Home sweet home

Uttermost manufactures accessories that are sold abroad

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

Students at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia can thank Mac Cooper for the lamps and mirrors in their dorm rooms. Cooper’s company, Uttermost in Rocky Mount, outfitted the university with many of its furnishings.

Uttermost manufactures and imports home accessories and sells them around the world. The company’s 600,000-square-foot facility in Rocky Mount serves as its headquarters and eastern distribution center and employs 200 workers. It also operates a distribution center in Riverside, Calif., with 30 workers, and a factory in China that employs another 140.

During the past five years, Uttermost has seen annual revenue of more than $100 million, a generous increase from the company’s less-than-$2 million in revenue when Cooper, now president and CEO, joined the business in 1987.

Uttermost’s roots trace back to Cooper Wood Products, a company founded by Cooper’s grandfather, George. It produced wood products such as headboards, cabinets and mirror frames for the furniture manufacturing industry. Cooper’s father, Bob, and his mother, Belle, started Uttermost in 1975 when Cooper Wood Products was divided into two companies, Uttermost and Cooper Classics. 

After Mac Cooper signed on, he and his team grew the business by developing a variety of product lines, from wall décor and lamps to clocks and mirrors. The company’s newest product? Accent furniture. These days tables, chests and upholstered dog beds are big sellers. “We got into that a couple of years ago,” Cooper says. “We sell individual pieces, not whole furniture suites.”

In 2003, Uttermost shifted the manufacturing side of the business primarily to China when it opened a plant in Shenzhen. The move helped Uttermost lower its costs. The facility manufactures lamps and lighting fixtures. “We also bring in product from India and Indonesia, and we buy from other factories in China,” Cooper says. “We have had very consistent, steady growth since 1987. We have been blessed with good designers for our products.”

The company’s California location distributes product to the western one-third of the country as well as Mexico and the western part of Canada. 

Rocky Mount’s stable work force and relatively low cost of living make it business-friendly, Cooper says. “It’s also a great place to live.”

The town is in some ways a throwback to earlier days. “It’s a small, well-maintained town,” Cooper says. “It’s very friendly. Everybody knows everybody.”

Many of the locals gather at The Farmer’s Market at Citizen Square, which sits in the center of Rocky Mount’s historic downtown. The market features fresh produce as well as home-baked goods and arts and crafts.

Rocky Mount serves as the Eastern gateway to the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. It’s also close to Smith Mountain Lake, which offers 500 miles of shoreline. Outdoor activities include skiing, fishing, hiking and nature walks as well as golf and tennis. 

The town’s economy
Rocky Mount is the seat of Franklin County, birthplace of civil rights trailblazer Booker T. Washington. The county is building a skilled work force through the Franklin Center for Advanced Learning & Enterprise. The new 33,000-square-foot center has five educational partners — Ferrum College, Averett University, Patrick Henry Community College, Virginia Western Community College and West Piedmont Regional Adult Education Center. The center offers everything from career counseling and job placement services for students to small-business development assistance and customized employee training. Major manufacturing employers include MW Manufacturers, which makes wood windows and door units; Ronile Inc., which processes carpet yarn; and Trinity Packaging. Large nonmanufacturing employers include Ferrum College and Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital.

Where to eat
Mac Cooper likes to drop in at the Hub Restaurant. The locally owned eatery features home cooking. “They serve three meals a day, and you’ll often see a lot of local politicians and business people there,” he says. Cooper, who lives at Smith Mountain Lake, enjoys boating to dinner at the Landing Restaurant. “It sits in the middle of the main channel area and has a nice view,” he says. “The food is continental, and our four daughters all enjoy it.”

Where to stay
Rocky Mount has its share of chain hotels such as the Comfort Inn and the Holiday Inn Express. Many people opt to stay at the circa-1895 Claiborne House Bed & Breakfast. Amenities at this Queen Anne-style home include private baths and wi-fi. The B&B is convenient to Smith Mountain Lake.

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