Then Hugh and Tom fell out, and Hugh decided he was going to go on his own and move west. They moved out to San Francisco. He went to work for Vaughan-Bassett. I think he also carried another line. Kemmons Wilson is the Holiday Inn man I’m talking about. He and Hugh had been hunting together and everything together. They had been close friends since back in the early ’50s when Holiday Inn was getting going. Kemerage Wilson told Hugh, he said “I’m going to give you the franchise for the San Francisco area,” or that northern California area. They didn’t have any. There were no Holiday Inns out there. Hugh said, “Oh, hell, I don’t know anything about the Holiday Inns. I don’t have that kind of money.” Wilson said, “I know how to run them, and I know where to get the money.” So they became very, very, very good friends. He made Hugh a wealthy man through all of that. Hugh and Wyatt Exum were very, very close friends, too. Very much alike.
INTERVIEWER: I really liked Ex. He was a good man.
VAUGHAN: A good man. I got off the subject there. I didn’t mean to.
INTERVIEWER: No, that’s all right. And management, I think you’ve hit that every time there was an opportunity.
VAUGHAN: You know, talking about support from or received from people in our industry – we’ve been fortunate over the years to be welcome in most factories. Later it seemed like the bigger the conglomerate, the less welcome you got.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, how true.
VAUGHAN: Nonetheless, I guess from 1954 to 1964, I was probably in most of the furniture factories in the industry, and most of their people were in our factory. Most of them were in our plant.
I’d say as far as people that meant a lot to George and me, of course, Doug and Bill Bassett were competitors, so was Uncle Bunyon, and yet still, I have to say that they were the people in the industry that we got the most support from, the most help from, making the more important decisions. Of course, we didn’t ask them about design and stuff like that. I’d say they’ve been very supportive.
I’d have to put at the top of any list, as far as the support that I have personally received, and that our company has received in the industry, first was the Southern, and then the American Furniture Manufacturers Association. We’ve had more support from them. We’ve never asked for anything we didn’t get. At least, an effort to answer. In most cases, a very damn good answer. We have sent people; we tried to cover the waterfront. We have people, I don’t know how many dozens of people, that go to their meetings and various parts of it during the year. It’s not hokey. We get a lot more out of it than we put into it.
I think, what is our industry? Well, it’s not just a large furniture company and the rest of the manufacturers. I’m talking about our suppliers. I’m talking about the people we buy from.
We not only listen to what they have to say, we ask them for help. If we ever have any problem with a machine, or with the sandpaper, or finishing or whatever it is, the first thing we do is call in the people that we do business with in those lines. They’ve been tremendously supportive for us.
We have customers, I’ll mention one in particular, Sammy Finger. Sammy Finger, of Finger Furniture Company, was one of our toughest sales. The first time we sold them was as tough to get an order as anyplace I ever saw. Like I told you, we didn’t have any presence to speak of. Perry Frye went out there. It wasn’t that we didn’t know Sammy Finger; he just never had done that much business with us. He might not have done any business with us so Perry Frye went out there. They had a sale twice a year, and they asked people from various companies to come out there and help them with their sale.
Perry had gone out there for two or three of these meetings. There wasn’t any of our furniture on the floor. He went to Mr. Finger and said, “Mr. Finger, I’m going home.” He said, “Why, Perry? Why are you leaving?” He said, “Mr. Finger, you don’t have a single piece of our furniture on your floor, and I’ve sold the last damn piece of Broyhill Furniture that I’m going to sell.” That’s word for word what he told him. He said, “Perry, come on, we’re going to go in the office.” And he gave his first order. Over the years, we became wonderful friends with Sammy Finger and his whole staff. Sammy became a special friend, really. Several of the best customers we have today, some of the biggest customers that we have today, were brought into our space by Sammy Finger. I won’t mention any names, but you’d recognize every one of them. He brought them in because he had good luck with our line. He made a lot of money on our line.
Perry is from down in – what’s that little town down there next to Southern Pines?
INTERVIEWER: West End?
VAUGHAN: No, but right down there in that same area.
VAUGHAN: Anyhow, he’s from the Southern Pines area. What’s the name of that little town down there?
INTERVIEWER: It’s Southern Pines, and then Pinehurst is next.
VAUGHAN: It’s all in there together.
