July 13, 2012
Craven looks to move Fairfield Chair forward.
Taking over the operations of a 91 year old company would be a daunting task for almost anyone. But for Mark Craven, responding to challenges has been a hallmark of his career.
Craven was named president of Fairfield Chair Company at the end of May by Harper Beall III, the company’s chairman and CEO. A 27 year veteran of the operation. Craven’s experience includes direct sales and sales management.
And as the furniture industry continues to diversify in order to compete with Chinese manufacturing, Craven believes Fairfield will continue to be a solid footing. “This company has a soul, and it’s made up of people who have worked generation to generation,” Craven said. “We’ve got third generation people who work here.”
A native of the Nashville, Tenn., area, Craven was the eighth of nine children. He excelled at basketball and played collegiately at Christian Brothers College (now University). His athletic career, particularly during his senior year, taught Craven lessons he continues to call upon today.
With his playing time diminishing, Craven recalls entering a blowout game and deliverately making a mistake on a set play. The next day, Craven received a visit from his coach and was told he no longer was a part of the team. Asking for another chance, the coach said Craven had to be a role model for the younger players if he allowed him to return. It’s a lesson Craven took to heart. “It taught me so much,” Craven, 49, said. “It was a real pivotal moment in my life.”
Graduating in 1985 with a marketing degree, Craven received an opportunity to work for Fairfield. His father, R.A. “Tex” Craven, represented the company for 52 years and he helped his son get a foothold in territories in Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas. The younger Craven recognized and accepted the challenge. “Fairfield was not Broyhill. It was not Bernhardt,” Craven said. “I had to create a name for Fairfield. We are a product and sales-driven company.”
By early 1987, Craven was selected to sell in the growing Maryland and Virginia markets, although getting stuck in a January snowstorm along a Virginia highway was a rough introduction. “You try to build relationships,” Craven said. “You find out that the furniture industry is a small industry. It gradually happened.”
In 1995, Craven was presented a chance to market both Fairfield and Hooker Furniture lines in the Maryland and Washington, D.C., areas. Over the next ten years, he said sales more than doubled for both operations. After being named vice president of sales at Fairfield in 2005, Craven has experience managing both the residential and contract sides of the operation.
Looking at Fairfield, Craven observes the successes, along with the challenges ahead. “We’ve had steady growth the last couple of years,” he said. We’ve had to diversify into new product niches. Our mantra is we sell a little bit of product to a lot of people. The Chinese can’t do what we do because we make a custom product at an affordable price.”
Craven notes that Fairfield has 650 different frame styles in its line of furniture, with the end product being able to be delivered in a timely fashion. “The challenge is: How do you make all the choices affordable?” Craven said. “You’re trying to find efficiency in a very inefficient business.” Because the pieces are designed to last years, Craven said hand-crafted furniture differs from off the shelf, do it yourself lines offered through big box retailers. And he believes the smaller furniture companies, such as Fairfield, are the ones that can thrive.
“The furniture industry cannot operate on the Walmart way of business,” he said. “What is unique about the furniture industry is that furniture is not consumed at a greater rate because it is cheaper.”
A resident of Winston-Salem, Craven spends most of the week in Lenoir. He and his wife, Linda, have four children.
When asked about how he sees his role with a business near Lenoir’s downtown core, Craven points to a picture of Beall and his father. “Family is very important to me,” Craven said. “This is a family owned business. It raised me, even before I was born. I believe in community, and I believe in the interconnectedness of people.”
As for his long range goals, Craven hopes to leave his mark on a company founded in 1921. “I want to continue the legacy,” he said. “I want this company when I leave to still be family owned. Even though I am not from Lenoir, I understand the importance of its roots. Harper’s family has been a fixutre in this community for generations. His legacy makes my job easier.”
by Paul Teague email@example.com