John Bassett III, the chairman of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co. in Galax, Va., is recognized as a homegrown hero for saving hundreds of jobs and an entire Virginia community from foreign competition.
Beth Macy painted a colorful word portrait of Bassett and his battle in her 2014 bestselling book, “Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – and Helped Save an American Town.”
Now Bassett speaks for himself in his new book, “Making It In America: A 12-Point Plan for Growing Your Business and Keeping Jobs at Home” (Center Street Books, 288 pages).
The third-generation furniture maker answered a few questions about the plight of blue collar workers, the shortcomings of company executives and the power of consumers.
Q: Beth Macy wrote about you and your company in “Factory Man.” How is your book different than hers?
A: Her story was about globalization and the furniture industry. They used my family’s companies, Bassett and Vaughan-Bassett, and talked about how we took different directions. ... What she did not tell is how we were able to remain in this country. So her agent approached me and said we need a business book.
Q: Do you feel like you went to battle with shareholders, family members and Asian competition?
A: We went to battle with the people who made the products in Asia. They were the ones making the products flooding into this country. The woodworking plants in North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina and some other Southern states have almost disappeared. People didn’t feel like they could compete. Some of them imported and were able to succeed. Many of them liquidated and disappeared. Some went bankrupt. We decided to compete with them.
Q: What was the toll on you for waging that fight?
A: First of all, I got to catch a plane. You and I don’t have enough time to go over it. We led an anti-dumping petition. (Dumping is the illegal practice of selling exports to the U.S. that are priced lower than the cost of their materials.) It did upset some retailers. We lost business. It’s lengthy. It’s expensive. You have to spend a lot of time in Washington. You have to generate a lot of figures to prove your point. We spent years in litigation.
Q: What has happened to the blue-collar worker? Can he still make ends meet?
A: The blue-collar worker has been left behind. We kept ours. We closed some plants, too. We just didn’t close them all. They have suffered. Some of them have been able to find gainful employment and some of them are still struggling.
Q: What could company presidents and CEOs do better to keep jobs local?
A: Communicate with their people … the military teaches leadership. If you are a young officer like I was, you have to be a leader to get men to follow you out of a foxhole. That’s leadership. Some of these people just sit in the office and look at the numbers. Talk to your people. Let’s work on this together … it’s a team sport.
Q: What can consumers do to support local companies?
A: If you are going out there, looking at different products and plan to buy something, turn to the salesperson and ask, ‘Which ones are made in the USA?’ Show me what’s made in my country. Just ask. If they don’t have anything made in this country, ask ‘Why not?’ If enough consumers do that, that word will go up the chain. Our manufacturers should get a fair shake at least at the retail level.
Q: What’s next for you personally?
A: I’m 78. My sons run the company. I’m the factory man. My sons say, ‘we are the factory boys’ … It’s in my blood. I grew up in a furniture family. I’m going everywhere talking about it. We have forgotten the people in the factory. They want their jobs here. They are willing to help. We’ve got to put them as part of the formula.
Lacy is author of “Sunday Dinner, a Savor the South” cookbook from UNC Press.
What: John Bassett III, chairman of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co., shares business principles from his new book, “Making It In America: A 12-Point Plan for Growing Your Business and Keeping Jobs at Home.”
When: 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 21
Where: Quail Ridge Books, 4381-105 Lassiter at North Hills Ave., Raleigh.
About the company
Headquarters: Galax, Va.
Executives: John Bassett III is chairman, his son Wyatt is CEO and his son John is president
Employees: 700 people work in factories in Galax, Va., and in Elkin
Details: According to the company’s website, 100 percent of its furniture is made in the U.S. It is the one of the last makers, and the largest maker, of adult bedroom furniture in the country.
History: Vaughan-Bassett Furniture traces its roots to 1919 when B.C. Vaughan and J.D. Bassett, Sr., both from Bassett, Va., started a furniture company. J.D. Bassett and his brother C.C. Bassett also founded what is now known as Bassett Furniture Industries. John Bassett III was the one-time heir to Bassett Furniture, but his older brother-in-law ended up in charge. John Bassett III then resurrected Vaughan-Bassett. After winning his “anti-dumping” litigation, he received $46 million in anti-dumping duties, which allowed him to keep his factories going.
Notable: Tom Hanks has a miniseries in development for HBO based on “Factory Man.”