INTERVIEWER: It’s all together. West End is up this way.
VAUGHAN: As you can tell from talking to me, these little things that used to be there that I could drag up in a hurry seem to sometimes don’t drag up as quickly.
INTERVIEWER: Now give us an example of what you’ve done for other people. I know that you’ve done as much as you’ve received.
VAUGHAN: Well, we’ve always tried to be good citizens in the industry. We have never, to the best of my knowledge, unless somebody has denied us access to their factories, we’ve never denied anybody access to our factories. We’ve always felt that although the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association and today’s American Furniture Manufacturers Association don’t serve exactly the same purpose it was intended for to begin with, what they try to do is make the people better furniture people. They would share ideas every way you could go because they needed each other’s help. When you get into an area other than that, I’ve never really been involved in anything other than sharing things that we have been able to develop with our machinery and stuff like that with our competitors. Hooker, we’ve always shared ideas and financial information and so forth with each other.
Vaughan and Vaughan-Bassett used to. We don’t like we used to. I don’t believe I could point to anything in particular where I have been a great benefit to any of my competitors. If I have, it was unintentional, except in the manufacturing end of the business. That may sound bad, but I don’t mean it to be bad.
INTERVIEWER: No, no, it doesn’t. Describe your business strategy. I think that has come out some, but any general statements you want to make.
VAUGHAN: I want to go back to the other thing – if I’ve done anything for the other people in the industry, I’m going to go back. If I did, it was through the work I did with the American Furniture Manufacturers Association. I hope that I did something positive there. I certainly intended to. Other than that, I can’t really say anything. I’ve been involved with the Furniture Council, and had been involved in the engineering school at North Carolina State. Most of my involvement, the time I’ve spent, has been with the association more than anything else.
INTERVIEWER: Now, about business strategies.
VAUGHAN: Oh, yes. Our main focus has been on growth. The reason it has been over the years, it’s not now, not like it was, is because we’ve already had a lot of our growth. You know when you’ve got one factory, you may not have any factories tomorrow. When you’ve got two, you’re at least going to be in business tomorrow.
And three – the first thing you know you’ve got four or five of them, you’re feeling a little bit more confident with the situation. But growth was something that we had to have in order to be a long-time factor in the industry. If we had just stayed with that one little factory down there, we’d be gone. We wouldn’t be in business now at all.
So, I’d say if we’ve had a focus, it’s been growth. Because of that, we have been profitable. We’ve had some really good profitable years, and we’ve had some that weren’t too profitable. In 1960, I showed a small loss. We showed a small loss in 1974. Before that time, and since that time, we’ve been profitable.
But in order to grow, we’ve had to offer value. Now, I think that our focus is going to change a bit more by trying to lower our cost in labor and overhead. We’re not as interested in growth anymore as we are in our profitability. You’ve either got to grow or go. You don’t stay still.
There’s an aggressive way to do it, and there’s a way to do it that we hope will be a more profitable way to do it. To grow and grow our profits at a faster rate than we have grown them over the years.
As far as techniques are concerned, I wish I knew a few secrets. As far as I know, if we’ve done anything special that other people are not doing, it’s something that somebody in the factory has developed. A way to do something that I’m not aware of.
Business techniques – I’ve always felt like doing business was kind of like doing friendship. Not exactly the same thing. If you don’t go by the old “golden rule” and treat people like you want to be treated, you’re going to get treated like you treat people. So, we feel like we have a duty. Our first duty is to the company because without the company, there are no jobs, no stockholders, no nothing. I very strongly feel that the second duty we have is to our people that work for Vaughan Furniture Company, and to see that they’re as well paid as possible, have all the benefits possible, and are treated just like we’d want to be treated. We keep them informed. I’d say what I’m talking about is a business to look after. I don’t mean that they’re any less. You can’t get along without your customers, and you’ve got to treat them with fairness. As far as I’m concerned, when you talk about business strategies, the relationships that you build with your customers don’t happen by accident.
INTERVIEWER: They don’t happen quickly either.
VAUGHAN: They don’t happen quickly. Boy, you can lose one in a hurry. But they don’t happen quickly, that’s right. Last, but not least, our stockholders. That comes, like I say, with the company. Without the company, there is nothing. We have to protect the company first.
INTERVIEWER: What has been your central personal goal in business?
