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Bassett shares principles for business success

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By April Wright, Reporter

Even before the recession, the domestic furniture industry struggled to survive, but Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co. held on.

Now, with the industry on its last legs and an economy in crisis, the Galax-based company is still holding on — thriving, even.

It remains one of the largest employers in Galax with 574 workers, and this year Vaughan-Bassett announced that it would reopen part of its Elkin, N.C., manufacturing plant and create some new positions in Galax. A possible expansion of its Galax plant has also been mentioned.

Vaughan-Bassett President John Bassett said the company adheres to business  principles that other industries can emulate.

At the annual Virginia Employment Commission meeting at the Crossroads Institute in Galax last week, he spoke about why the nation has lost jobs and what it takes to retain them, citing the principles of Vaughan-Bassett.

“We're fortunate to have a manufacturer and someone who is strong and innovative,” said Galax Mayor C.M. Mitchell as he introduced Bassett. “He's a leader with a team willing to fight, reinvest, think outside the box — and he's able to keep a manufacturer here when jobs are going away.”

Bassett told a room full of economic developers, elected officials and employers that the nation first began losing jobs due to globalization, when the president and congress —both Democrats and Republicans — decided it was a good idea to become a part of the World Trade Organization.

With 153 members that allow for trade between countries, the WTO has became a major contributor to the loss of jobs, Bassett said.

“The idea was that we can trade between countries, eliminate all trade barriers and whoever had the best product at the best price would get the business,” said Bassett. “When it came to manufacturing in this country, it meant we were going to start competing against countries that had not only lower wage rates, but the biggest thing is they don't have the benefits we have. That made a big difference to the manufacturers.”

The ones that benefit from the WTO membership are retailers that buy products at low prices and customers who in turn purchase items made by China and other countries for cheaper costs.

“I bought shoes at Wal-Mart for $17,” said Bassett. “U.S. manufacturers can't make those shoes for $17, but manufacturers suffered for what happened.”

And in the last 18 months, the credit crisis has been the most “devastating financial effect since the Great Depression,” said Bassett. “And the main cause was leveraging. Institutions, they borrowed $50 against every $1.”

What saved these institutions were the U.S. government and the taxpayers, he added.

“What happened to retailers was that the American consumers were scared to death and quit buying... That wasn't caused by globalization. We did that to ourselves.”

Now, what it takes to create and retain jobs, he said, are the same principles that Vaughan-Bassett follows.

“These principles work anywhere,” said Bassett. “The only difference is how you execute and how will you apply these principles.”

First, if an employer and its employees don't have the right attitudes, that means “game over” for the company.

“If you have a sports team that walks on to the field believing the team is going to lose, he's not going to win,” said Bassett.

Secondly, Bassett said employers need good leaders who can set the example.

Third, don't panic. Take the time to study the problem and make good decisions.

“Several years ago, they were telling retailers to sign up now,” he said. “They were trying to panic the customers.” 

Fourth, be willing to change and improve.

“The minute you improve, you should figure out how you can make it better,” he said. “When you buy a piece of equipment that's going to help you save money, then the competition buys the same equipment, what advantage do you have? You have to keep moving.

“Business isn't a trip. It's a journey that doesn't ever stop.”

Last, it takes teamwork. Communication is important, as well.

“People can only have teamwork if they understand what they're doing and what part they play,” said Bassett. “That's great leadership.”

In order to keep the jobs here, employers have to stay ahead of the game.

Gaye Nichols, of the Employer Advisory Committee, told economic developers and elected officials that 2010 will be about becoming partners with local employers and elected officials.

“Our goal is to rebuild the local employer workbase. That is key,” said Nichols. “We have a wonderful area with great potential and great workers.”