ASHEBORO — JB Davis has been “sad and broken-hearted” since he heard that Klaussner Home Furnishings was shutting its doors.
The company announced Aug. 7 in a letter to employees that it was closing permanently. Based on Lewallen Road in Asheboro, the furniture maker was founded in 1963 by Stuart Love. With investors injecting capital to keep Stuart Furniture Industries going, the enterprise became known for on-time delivery of orders.
Love sold the company to Hans Klaussner in 1979. Klaussner was an international businessman with the means to turn the now-Klaussner Furniture Industries into a major national player.
In an interview the day after the closing announcement, Davis said he was working at Randolph Technical Institute — now Randolph Community College — when his wife Claire was pregnant with their first child. Seeking a way to make more income for his growing family, Davis would go to Stuart’s after work to learn all he could about furniture.
In 1970, he said, “They got tired of me hanging around and hired me. They put me on the road selling.
“It was a wonderful career with some of the best people in the world,” said Davis. “They were the reason for our success.”
Love began rewarding his employees by holding annual picnics for workers and their families outside the main plant. “Our first party was in the curve (on Lewallen Road),” Davis said. “We had a little circus, a dunking booth, cotton candy. We had fun.”
After Klaussner took over, Davis became president and CEO, holding those positions until retiring in 2012, for a total of 42 years with the company.
“I worked with a fabulous group,” he said. “We really were family, with everybody helping everybody.”
During his tenure as president, Klaussner Furniture expanded the company picnics into concerts that featured artists such as Patty Loveless, Vern Gosdin, Delbert McClinton, Toby Keith, Martina McBride and others. The shows were moved to the Greensboro Coliseum, where Klaussner families had plenty to eat and up-and-coming stars to hear in person.
Davis recalled the year a daughter of employees was seriously injured in an automobile accident. It happened just before the company concert. McBride heard about the accident victim, he said, and “went by to see her after the show.”
During those heady times, Davis said, Klaussner began sponsoring a NASCAR team, beginning with Mike Wallace, brother of Rusty Wallace, and later Michael Waltrip, whose wife Buffy was from Asheboro.
The company would bus employees to qualifying events at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, sitting theater-style in the large enclosed Klaussner booth with a buffet bar in the rear. Then a bus would take workers, whose names had been picked in a drawing, to watch the Coca-Cola 600 race in the stands.
“I was very proud of the people I worked with,” said Davis. “It was a great life with great people.”
Davis and a management group bought the company from Klaussner, successfully running it for five or six years. Then the group sold out to Monomoy, an equity company.
“In all my years of being in the business, I never saw an equity company be successful unless they brought in furniture experts,” said Davis.
While not placing blame, Davis’s words seem to have been accurate.
He said he “rode by (the plant) because I needed to. I saw a lady and we talked a while. She’d been transferred up from Candor (where the Klaussner frame shop was located) just two weeks ago.
“I saw people coming out with bags,” Davis recalled. “A woman asked me if I had worked there and I said I had. Then she asked me if this (company) was going to leave for good. I said, ‘Yes, I’m afraid so.’
“Our people worked hard, educated their children, bought homes and cars,” he said of the good times. “So this is very emotional to me. This absolutely, positively breaks my heart.”
Donald Dougan was looking to retire at the 50-year mark — until Klaussner Home Furnishings announced on Aug. 7 that it was closing.
“I started on Dec. 1, 1975, as a tow boy,” said the 67-year-old. His first job included sweeping floors, towing supplies and other miscellaneous duties. But he eventually worked his way up to production manager.
More recently, Dougan was working in Research and Development “and stayed out of the way.”
No longer in management, he wasn’t close to the decision-making at the top. But he knew the company was undergoing tough times.
“I think they went bankrupt, spent all the money,” Dougan surmised. “I heard they were having trouble paying their vendors. I thought that if they were having a rough time there might be layoffs. But not this.”
In a way, Dougan was biding his time until retirement. “I was thinking about retiring in two years,” he said. “There were things I wanted to get done (on the job). I’ve been pretty loyal to the company.”
Because of the closing, his plans have taken a turn. “I’ll see which way I want to go,” he said. “I have friends with businesses. I do handyman work on the side.
“The company has been good to me over the years,” Dougan said. “I wasn’t expecting them to shut the doors. It’s sad to see. A lot of good people worked there.”
Dougan, however, can remember the good times at Stuart/Klaussner. “I remember fishing tournaments, golf tournaments, the softball team, picnics and concerts. I have fond memories of the people that worked there.
“We worked hard but had fun doing it,” he said. “I enjoyed coming to work. We were building furniture like crazy. I remember the day (President) JB (Davis), announced, ‘We are a billion-dollar company now.’”
Now, the memories are all that’s left.