VAUGHAN: Well, I’ll be honest with you, as far as the business is concerned, my goal is always to find out the best thing for Vaughan Furniture Company, and then do it. I didn’t have any one goal. I hoped someday to have been president and CEO of the company. I would not have worked all of my life if I hadn’t been. So I won’t say that I didn’t have the goal to be president.
The welfare of the company was always my first goal, as far as business is concerned. The company has been good to me. They paid me well. The stock has done well over the years, not so well lately. The stocks are really tough right now. I think, as far as I’m concerned, looking back on things, you know, people ask if I would have done this, or if I would have done that, but I would have done the same thing. But if somebody were to say, “Would you want to go back and change this, that, and the other?”, I’d be afraid to. I’ve got a wife, I’ve got a wonderful job, a wonderful family, what in the world more would I want? If I changed something, it might have changed all that, too.
INTERVIEWER: Sure, everything changes.
VAUGHAN: If anybody’s any happier with his life than I am, or feels any luckier than I do, then I feel awfully good for him. I wouldn’t change anything like that. I think George and I shared the same goal: to build a company that would be a major company, and to last, and to increase the number of people that we employed, increase our dollars and cents.
When he came with the company, they shipped a little less than a million dollars. Today, we ship in the neighborhood of $150 million, maybe a little less this year. It had been more than that the year before last and last year.
Yes, I feel like it’s been a success. All I can say is, if those boys can increase it by 75 times, it’s going to be a hell of a big company when they get through.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, it will. Were you at the Hall of Fame banquet when Mr. Schnadig was inducted?
INTERVIEWER: Remember what he said?
VAUGHAN: I’ve forgotten.
INTERVIEWER: He said, “It’s been a wonderful experience with the factory family, and I’ll tell you something, if I had to do it over again, I’d do exactly the same thing.”
VAUGHAN: Exactly the same.
INTERVIEWER: There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
VAUGHAN: A great fellow.
INTERVIEWER: Is there any difference with your company’s goal versus your own?
VAUGHAN: I don’t think so. George and I together, and some other wonderful people that have been with the company, as far as running it is concerned, I don’t think there was ever any difference. I think we were all seeking the same goal. It’s like I told you about the first salesmen meeting I ever went to. Well, the last one I ever went to was just last April. During all that period of time, we’ve always told our salesmen that we’re looking to grow this company and we want them to be a part of it as long as their sales, their territory … it’s their territory, we’re not going to split New York in two, we’re not going to split Pennsylvania this way and that way and the other way, or whatever, but if you don’t keep up with your sales and don’t put somebody in to help you, we’re going to up there and see that you have additional helpers. One person can’t sell as much as two people. I don’t give a damn how good they are. They can’t be but in one place at a time. As long as they looked after their territories, their territories belonged to them. That’s been a good philosophy for us.
INTERVIEWER: Excellent. What is the overriding business philosophy of your company? That is essentially the same thing.
VAUGHAN: Well sir, I’ll tell you this, one of the first things that I learned in the furniture business from a man who, when he started his first business, he put a little sign up that said, “Count that day lost when the setting sun finds the cash register empty and work done for fun.”
Our goal has always been to be profitable. Darn tootin’. I don’t apologize for it a bit. That’s been our goal: to try to grow, and be as profitable as we could.
INTERVIEWER: Can you describe relationships with your suppliers?
VAUGHAN: Well, over the years, our relationships with our suppliers have been very good. It’s tough to change suppliers. We’ve had to from time to time. To the best of my knowledge, and you have to remember I’ve been retired for a couple of years, but to the best of my knowledge, we’re doing business with the suppliers we were doing business with 10 years ago, and many of them, for years and years before that. People come in here and talk with our purchasing department about prices and so forth. You have to listen to what they’re talking about. If we get in the position where we’ve got something, a particular thing that nobody’s got, we don’t hesitate to ask somebody to get in touch with our supplier, and say, “You know, we’ve been offered a good price on such and such. See if you can meet it.” If they can, let them meet it. We don’t gouge people, but at Vaughan Furniture Company, we not only deserve, we expect to buy from our supplies as cheap as anybody else does in the industry.
Boy, I want to tell you one thing: in lemon times, you make lemonade. That’s what you’ve got to do.
