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Pulaski Furniture Corporation Business Information, Profile, and History

company county million sales

301 Madison Avenue South
Pulaski
Virginia
24301
U.S.A.

Company Perspectives

The Pulaski success is directly attributable to defining our niche in various core competencies and servicing it well with proper products, prices, and quality to make our products highly desirable in a specific marketplace. 2005 marks Pulaski Furniture's 50th Anniversary. We celebrate our rich history and look forward to the next 50 years.

History of Pulaski Furniture Corporation

Pulaski Furniture Corporation makes mid-priced wooden bedroom, dining room, and occasional furniture for the home, such as credenzas and chests, home entertainment centers, and curio cabinets, and desks, bookcases, and consoles for the home office. In addition, the company imports accent pieces and parts, which it includes in its furniture. Pulaski Furniture is distributed through independent retailers, regional chains, national chains, department stores, and catalog houses. The company operates factories in Virginia and Missouri and a distribution center in North Carolina. It is credited with introducing eclectica to an industry that once primarily sold suites.

1955-1972: Creating a Niche in the Occasional Furniture Market

In 1955, Thomas J. McCarthy, Sr., Fred A. Stanley, Sr., and Colin Richardson founded and incorporated the Pulaski Veneer and Furniture Corporation, taking the name for their new venture from the Virginia town in which it was located. The company's original home was an old RCA Victor cabinet shop in downtown Pulaski that had been closed since 1948 as a result of the region's depressed economy.

The company began by making a couple of inexpensive bedroom and dining room suites. Designs were simple to provide for low pricing and ease of manufacture as the factory personnel's skill developed. Business was generally good for the new company, although, in the early years, employees sometimes received goods, such as hams and flour, from the Richardson family's farm in lieu of cash paychecks.

Pulaski Corporation acquired its first permanent showroom space in Chicago, Illinois, at the American Furniture Market in October 1957. In 1960, it acquired Morris Novelty Corporation of Martinsville, Virginia, producers of small occasional tables and other novelty furniture items. From this point forward, Pulaski began to expand into the production of curio cabinets, designed for the express purpose of displaying collectibles. Thanks mostly to the "Pulaski look," a highly stylized line that was a bit more difficult to manufacture and looked more expensive than it actually was, business was brisk.

The company changed its name from Pulaski Veneer and Furniture Corporation to Pulaski Furniture Corporation in 1962. By the mid-1960s, sales had reached about $7 million, and in 1967, Bernard "Bunny" C. Wampler became the company's chief executive officer, a role he occupied for the next 30 years. Under Bunny Wampler, Pulaski continued to expand and diversify, adding accent pieces, occasional tables, and hand painted armoires.

1973-1987: A Significant Growth Phase

The company positioned itself for future growth by building a new case goods plant in Dublin, Virginia, in 1973. Twice the size of the original Pulaski case goods factory, this plant was the most modern of its time and huge for its day at 550,000 square feet.

In spring of 1976, with the nation's Bicentennial celebration under way, Pulaski introduced a line of golden oak furniture called Keepsakes, a 45-piece, "turn of the century" Victorian bedroom, dining room, and accent furniture collection that looked a lot like furniture that for many years had been considered old-fashioned. Extremely popular, this collection eventually grew to 90 pieces, and in December 1980, Pulaski cut its one millionth piece of Keepsakes.

The introduction of Keepsakes initiated what was to become a significant growth phase for Pulaski. Shortly thereafter, at an auction in 1983, Pulaski bought Coleman Furniture, a case goods manufacturer, whose primary business was manufacturing contract furniture for hotels and the government. Coleman was a very large bedroom manufacturer with more than 1,000,000 square feet of production and warehouse space. This purchase helped to consolidate Pulaski's shift from an older to a modern manufacturing facility, and contributed to its impressive growth in revenues. Pulaski joined forces that year with three other companies to form Triwood, a joint venture focused on the manufacture of plywood; this venture ended in 1995. Annual sales increased from $48 million in 1981 to $74 million in 1985.

