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26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs: Mitchell Gold Bob Williams

From: Inc. Magazine, April 2005 | By: null


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Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams Mitchell Gold

for creating a true comfort zone

Comfort is the watchword at Mitchell Gold's eponymous furniture business, which he (below, right) and Bob Williams (below, left) founded in the small manufacturing town of Taylorsville, N.C., in 1989. For them, comfort involves more than down feathers and velvet slipcovers, however. Gold and Williams have created a furniture plant that employees enjoy working in, an unusual notion in a county where, as recently as the 1980s, air-conditioned factories were rare. Mitchell Gold's plant, in contrast, boasts an indoor walking track, a gourmet cafeteria, and on-site daycare facilities (in addition to AC). Shirley Roberts, an employee since 1991 who now oversees 127 workers in the cloth sewing room, says, "Mitchell does a lot to make our lives better."

Workers at neighboring businesses have benefited too. "Mitchell and Bob are always willing to give their employees benefits that nobody else has," notes Cass Ballenger, a retired Republican congressman who owns a business in nearby Hickory, N.C. "In order to compete, other companies have begun to follow suit."

Of course, it takes more than happy employees to run a thriving operation at a time when many factories are slashing hours or shutting down completely. Gold expects to generate $100 million in sales in 2005. The business has posted average annual revenue increases of about 20% since 2000, compared with 3% in the overall furniture industry during the same period. Contemporary designs and the use of unusual upholstery fabrics have propelled the business. "When we started out, we noticed that a lot of people were wearing prewashed jeans," Williams recalls. "So we started applying that philosophy to our upholstery: We look at what fabric people are wearing and put it on furniture."

Another key to success is working well with retailers such as Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware, and Pottery Barn. The trick, says Williams, is creating product lines that remain true to the Mitchell Gold philosophy while catering to each store's style. Restoration Hardware, for instance, prefers the dramatic club chair look, while Pottery Barn likes casual couches. "Most of the time, I just come up with ideas, then figure out which customer would groove on that idea the most," Williams says.

Meanwhile, back in Taylorsville, Gold and Williams are quietly changing one other aspect of local business. When they founded Mitchell Gold there 16 years ago, they stood out among local business owners because they are partners in life as well as in business. Once, a worker made a homophobic comment on the factory floor, but he was shushed by a well-respected older woman who worked as a plant inspector. "When Bob and I first founded the business here, we were a little naive," Gold asserts. "But there's been a lot of learning at this factory, and I think people respect us. People respect us because we respect them."

Nadine Heintz

26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs

  1. Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Omnimedia
    because she took one for the team
  2. Richard Branson, Virgin Group
    because he's game for anything. In fact, everything.
  3. Michael Dell, Dell Computer
    for being brilliantly straightforward
  4. Jim Sinegal, Costco
    because who knew a big-box chain could have a generous soul?
  5. Diane von Furstenberg, Diane von Furstenberg Studio
    for staging an elegant comeback
  6. Julie Azuma, Different Roads to Learning
    for offering hope and help to the parents of autistic children
  7. Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing
    for setting limits
  8. Ray Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies and other companies
    because he is Edison's rightful heir
  9. Craig Newmark, Craigslist
    for putting the free in free markets
  10. Jack Mitchell, Mitchells/Richards
    because his family business makes an art of customer service
  11. Frank Robinson, Robinson Helicopter
    for whipping an entire industry into shape
  12. Mark Melton, Melton Franchise Systems
    for giving immigrants their shot at the American Dream
  13. Michelle Cardinal & Tim O'Leary, Cmedia and Respond2
    for rewriting the rules for husband-and-wife teams
  14. Mike Lazaridis, Research in Motion
    because someone had to stand up for all those frustrated engineers
  15. Trip Hawkins, Electronics Arts and Digital Chocolate
    for still scrapping
  16. Warren Brown, Cake Love and Love Cafe
    because only in America will someone quit a secure job as a lawyer to start a bakery
  17. Muriel Siebert, Muriel Siebert & Co.
    for being a notable first with a worthy second act
  18. Chuck Porter, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky
    for verging on reckless
  19. Katrina Markoff, Vosges Haut
    for setting a completely unreasonable goal for her business
  20. Barry Steinberg & Craig Sumerel, Direct Tire and Auto Service
    for showing the power of the peer group
  21. Victoria Parham, Virtual Support Services
    for serving as a mentor to military spouses
  22. Tom LaTour, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants
    for staying at fleabag hotels so that we don't have to
  23. Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, Mitchell Gold
    for creating a true comfort zone
  24. Izzy & Coco Tihanyi, Surf Diva
    for kicking sand in the face of conventional wisdom
  25. Tony Lee, Ring Masters
    for saving 16 jobs, including his own
  26. Rueben Martinez, Libreria Martinez Books and Art Galleries
    for simultaneously building a business and nurturing Latino culture

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