INTERVIEWER: That’s right. And now, how about the relationships with your customers? I liked your story about Sammy Finger.
VAUGHAN: Isn’t he a great guy? He really was a great guy. He was out here last year. This year, too, I guess.
INTERVIEWER: That’s the kind of relations that you’ve had?
VAUGHAN: Yes, well, we’ve had some other great relations. The relationship that we had with Levitz, who was our largest customer for many, many years, was a wonderful relationship, with them and their buyers, for many years. Then all of a sudden, they came to us one day and told us they had had a meeting down there and they decided that any furniture manufacturer that sold Rooms To Go, which was a customer of ours, but nothing as large as Levitz was in those days, they weren’t going to buy from anybody that sold to Rooms To Go. I said, “You know doggone well that we aren’t going to do that, Randall.” He said, “That’s what I told them down there, that’s exactly what I told them, that I knew you wouldn’t agree to it.” I said, and George was in there with me, “Can’t we go down there and talk with Bob and the rest of the guys down there and see if we can’t do something about it?” He said, “I’m sure they’d be glad to have you.”
We called and made a reservation. The next day we flew down there to talk to them. They stuck right to their guns. So we told them, as much as we hated it, we said, “We’d be glad to service you, as long as our stuff is on your floor. Just let us know what you want and we’ll be glad to service you as long as it’s there. But, if that’s the attitude you’re going to take, we can’t tie up our whole line with you when you’re not buying a whole lot.”
We’re not going to be told by anybody who we can sell to, and who we can’t. Whatever you buy from us, if we agree to give you an exclusive on it, you can count on us not selling it to anybody else. So we ended up losing them as a customer. But, as luck would have it, they didn’t owe us anything when they went out of business either.
INTERVIEWER: Probably saved you an enormous amount of money.
VAUGHAN: And Rooms To Go more than made up the difference. So, that relationship didn’t injure my relationship with anyone else. You know people have a right to do whatever they want to as a company as long as it’s their company and they’re running it. They’ve got a right to do whatever they want to. But we’ve always had the philosophy that if anybody is going to run Vaughan Furniture Company, it is going to be one of us.
VAUGHAN: But anyhow. It’s been a circus to be sure. A lot of entertaining things have happened over the years. I’ve really enjoyed my relationships with our salesmen, our customers, and with our sales force. All of our people here are very closely knit. Everybody knows everybody. Years ago, we started the philosophy, our own philosophy, that the best way to get along with people would be “George” and “John” and whatever. We’ve always operated on a “George and John” and “Bill and Sally” and whatever relationship, rather than a “Mr. this and Mr. that,” which has worked out good over the years for us. It might not for everybody, but it’s always worked good for us.
INTERVIEWER: I think every successful company in this industry has had that philosophy.
VAUGHAN: Had the philosophy, yes, of being a family.
INTERVIEWER: It’s a very personal, friendly industry.
VAUGHAN: We had this little ole’ thing here after George died. I had always wanted to have a pin of the company. Several years ago, this was George’s idea, he came up with a little pin shaped as a map of Virginia. So we used it for years and I finally told Bill, I said, “Bill, you better make sure we’ve got a copyright on that thing.”
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yes.
VAUGHAN: And we didn’t have it, but we got it. So when we decided we were going to have a pin, we used the silhouette of the state of Virginia.
VAUGHAN: We also had “Vaughan of Virginia” on it. We gave one of those to everybody that had worked for us for five years or more. I mean, the whole company. Chris Turbyfill, executive vice president, Taylor Vaughan, George’s son, senior vice president, Bill as president, David, vice president, and myself, pinned these on every employee that we had. And this was about December 4th or 5th or something like that. I bet a dozen people stopped me when we were going down for Christmas, and thanked me for the bonus that they got. That happened just about every Christmas. At least a half a dozen of them told me, “You know, I appreciate this bonus, but I would have rather had the pin than the bonus.”
INTERVIEWER: What about community involvement?
VAUGHAN: In our community we have supported everything. My brother led the drive to build the hospital up here. It was the last Hill-Burton Hospital built in the state of Virginia. Vaughan Furniture Company and the families of all, of course, supported it in a big way.