During the latter half of the 1980s, domestic furniture sales benefitted from low interest rates in the United States. These rates made home ownership more affordable, and created new homeowners in need of furniture. Pulaski's growth accelerated in 1985 with the $9.4 million acquisition of Gravely Furniture Company, which operated as Ridgeway Clock Company, a world-renowned manufacturer of grandfather, wall, and mantel clocks. Combined, the two firms had annual revenues of about $90 million from four plants and employed around 1,850 people.

The Ridgeway plant was a good fit for Pulaski because the clock business, like the curio business, provided accent pieces for decorating. The timing for this purchase was also ideal as, in the mid-1980s, consumers turned away from avant garde designs and toward nostalgic recreations of old American furniture styles. With the total number of sales for the Keepsakes collection at 1,300,000 pieces, the company added the 30-piece Sagamore Hill collection, which tapped into the same spirit of nostalgia in consumers.

In 1987, Pulaski held its initial public offering (IPO) of stock, and one year later, in 1988, the company purchased Craftique, a high-end manufacturer of solid mahogany reproductions of 18th-century furniture pieces. In 1989, it launched its Accentrics line, which departed from the company's traditional focus on nostalgia to incorporate high-end, mixed-media designs at medium price points. In 1990, the company also started a seated upholstery plant in Christiansburg, Virginia.

1987-2005: A Downturn in the Furniture Industry

Unfortunately, the stock market crash of October 1987 had inaugurated a downturn for the entire furniture business. Although the industry recovered briefly in 1988, consumer confidence faded during the mini-crash of 1989, by which time the nation's seven-year economic expansion was ending, and a national recession was underway. Waves of layoffs across the nation cut into consumers' willingness to spend. Although sales for Pulaski reached $100 million in 1987 and continued to grow through the remainder of the 1980s, the company also began to look for ways to reduce its production costs.

During this time, Pulaski began to establish its Asian connections, bringing in both ready-to-finish and completely assembled goods from overseas at least partly as a means of economizing on production. (By 2005, more than half of the company's business came from Asian imports.) In the wake of poor results for its Craftique division in 1993, the company introduced a new line of promotionally priced items, curios, hall trees, consoles, and gun cabinets in 1994. It also built a highly mechanized $10 million curio manufacturing facility to maintain its presence in the mid- to lower-end furniture market. The 75,000-square foot small plant, Pulaski's "miniplant," was a complete manufacturing facility with rough milling, finishing, and packaging capacity in which a curio cabinet could go from cut lumber to being boxed for shipping in three to five days.

With leadership from John Wampler, Bunny Wampler's son, starting in 1993, the corporation became increasingly market-driven, focusing on what the company's customers and their consumers wanted. Every product niche was organized into a "strategic business unit," and the company designed its products to be easy to coordinate and, thus, easy to sell. Having worked for the family business from the age of 15, John Wampler, who would became chief executive officer in 1997, oversaw big changes in the 2,250-employee, ten-factory company. The company upgraded machine and information centers, to "make more furniture with the same number of people, and to make it faster," according to Wampler, as quoted in an October 1996 High Points article.

Wampler also led the move to restructure the company along product lines and refocus on its core competencies. This led to selling the Craftique division and closing the upholstery division in 1997, while reorganizing production to assign products to the plant most efficient for their manufacture. To further extend its product lines, Pulaski began manufacturing furniture for hotels and motels in 1998, and purchased Dawson Furniture of Missouri, a manufacturer of both promotional and unfinished furniture in 1999.

Pulaski also increasingly focused its attention on its curio cabinets. With adult collectors numbering more than 36 million in the United States in the late 1990s, and curio cabinets representing a domestic market with sales of about $500 million, the company began to introduce themed curio cabinets and lines of furniture. In 1996, it joined forces with Heilig-Meyers stores to unveil its 15-item Nascar-themed collection, featuring black-and-white checkered armchairs, toolbox end tables, and a curio for die-cast Nascar racers with carved car pediment and a mirrored racetrack background.

