Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Hundreds of workers in Virginia will manufacture the antique-inspired furniture.

Undeniably, there was a lot of money to be had.

The question was, were they, the stars of HGTV’s hit show Home Town, willing to compromise their commitment to America’s small towns and manufacturing for a fat paycheck?

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When Home Town premiered in January 2016, the home renovation show centered around the revitalization of the stars’ home town of Laurel, Miss., a community that had grown around its lumber mill industry, and the operation of Laurel Mercantile Co., a store co-owned by Ben and Erin Napier, Josh and Emily Nowell, and Jim and Mallorie Rasberry – all connected by family, or long-standing friendships, and their love of Laurel.

The show’s narrative connected powerfully with its audience from the start, garnering its pilot episode the highest rating in HGTV’s history of pilots… and the interest of a furniture importer eager to capitalize on the show’s success.

Soon after Home Town premiered, the owners of Laurel Mercantile Co. were solicited by an overseas furniture manufacturer.

“We were approached by them to do a licensing deal, and it was more money than any of us could ever imagine, but … we didn’t want to sell out, so we put our money where our mouth was, and we said, ‘No,’” said Mallorie Rasberry.

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Decades earlier, John Bassett III was faced with a similar ethical dilemma — would his family company, Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co., move its manufacturing overseas and abandon the community of Galax, Va., the town the company’s factories had fostered, to cash in on the money offered by Vaughan-Bassett’s Chinese competitors?

Vaughan-Bassett employs about 600 people at its factory in Galax, Va.

Defending a legacy begun in 1919, John Bassett III’s epic battle to fend off foreign competitors and restore America’s furniture industry through fair trade is chronicled in Beth Macy’s 2014 bestseller Factory Man.

Thanks to the Bassett family’s labor and that of their employees, Vaughan-Bassett today is the largest manufacturer of wooden adult bedroom furniture in the United States.

However, the Bassetts had caught the attention of Ben Napier long before Factory Man revealed the family’s legacy and mission to the world.

Ben Napier, a woodworker by trade who has sold his furniture through Laurel Mercantile Co.’s store, has been a fan of the Bassetts and their work ever since he was child growing up in North Carolina near the Bassetts’ home town.

As Ben Napier and the other owners of Laurel Mercantile Co. contemplated how to approach their next steps following the success of their show, Ben Napier immediately thought of Vaughan-Bassett.  

“Ben actually called Vaughan-Bassett Furniture. He just looked it up on Google and called them and got a secretary, and was like, ‘Hey, I’m Ben Napier.’ And, at this point, the show had just come out. Nobody really knew who Ben was,” recalled Mallorie Rasberry. “He was like, ‘I’m Ben Napier. I really want to speak to one of the Bassetts, and, lo and behold, the secretary patched him on through to Doug Bassett, [John Bassett III]’s son, so they started a conversation there. Over the past two years, it’s been a constant relationship between he and Ben.”

Only in the past six months has the idea of a collaboration between Laurel Mercantile Co. and Vaughan-Bassett to produce a Made in America line of furniture become a real possibility.

“[Vaughan-Bassett] started getting a little more open to the idea because they had done licensing deals in the past, and it just hadn’t really worked out, or they weren’t searching for a licensing deal, but, through Ben’s persistence and that relationship he had started cultivating, that’s kind of where it came out of,” said Mallorie Rasberry. “It’s a remarkable story – the way that they have fought for American manufacturing and fair-trade practices. We felt like it was a really good fit with what we believed in, what we’ve done, and, potentially, what we can do with this furniture line.”

In the process of developing the relationship between Vaughan-Bassett and Laurel Mercantile Co., the owners of Laurel Mercantile visited Vaughan-Bassett’s factories in Galax, Va., to see first-hand what manufacturing means for the community.

“We saw the 600 people that they employed and saw the town of Galax, and it really brought it all home that this is so much bigger than us. This is so much bigger than our town walls,” said Mallorie Rasberry. “This could potentially impact at least 600 folks right here in Galax where these people are generational workers in factories. Their grandparents worked here. Their great-grandparents worked for a furniture company. This is their livelihood. This is all they have. If Vaughan-Bassett dies, then this town dies.”

Mallorie Rasberry and the other owners of Laurel Mercantile saw partnering with Vaughan-Bassett as central to the mission of their show. Galax proved that Laurel Mercantile could “do big things in small towns,” as the Home Town tagline goes.

“If we’re going to be serious about revitalizing small town America, we have to be serious about supporting American jobs and American manufacturers that support that town,” said Mallorie Rasberry.

The partnership between Vaughan-Bassett and Laurel Mercantile Co. has been a natural fit.