The same with our churches, particularly the church we belong to, First Baptist Church. We just got through building a new public library up here, and I had the honor of helping raise the money for that. Vaughan and Vaughan-Bassett and Webb made a challenge contribution. We tried to raise $2.3 million and we raised about $2.7 million.
INTERVIEWER: That’s wonderful.
VAUGHAN: This community up here is a giving community. Of course, the people that are going to support and the industries that are going to support a local project like that are not only your local people. We got some money from Hanes, first one and then another. But your local industries have to support your local charities. We’ve always been a leader in giving to the United Fund and so forth.
We’ve never allowed any solicitation in our plants. But the factory has always given amounts in the name of our employees. Because of that, we’ve usually been the top or close to the top of the contributions that are made. Of course, we’re the largest industry. We work more people in Galax than anybody else does.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, I didn’t realize that.
VAUGHAN: We ought to be contributing more. To the best of my knowledge, we’ve never failed to do our share in whatever projects, helping a little bit more.
Of course, George was involved in the Virginia Highway Department here for a long time. He made a big difference.
INTERVIEWER: What was his license plate number? Seven wasn’t it?
VAUGHAN: I’ve never known him to have a special license plate number.
INTERVIEWER: Well he did. I went up to see Sandy Bienenstock at the Furniture Library one time, and George’s car was in the driveway.
VAUGHAN: I guess he probably did that back when he was on the Highway Commission.
INTERVIEWER: It was a Fleetwood Cadillac, which wasn’t all that common then.
VAUGHAN: That’s right. I’d forgotten he had that low number, to be honest with you, because in later years, he had TGV/PBB, which was his wife’s number.
INTERVIEWER: I see.
VAUGHAN: Had a little slash in between them. I believe he did have a low number, and I’d forgotten about that.
INTERVIEWER: Virginia 7. I had never met him, and so Sandy introduced us. We sat there and talked for a while. So I said, “How did you come down with Virginia’s number 7?” He told me all about that.
VAUGHAN: George was on the Highway Commission. He had been on it for a couple of years, and he hadn’t had any luck at all getting them to talk about fixing this road out here.
So, he said, “Why don’t we have our meeting at the Galax old Fiddlers’ Convention? Y’all come up and be my guest.” So he brought them up here and wined them and dined them out at his house, and every afternoon, when the factories let out, he managed to have them out there on that road between here and the convention.
Well, the third day, they were getting ready to drive out that way and the Commissioner said, “George, you don’t need to take us out there anymore, we’ve gotten the message.” I thought that was pretty cute.
They went ahead right then and voted the funds to build the highway. They said “we’ve gotten the message.”
INTERVIEWER: What’s your favorite charity?
VAUGHAN: I guess I’d have to say First Baptist Church in Galax, Virginia. That’s the one I’ve given the most to over the years. I give all my contributions once a year, and I do it in the first part of December. That way I don’t miss anybody, and I don’t give to anybody twice.
I get tired of getting all the requests you get over the year. I’ve had no luck at all getting them to stop. I’ve got a list and I do it all at once, the first part of December.
North Carolina State, of course, I’ve always contributed to them, and Oakhill Academy. Just different things.
INTERVIEWER: What’s your principal leisure time activity? Horses?
VAUGHAN: No, they used to be. I’ve been a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. If I mastered anything at all, I’ve pretty well mastered golf, as far as locally is concerned, before I got into the horse business. But it ruined my golf game. I went for years and didn’t play. But I probably spend more days playing golf as a recreation than I do anything else.
But I love to hunt. I used to be an avid duck hunter, not as much anymore. I like, principally, you know, trap shooting. I’ve enjoyed horseback riding all my life, but I haven’t done much of it recently. I guess I’ve played more golf than anything else. But I don’t have any one thing. If somebody says, “Let’s go duck hunting,” I’ll probably go. But I don’t keep dogs like I used to.
INTERVIEWER: Do you still have your boat?
VAUGHAN: No, as a matter of fact, I gave my boat to my children two years ago. They all like boating.
Got to the point, to be honest with you, at my age, I always felt like I didn’t want a boat that I left in any way but clean. So when I got in at night, I don’t care how long it took, or how many fish I had to clean, I saw that the boat was clean before I left it. And climbing around in it, to be honest with you, at my age, with a little arthritis and so forth, it just got to the point where it was more trouble than it was worth.
INTERVIEWER: What’s your greatest success in your leisure time activities?