In 1998, Pulaski became a licensee for Precious Moments collectibles and began to make cabinets specifically to hold figurines. Another curio for golfers had tees set into glass shelves. And a cabinet for dolls, which accounted for 57 percent of the collectibles market, employed standard light bulbs because halogen bulbs, usual for most other curio cabinets, changed the color of a doll's hair. By 1999, Pulaski had sales exceeding $200 million, and curios represented half of its business.

In 2000, John Wampler and other senior executives, with the support of an affiliate of Quad-C Management, bought out the company for $125 million. That year's sales peaked at somewhere around $240 million. However, business dropped during the 2001 recession, leading to layoffs, and continued to shrink during the next three years in the face of increased import competition. By 2003, total sales had dropped to $160 million, moving Pulaski from its position as the 18th largest domestic furniture manufacturer and importer in 2001 to just outside the top 25 manufacturers.

Despite its contracting sales, Pulaski entered into a new licensing agreement with PBS in 2003 to produce its "Antiques Roadshow" Collection, 60 modern adaptations of American designs of the 1800s, including two bedroom and two dining room collections and accent pieces such as Bombay chests, curio cabinets, painted trunks, and grandfather clocks. "The collection is special," offered Wampler in a 2003 San Francisco Chronicle article. "It's authentic furniture based on real antiques, real people, and real stories about home furnishings." Each piece came with a logo and a hangtag complete with photo and history of the antique that inspired it.

Rather than close plants as domestic capacity decreased in the early 2000s, Pulaski sold facilities, first its Dublin and Martinsville, Virginia plant, and then, in late 2004, its Ridgeway Clock division to Howard Miller. These sales were part of a refining of focus led by Lawrence E. Webb, Jr., who became chief executive of Pulaski in 2003, to concentrate on bedroom, dining room, case goods, and occasional furniture. Under Webb, the company's different product lines were assigned to a specific plant of manufacture to create facilities better equipped to compete in a specific niche.

Furniture manufacturers as a group experienced an upswing in sales by 2004, in the long-term wake of 9/11 and Internet growth, as Americans spent more time at home. Pulaski's 2004 sales improved nearly five percent to an estimated $178 million and it added another line of furniture, the Casa Cristina collection, which targeted the growing population of Hispanic home owners.

In 2005, with revenues close to $200 million, Pulaski introduced a new lighting system in its curios in response to customer demand and reintroduced its line of Keepsakes curios and its Accentrics line of stand alone occasional items. The company was looking optimistically to the future. "When we asked customers about their...Pulaski curios and accent furniture, 96 percent of respondents said they were satisfied," Webb reported of a customer survey in a 2005 Furniture Today article. "Forty-two percent said they had plans to purchase another piece."

Principal Competitors

Ethan Allen; Furniture Brands International; Hooker Furniture; Thomasville; Lexington; Ashley Furniture; Bassett Furniture; Chromcraft Revington; Stanley Furniture

Chronology

  • Key Dates
  • 1955 The company is founded by Thomas J. McCarthy, Sr., Fred A. Stanley, Sr., and Colin Richardson.
  • 1960 Pulaski acquires the Morris Novelty Corporation of Martinsville, Virginia.
  • 1962 The company changes its name from Pulaski Veneer and Furniture Corporation to Pulaski Furniture Corporation.
  • 1967 Bernard Wampler becomes the chief executive officer.
  • 1973 The company acquires a case goods plant in Dublin, Virginia.
  • 1976 The company introduces its Keepsakes collection.
  • 1983 Pulaski acquires Coleman Furniture; the company takes part in a joint venture to form Triwood.
  • 1985 Pulaski purchases Ridgeway Clock.
  • 1987 The company holds its initial public offering.
  • 1988 Pulaski upgrades its original plant and acquires Craftique.
  • 1990 Pulaski enters the seated upholstery business.
  • 1995 Pulaski sells Triwood.
  • 1998 The company sells Craftique and its seated upholstery business.
  • 1999 The company purchases Dawson Furniture.
  • 2000 Management leads a buyout with support from Quad-C Management; Pulaski closes its Martinsville, Virginia, plant and sells its Dublin, Virginia, plant.
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