Bennington book celebrates partnership between furniture industry, HPU

From educating students about the business, to establishing major scholarship programs, the relationship remains as strong as ever

HIGH POINT – To many in and outside the industry, Dr. Richard Bennington has been and remains an important link between High Point University and the furniture industry.

As part of his spearheading the university’s furniture marketing program in 1979, he taught classes in the program and also was the face behind many initiatives over the years. These ranged from helping develop scholarship programs to the university’s many interactions with the industry, including student participation in the semiannual High Point furniture market.

Bennington chronicles these and aspects of the university’s unique relationship with the city of High Point in his new book “High Point University and the Furniture Industry.”

He spoke recently with Home News Now about the book, which begins with a history of the college founded in 1924 and ends with anecdotes about how students are making an impact on the industry.

This is Bennington’s second book following his Furniture Marketing textbook published in 1985, a second edition of which was published in 2004.

Bennington said he started working on the new book around 2016, just after becoming a part-time instructor in the program.

“I kind of pared back and started teaching part-time,” he said, noting the several people encouraged him to write a book based on his experiences at the university.

“When you stop teaching, what else do you do?” he said. “You write a book.”

And who better than Bennington to tackle the subject? He begins telling the story of how he moved his family to High Point in August 1974 from Athens, Ga., where he had received a doctorate from the University of Georgia.

He started teaching business and economics at what was then-High Point College. From this grew his involvement in other subjects such as principals of accounting and principals of management, marketing and finance.

He eventually would take a leave of absence several years later to spend time with Bassett Furniture, then the largest manufacturer of residential furniture  in the world.

During this six- month period he spent time touring Bassett’s factories as well as its retail accounts. He also learned the entire product development cycle from how the product was produced to how it was shown at the High Point Market.

The goal behind this six-month education was to develop a major in Furniture Marketing to meet the needs of the industry.

As Bennington notes in the book, the school known as High Point College for years dating back to its start in 1924 had established a relationship with the furniture industry and the town, which had become the site of the Southern Furniture Market in 1909.

As the market drew more and more buyers from around the country and the world, it was renamed the International Home Furnishings Market in 1989, and later the High Point Market in 2001.

Bennington reflects on the industry’s first partnerships with the college, from the opening of the M.J. Wrenn Memorial Library, named after the sole owner of High Point Furniture Company in 1937 to a gift from the Charles E. Finch Foundation (the family that created what ultimately became Thomasville Furniture Inds.) of Thomasville for the Finch lecture series, not to mention the Charles E. Hayworth Sr. Memorial Chapel, named after the principal of Hayworth Roll and Panel, Myrtle Desk and Alma Desk.

He also cites other campus buildings named after famous furniture industry figures, including the Charles E. and Pauline Lewis Hayworth Fine Arts Center, the David R. Hayworth Hall, College of Arts and Sciences and Park, Finch Residence Hall,  R.G. Wanek Center, named after longtime Ashley Furniture executive and Chairman Ron Wanek, the Wanek School of Natural Sciences, named after Ashley CEO Todd Wanek and his wife, Karen, and the Culp Planetarium named for Culp Inc. and executive Robert Culp III and his wife, Susan.  

Other examples include the Plato S. Wilson School of Commerce, named after the legendary furniture salesman, the Webb Conference Center and Webb School of Engineering, named after Interstate Foam and Supply owner Mark Webb and the Harris Sales Education Center, named in honor of Darryl and Stella Harris, who founded retailer Furnitureland South in 1969.

The book also speaks of some of the renowned scholarship programs that have benefited hundreds of students over the years. Among those mentioned are  The Patrick H. Norton Scholarship named for former La-Z-Boy executive Patrick Norton, the J. Clyde Hooker Endowed Scholarship named for the former chairman and CEO of Hooker Furniture, the Broyhill Family Foundation Endowed Scholarship, the Haverty Cup for Excellence named after former Haverty Furniture, president, chairman and CEO Rawson Haverty, Sr. and the Laurence Moh and Celia Moh Scholarship named after the former founder of Universal Furniture and Fine Furniture Design & Marketing and his wife Celia. For more on the story behind the Moh scholarship, click here.

High Point College was renamed High Point University in 1991, and the book goes on to discuss the transformation the institution made under the leadership of motivational speaker Nido R. Qubein, a 1970 graduate who was named president in 2005. In addition to eight new academic schools being established since 2005, the university tripled its number of faculty from 108 in 2004 to 366 in 2020 and increased undergraduate enrollment from 1,450 to 4,600, Bennington notes. Meanwhile, the size of its operating and capital budgets rose from $38 million in 2004 to $300 million in 2020, while the economic impact of the university rose from $160.3 million to $500 million.

Under Qubein’s leadership the relationship between the university and the city of High Point continued to flourish, as one can see purple and white HPU banners on stores, restaurants and other public areas throughout the community, including Congdon Yards, the former furniture showroom complex that now houses the offices of many well-known companies in the area.

Bennington’s book also shows how the university has partnered with the semi-annual High Point Market offering student field trips during market and offering students opportunities to enter design contests with different companies, which in turn have exhibited these student-designed products at market.

And while noting the shift the industry has undergone from more of a domestic based manufacturing model to more dependent on imports, Bennington cites examples of HPU grads who have entered promising careers in the  industry – both on the retail side and manufacturing side of the business as well as in interior design.

In his conclusion he sees the relationship between the school, the community and the industry continuing well into the future.

“In addition to being a design-oriented industry, the home furnishings industry is an entrepreneurial industry,” he writes. “Therefore, what better place is there for students majoring in entrepreneurship to gain real-world knowledge than from the entrepreneurs in the home furnishings industry? Majors from the business school are gaining real-world knowledge in many ways. Students who are interested in other areas, such as supply chain management, marketing and sales, also have a unique opportunity to see actual examples of people and companies participating in the High Point Market.”

“I predict that the partnership will remain strong in the future,” he notes in conclusion. “It is a win-win situation for the furniture industry and High Point University to maintain strong bonds. High Point University is High Point’s university, and High Point, North Carolina, is the most recognizable furniture city anywhere. They are strong partners, and their relationship is tangible evidence that it is possible for a progressive university and a receptive local industry to form an effective and mutually beneficial partnership.”

Thomas Russell

Home News Now Editor-in-Chief Thomas Russell has covered the furniture industry for 25 years at various daily and weekly consumer and trade publications. He can be reached at and at 336-508-4616.

View all posts by Thomas Russell →

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