VAUGHAN: Well, I’ve had a couple of them.
The best I ever did, I was runner-up for the Golf Club Championship one time. I won any number of tournaments with handicaps and so forth. But I don’t know. I’d have to say as far as anything like this is concerned, our family interest from the early or middle ’60s, until the late ’70s, was the Tennessee Walking Horse.
We all showed. My daughters showed, and Ann showed, and in 1971, she won the World Amateur Championship. That’s like somebody winning the US Golf Amateur. It’s the finest amateur in the particular sport we were in. That was one of the biggest thrills I ever had to see her win. That was quite an exciting time.
But I’ve caught a lot of nice fish, though I don’t have any world records. Last time I went deep sea fishing, which if you’d asked me this question 20 years ago, that’s what I would have told you – that salt water fishing was my principal pastime. When I retired, well, it was actually a couple of years before I retired, we took six weeks and spent four of them in Australia, two in New Zealand, and one in Fiji, which was a lifelong ambition to do.
VAUGHAN: We were up on the Great Barrier Reef, and up in a place called Lizard Island, which is the last uninhabited area in the northern part of the Barrier Reef, and has some of the greatest fishing in the world. We were up there, and I had not planned on fishing. We were having a wonderful time. But one of the boat captains lost his charter for the next day. He came in there, when we were having dinner, and made the announcement that they had this thing and that the fishing was good. He gave us a price, hell, I don’t know, about $1,000, which is a lot of money. I thought it was.
Ann said, “You ought to go out there.” And I said, “Well, I didn’t come over here to fish.” She said, “I know, but you ought to go.” Nobody else had taken him up on it. We went out the next day, and from about 12:30 to about 4:00, I caught three big marlins. The largest one was about 850 pounds. I had fished all my life. I had caught two marlins in a day before, but I’d never caught three. I figured that was like Babe Ruth when he hit those four home runs, whatever it was. It was time to quit. So I haven’t done that anymore.
Now, what I like to do – my favorite fishing is fly fishing.
I’ve got a couple of friends, and my three boys that love it as much as I do. We go somewhere every year, to where it’s particularly good. I’d do more of it … its more fun doing it with somebody.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yes. Anything is more fun doing it with somebody else. I think you and Ann do things together.
VAUGHAN: We do a lot of things together. I love to travel. Ann and I both love to travel. We like to travel with friends if we can. As a matter of fact, one of the greatest trips we ever took, when I retired on June 1st, on June 2nd, we got in her car – an old Toyota Previa that we had – and we headed west. I had made arrangements to fish at a place out in northwestern Colorado. That was the only reservation we had. We didn’t have any place – we were going to be here, and there, and so forth. If we saw something that we wanted to do, we just stopped and did it. We’d call ahead at 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon. We had a AAA book, and we’d call ahead and make a reservation at a motel or something like that. We saw places we’d never have seen otherwise. We went out to Independence, Missouri, and hadn’t even planned on stopping. Of course, they talked about the Truman library, and the Truman home, and the Truman exhibits that they had out there in their museum. So we stopped out there and spent two days. We had the best time. That was one of the greatest trips we ever took. We just went wherever we wanted to go. We just changed our plans from day to day. I never had a better time – six weeks worth.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, that’s wonderful.
VAUGHAN: She’s a great traveling companion. A great girl.
INTERVIEWER: B.B. Lane and his wife travel a lot.
VAUGHAN: Oh yes, lots. She is one of my first cousins. She was a Bassett. Doug Bassett’s family.
INTERVIEWER: B.B. said on some occasion at a public presentation, he was asked, “What’s the greatest thing you ever did for Altavista, Virginia?” He said, “I brought Minnie Bassett to town.”
VAUGHAN: That’s the damn truth. He told the truth.
INTERVIEWER: He was proud of that.
VAUGHAN: If anybody ever got a good one, he did. I tell you, Minnie Bassett is as fine a person as you’ll ever know. Minnie Lane.
INTERVIEWER: Your retirement date was June 1st of ’99, you told me that way back.
VAUGHAN: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: Since then you’ve traveled a lot. Have you done anything in the furniture industry at all?
