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This furniture maker pushes values-added

People – January 2005

This furniture maker pushes values-added
By Eric Gautschi

Taylorsville-based The Mitchell Gold Co. isn’t your ordinary furniture maker. While many companies in the industry have slashed employment, this one added about 100 jobs and increased revenue 15% in 2004 and will wrap up a 240,000-square-foot expansion in early 2005. Employee perks include child day care, a gym and an on-site chef.

And Mitchell Gold, chairman and CEO of the $100 million company, isn’t your ordinary furniture executive. When he envisions a living room, he doesn’t see just a family with a mom, a dad and kids. He also sees those with one parent. Or with two moms or two dads.

Gold, 52, is not only gay but he is a director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest homosexual advocacy group. Bob Williams, the company’s co-founder and president of design, is his partner. Their company, with about 700 employees, is the largest employer in Alexander County.

Gold, who was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, says his relationship with the community lacks the contentiousness one might expect in a county of about 33,000 where Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1. “We talk about equal rights for everybody,” he says. “We’re not about the extreme.”

His company ran print ads and billboards in Boston and New York during the presidential conventions advocating equal rights regardless of sexual orientation and urging people to register to vote. The New York ads included an open letter to President Bush, urging him to visit Taylorsville to see “real family values” of openness and acceptance.

The company’s upscale sofas, ottomans, recliners and other pieces are sold in stores such as Restoration Hardware. They’ve also appeared on the sets of TV series Friends and Sex and the City. A Trenton, N.J., native, Gold earned a bachelor’s in history from Long Island University in 1974. He worked six years for Bloomingdale’s department store, eventually becoming a furniture buyer. He took a job with Tupelo, Miss.-based The Lane Co. and ended up in Hickory leading a sales and marketing division of the furniture maker.

He felt manufacturers weren’t attentive enough to customer service, which made sales difficult. “So I wanted to try to run my own company and do things the way I envisioned would be the right way.” He and Williams started the business in 1989. They chose Alexander County because land was cheap and it was near the Triad. Today, all manufacturing is at the Taylorsville plant, which will be about 700,000 square feet when the expansion is complete.

The company was a trendsetter from the start, shipping goods in four weeks while competitors took 12. It put its line in mall stores instead of full-line furniture retailers and embraced the Internet early, launching its Web site in 1994. Instead of selling online, though, it directed people to retailers that carried its furniture.

Still, it’s advertising that has gotten the company noticed. Some ads feature same-sex couples. These ads, as well as the ones that ran during the conventions, might have alienated some, but he has seen a spike in sales. Boldness, Gold says, is one of the company’s competitive advantages. “I don’t think our competitors have the guts or ingenuity to do it.”

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