Sales exec and entrepreneur remembered for his business savvy, employee relations and philanthropy
PHILADELPHIA — Longtime furniture salesman, entrepreneur and philanthropist Jerome Joslow Neff died at his home here on Jan. 6. He was 93.
An obituary published by the Philadelphia Inquirer with the assistance of his family described him as “adept in all facets of business ownership — purchasing, marketing, sales, transportation, finances, customer service and employee relations — Mr. Neff established and ran Delaware Valley Distributing Corp., Prussia Trucking Co. and Mid-Atlantic Furniture Sales Inc. from 1955 until his retirement in 2007.” In addition to building a warehouse in King of Prussia, he managed a small fleet of trucks and established sales relationships with Bassett Furniture and Vaughan-Bassett as well as other furniture producers.
Eventually he expanded these companies, initially based in King of Prussia and later in the Harrisburg area, “to one of the largest wholesale furniture distributors,” supplying “hundreds of retail stores from Massachusetts to Maryland and beyond.”
“He became so successful at predicting furniture sales trends and organizing complex supply chains that top executives at Bassett and Vaughan-Bassett later relied on him as a special consultant,” his obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer stated.
Neff was born Nov. 11, 1930, in Philadelphia and grew up in the Mount Airy neighborhood in the same city. He got his first job at age 8 as a newspaper delivery boy and graduated as president of his class at Central High School, where he also ran cross country and track. He also enjoyed public speaking and debates.
Working with his father in furniture sales during his college years, he also served in the Reserve Officer Training Corps for the Army and Navy while in college, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics, accounting and business. He was president of the Philadelphia Young Democrats for a period and later served as a Republican poll worker.
He married Suzanne Goodman in 1951 and they had three sons, Dan, Richard and Bill. She preceded him in death in 1979.
He later married Nancy Cramer in 1983 and they lived in Bala Cynwyd, a community in lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania. She preceded him in death in 2023.
According to his obituary in the Inquirer, Neff was president of the Furniture Club of Philadelphia in the 1960s and ’70s. He later was inducted into the Tri-State Home Furnishings Association Hall of Fame in 2003 and won Vaughan-Bassett’s first Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 for his service to the industry.
John Bassett, chairman of Vaughan-Bassett, was quoted describing how Neff was “not only an expert salesman, but also an excellent businessman who could divorce himself from his own territory and give advice to benefit the furniture industry for the entire country.”
Some in the industry remembered Neff “for speaking bluntly and truthfully if not always diplomatically.”
Doug Bassett, president of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture, recalled overhearing one rep’s story from his retirement party that the company held for him at the High Point Country Club in 2007.
“Jere was known for giving extensive and excellent sales pitches to dealers at High Point Market,” Bassett told Home News Now. “On one occasion, the designers for Vaughan-Bassett had come up with an ill-conceived European traditional group — with lots of carvings and resin on all the pieces and hardware reminiscent of a disco ball. Jere was overheard standing before the group and telling his dealer that “with this group, Vaughan-Bassett went to every corner of their factory and found all the tackiest and worst-looking crap they’ve collected over the last 20 years and somehow found a way to put it all into this one group. Let’s move on.”
“Needless to say, Jere was right and the collection never made it to the first cutting,” Doug Bassett said.
Describing him as “direct and honest as an adviser,” his family was quoted as saying that he “encouraged self-confidence and pride in one’s work.”
“He believed not in telling you what you wanted to hear, but what you needed to hear,” the Inquirer quoted his son Bill as saying.
Neff also was known for his philanthropy, making loans to those in need, while also supporting the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, as well as other service groups. He also served as a mentor at Drexel University’s Baida Institute for Entrepreneurship and the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
He is survived by his sons, nine grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and other relatives.
Services were held Jan 10 at Temple Adath Israel Haym Salomon Memorial Park in Malvern, Pennsylvania.
Memorial contributions may be made to Hillel at Drexel University, P.O. Box 8215 Philadelphia, PA, 19101-6984 or to the Philadelphia Orchestra, 1 S. Broad St., 14th Floor, Philadelphia, PA, 19107 or to Americans for Ben-Gurion University, P.O. Box 7410310, Chicago, IL, 60674-0310 or to the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, P.O. Box 7877897, Philadelphia, PA, 19178.