VAUGHAN: No, I’ve continued to work with Bill as a sounding board for different ideas, if I see something that I think would be beneficial to him. I’ve come down here from time to time and worked with him on designs and stuff like that. Things change so fast in the industry today, and I haven’t been keeping up with it like I did. That’s like anything else. If you’re going to be in charge of looking after your equipment, you’ve got to know what’s going on, what’s available, and what’s new, and be looking after what you’ve got. If you’re going to be in the design business, you’ve got to know what’s selling in this business today, not two years ago.
INTERVIEWER: Have you been in any other business?
VAUGHAN: No, sir. I’ve never been paid for doing anything in any other business, or for my leisure time as well. I have got so many things that I enjoy doing. I love to read. I’ve got my own personal business to look after. I love to play golf. We go, of course, to our place in Florida. That place that I’ve been going to since I was a baby. We have a lot of really good friends down there. Relatives that I see there, that I don’t see anywhere else. We spend most of the winter down there. I’ve never felt the need to look for some other business to get into. Since I’ve been retired, I don’t ever remember being bored.
INTERVIEWER: No, well, I’ve never been bored in my life.
VAUGHAN: No, I never have been either. I’ve been around a few people that bored me a little bit.
INTERVIEWER: I was 69 years old at AFMA and they decided that it was time for my retirement. I said, “Doug, I don’t want to retire.” I was making money for them. He said, “Well, we’ll accept your resignation.” I said, “Doug, you can accept all you want, but you’re never going to get it.”
VAUGHAN: That’s funny. I think he’s looking forward to his retirement.
INTERVIEWER: I think he is.
VAUGHAN: Well, I mean, he’s just 62, isn’t he?
INTERVIEWER: He’s going to have to find something to stay busy with or he’ll go nuts.
VAUGHAN: Well, he’s been busy all his life. I agree with you, he’ll have to find something to do.
INTERVIEWER: Now, let me read this summary statement, and then I’ll tell you a little more about it.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you for taking so much time today for this important contribution to our furniture industry. I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly, and you know I’m telling the truth when I say that. Keep in mind you may request a follow-up interview later, if you wish, as John Christian did. What would you like to add in summary?
VAUGHAN: Well, I would like to say this: The industry has been wonderful to me. One of the great moments in the industry for me, and totally unexpected, was the call I got from John Boardman, asking me if I would go on the chairs of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association. I didn’t have to think twice. I didn’t feel like I needed to ask George because I knew what he’d say. That to me was something that was totally unexpected, and greatly appreciated. Two other things: The American Furniture Hall of Fame was something that, when I was called by Jerry, and he asked me if he could put my name up, that was something, on neither one of them did I feel like it was an honor that I had earned in any way. But how do you – you can’t say no to any kind of call by your industry.
And those two things have been amongst the greatest things that have happened to me in my life: the association with the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, and of course, the Hall of Fame. At the end of the meeting last year, my grandfather was the first to be chosen, the first one to be singled out, in any case. And I was the last. That was a pretty special time. The article about Granddaddy being chosen, and the one about me being chosen, I’m putting them together on the same montage. It means a lot to me.
There was nothing greater than that, and being elected mayor of the city of Galax. There is nothing that can affect you anymore. There is no greater honor than to be chosen by your fellow citizens, or your fellow people in the industry. That’s as good as it gets.
INTERVIEWER: Right. I don’t believe there’s anyone else who’s followed his grandfather.
VAUGHAN: I don’t know to be honest with you.
INTERVIEWER: How about Louie Blumkin?
VAUGHAN: Was his mother elected to the Hall of Fame?
INTERVIEWER: Yes, she was.
VAUGHAN: Yes, well then, Louie qualifies. I’m going to tell you something: His son will be on there one day, too. Irving, at this stage in the game, is where Louie was when he was at this stage in the game.
INTERVIEWER: Well, yes, with some help from Warren Buffett.
VAUGHAN: Well, that’s true, that’s true, too. Mrs. B started the thing, and she was active throughout the whole thing. But, don’t discount Louie’s contribution. He was a giant.
INTERVIEWER: He’ll go down in history with her which is just wonderful.
VAUGHAN: Yes, Louie is a great fellow. A really great fellow and a great friend.
INTERVIEWER: Anything else?
VAUGHAN: Don’t know of a thing.
INTERVIEWER: Well, thank you.
VAUGHAN: Thank you.