Longtime leader helped company adapt during industry upheaval

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Print this page by Amelia Vogler

E. Larry Ryder, a leader at Martinsville-based Hooker Furniture Corp. since 1977, has helped it navigate a radical industry transformation.

Low-cost imports have flooded the market, and U.S. consumer demand fell dramatically during the recession. Faced with these challenges, Ryder directed efforts to adapt and diversify.

“This company is much better off by having Larry Ryder for the last 33 years,” Hooker Furniture CEO Paul B. Toms Jr. says. “He has helped the company evolve and brought in excellent people, and he has been a great leader and executive.”
Hooker Furniture started in 1924 as a manufacturer of bedroom furniture. For five decades, it produced wooden household furniture at factories in North Carolina and Virginia.

The company took its first step in importing furniture in 1988, but Ryder wanted to make sure its U.S. factories would not fall by the wayside. “As our importing got a foothold, we tried very hard to find a place where American manufacturing would fit in with the scheme of our retail and consumers,” says Ryder, who is the company’s executive vice president, finance and administration, as well as chief financial officer.

In 2007, however, the company completely moved its wooden furniture manufacturing to offshore suppliers, a move that was difficult for Ryder. “When we started moving more of our manufacturing overseas, we had to let a lot of employees — sometimes third-generation workers — go because we couldn’t compete on a domestic basis,” he says.

By outsourcing its wooden furniture manufacturing, however, Hooker Furniture was able to achieve better than average revenue growth, improved gross margins and a lower fixed-cost structure.

Beginning in 2002, Ryder also led company’s efforts to broaden its product selection through several strategic acquisitions. The first two acquisitions, Bradington-Young and Sam Moore, are manufacturers of upholstered furniture, while the third, Opus Designs, is a designer and importer of youth furniture. By marketing new products through its existing sales force and distribution channels, the company was able to increase revenue and its share of retail floor space.

While the majority of American furniture manufacturers look overseas for cheaper labor, Hooker Furniture still produces made-to-order furniture in the U.S. Its Sam Moore operations facility in Bedford makes upholstered furniture, and its Bradington-Young leather furniture center is based in Hickory, N.C. “These businesses don’t appear to be moving offshore any time soon,” Ryder says.

In addition to guiding changes in the company’s manufacturing, Ryder was the driving force in creating an employee stock ownership plan in the early 1990s and later moving the company from private to public ownership. The stock, first quoted on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board in 2001, now is traded on the NASDAQ Global Select Market.

Ryder’s leadership style is to give managers the latitude to supervise their areas of the business. “No matter how the business has changed, management is not that difficult if you strive to surround yourself with very intelligent people and provide parameters and stand back and let them go,” Ryder says. “I try not to micromanage.” 

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