“We know Vaughan-Bassett is committed to their hometown of Galax, Virginia, and to the people there, and we are excited that our designs will be lovingly made with American craftsmanship, American quality and by the largest manufacturer of wooden residential furniture in the United States,” said Ben Napier in a press release.

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Partnering with the Home Town stars, Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Company will produce two collections: Scotsman American Heirloom, featuring Appalachian hardwood furniture, and Laurel Mercantile Co. Home, featuring veneered wood furniture at a lower price point.

The two lines will debut at North Carolina’s High Point Market furniture industry show this October, corresponding with the release of the Napiers’ memoir, Make Something Good Today, that month. Come January 2019, the furniture will be available for purchase in stores.

“It’s a remarkable story – the way that they have fought for American manufacturing and fair-trade practices. We felt like it was a really good fit with what we believed in, what we’ve done, and, potentially, what we can do with this furniture line.” Mallorie Rasberry, Laurel Mercantile Co.

“I’m excited to see two options there because with American manufacturing sometimes it does mean a higher price point and a more expensive product for a lot of different reasons, but we have an affordable option in veneer, which is still a great quality product,” said Mallorie Rasberry. 

The collections will include a variety of bedroom furniture, including beds, dressers, mirrors and nightstands, as well as dining room pieces such as farmhouse tables, chairs and serving pieces.

As Vaughan-Bassett primarily manufactures bedroom furniture, this collaboration represents the company’s entry into the other rooms of America’s homes and future opportunities for the company’s expansion.   

The furniture’s style will be consistent with the antique-inspired, distressed woodwork that Ben Napier already sells through Laurel Mercantile Co.’s store and is meant to present an eclectic approach to home furnishing.

“I think that the style is going to be really different than anything American manufactured furniture has seen a really long time,” said Mallorie Rasberry.

“It’s not going to be your standard six-piece set of all matching furniture. It’s going to be more of a collected suite.”

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The future is bright for Laurel Mercantile Co. and Vaughan-Bassett.

Season two of Home Town ended with a total of 14 million viewers, and HGTV recently renewed “Home Town” for a third, expanded season, airing in early 2019 and coinciding with the launch of the furniture lines.

For Vaughan-Bassett, national attention is hardly a new experience since Tom Hanks, among a multitude of other fans, shared his appreciation of Factory Man with the world via Twitter in 2014.

Again in the spotlight, the company hopes to continue to grow its business through the star power behind Home Town, reaching the Napiers’ over 393,000 social media followers. However, the motivation behind Vaughan-Bassett’s business development has always been to support the company’s employees and the community of Galax. 

“We believe this partnership will help Vaughan-Bassett grow its sales and eventually to hire more people. We presently employ about 600 people in our factories and home office in Galax, Va.,” said Doug Bassett, the president of Vaughan-Bassett. “Keeping our company strong and our people fully employed benefits the whole community.”

Moving forward, the owners of Vaughan-Bassett and Laurel Mercantile Co. are banking on consumers’ growing demand for American-made goods, a process begun by first showing the value of American manufacturing to consumers.

“What we strive to do at Laurel Mercantile is to educate people through storytelling,” said Mallorie Rasberry. “We want to tell the stories of this is who made this product. This is the town where the product comes from. These are the people that rely on us to support this product.” 

“And so, we’re hoping that, fingers crossed, the American consumer starts kind of catching on and thinking, ‘O.K, well, it’s so much more than cost.’ And we like to say, there’s a cost to the bargain, and the cost is lost jobs and towns shutting down and people not being able to support their families. That’s the real cost. Whenever you’re price-comparing between four or five dollars here or there, it’s so much more than just price.”

In selling Made in America products, the owners of Laurel Mercantile are supporting the small towns they love and hope Home Town fans will do the same, establishing a legacy that reaches far beyond the TV show.

“We are seeing the tide turn slowly, but we are committed to seeing this through because we know that we have a TV show, and we’re in the third season, but it’s not going to last forever,” said Mallorie Rasberry. “Eventually, we will run out of houses. Eventually, we won’t be able to do this anymore, but the brand and the message … It goes beyond the show. It goes beyond Laurel. It affects small towns everywhere.”

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Scotsman American Heirloom and Laurel Mercantile Co. Home furniture, manufactured by Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Company, will be available for purchase come January 2019.

Until then, shop Laurel Mercantile Co.’s other Made in America goods at https://www.laurelmercantile.com/collections/shop and find your local Vaughan-Bassett dealer here: http://www.vaughan-bassett.com/dealer-locator/.

Interested in learning more about Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co., dive deep into the complex and deeply engrossing history of the Bassett family and their furniture businesses by reading Factory Man.