Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town

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Overview

The instant New York Times bestseller about one man's battle to save hundreds of jobs by demonstrating the greatness of American business.

The Bassett Furniture Company was once the world's biggest wood furniture manufacturer. Run by the same powerful Virginia family for generations, it was also the center of life in Bassett, Virginia. But beginning in the 1980s, the first waves of Asian competition hit, and ultimately Bassett was forced to ...

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Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town

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Overview

The instant New York Times bestseller about one man's battle to save hundreds of jobs by demonstrating the greatness of American business.

The Bassett Furniture Company was once the world's biggest wood furniture manufacturer. Run by the same powerful Virginia family for generations, it was also the center of life in Bassett, Virginia. But beginning in the 1980s, the first waves of Asian competition hit, and ultimately Bassett was forced to send its production overseas.

One man fought back: John Bassett III, a shrewd and determined third-generation factory man, now chairman of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co, which employs more than 700 Virginians and has sales of more than $90 million. In FACTORY MAN, Beth Macy brings to life Bassett's deeply personal furniture and family story, along with a host of characters from an industry that was as cutthroat as it was colorful. As she shows how he uses legal maneuvers, factory efficiencies, and sheer grit and cunning to save hundreds of jobs, she also reveals the truth about modern industry in America.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2014

Amid omnipresent headlines about companies closing down manufacturing in the U.S. and moving jobs overseas, Beth Macy reveals how one dedicated businessman managed not only to keep his hundred-year-old Virginia furniture business’s doors open, but actually managed to grow it even while competing with cheaply manufactured imports. It’s a story of American spirit and unflappable entrepreneurial resolve, with an ending so irresistible, HBO and Tom Hanks plan to turn it into a miniseries. See all of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2014.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin
Beth Macy…understood how lucky she was when she accidentally uncovered the great, gripping story told in Factory Man. This is Ms. Macy's first book, but it's in a class with other runaway debuts like Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers: These nonfiction narratives are more stirring and dramatic than most novels. And Ms. Macy writes so vigorously that she hooks you instantly. You won't be putting this book down.
The New York Times Book Review - Mimi Swartz
…thick with rich characters, family secrets and backwoods wisdom…Macy's passion and enthusiasm are palpable on every page…her chronicle of this quest is important because she makes a complex, now universal story understandable. Macy cares about ordinary Americans in the same way Bassett does, and in the same way so many Wall Street players and corporate shareholders do not.
Publishers Weekly
★ 03/17/2014
In her first book, winner of the 2013 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, Roanoke Times reporter Macy explores the effects of globalization on America’s furniture manufacturing industry via the story of the Bassetts, a family from Virginia, whose Bassett Furniture Company was once the world’s largest producer of wooden furniture. In the 1980s, cheap Chinese imports began to flood the U.S. market, prompting many domestic furniture makers to move their factories abroad. But John Bassett III fought back. A “larger-than-life rule breaker,” J.B. III (as he was known) hired top trade lawyer Joe Dorn and convinced members of the U.S. furniture manufacturing industry to support him in filing a petition against China for unfair trade practices, ultimately saving his company, Vaughan-Bassett (an offshoot of the family business), along with hundreds of jobs. Macy’s riveting narrative is rich in local color. It traces the history of the Bassett family and the U.S. furniture trade, from the “billowing smokestacks” of Southern towns along Route 58 to the imposing factory complex near Dalian, China, and eventually to Vietnam and Indonesia, where manufacturers sought ever-cheaper labor. Macy interviews the Bassett family, laid-off and retired workers, executives in Asia, and many others, providing vivid reporting and lucid explanations of the trade laws and agreements that caused a way of life to disappear. Agent: Peter McGuigan, Foundry Literary + Media. (July)
From the Publisher
"John Bassett's story has everything. An extraordinary dynasty, a relevant and inspiring message, and one of the best heroes I've read about in years. It works on every level, from the most personal betrayal to the realities of the global economy, from the struggle of one worker in a small Appalachian town to the future of our cultural as a whole. Part of me wishes I'd found John Bassett III, because this is powerful stuff, but it's obvious the story is in excellent hands with Beth Macy. Sometimes the right writer comes along with the right story at the right time. This is clearly that book."—Bret Witter, author of Dewey and Until Tuesday

"In a compelling and meticulously researched narrative, Macy follows the story from the Blue Ridge Mountains to China and Indonesia, chronicling [John] Bassett's tireless work to revive his company, and with it, an American town."—Garden & Gun

"A bracing saga.... Macy is an engaging writer."—Michael Boodro, Elle Decor

"It's a must-read just for its look at what happens at home when we send jobs overseas and how we all play a role. This one is a page-turner."—DesignSponge

"A triumph.... Get Factory Man and take your time with it. It's a big ol' delicious toasted sandwich of a book."—Kurt Rheinheimer, The Roanoker

"I've been reading Beth Macy for years. She is a great American writer. She sees everything, all the precious detail. A few years back, as the world was collapsing around us, she did a story on the temp who was answering phones at a hotline for those in financial hot water. The temp was this immense hero in all these ways that nobody else would have ever recognized. Of course, Macy never called her a hero. She just let the story do the work."—Roland Lazenby, author of Michael Jordan

Beth Macy "got the story of a lifetime. And she wrote this book in the "Seabiscuit" tradition, combining the power of truth-that's-stranger-than-fiction with the colorful verve of a novel."—Janet Maslin, New York Times

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-06-15
The story of one man’s fight to save American furniture manufacturing jobs in the face of a deluge of cheap Chinese imports.In this welcome debut, winner of the 2013 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award,Roanoke Timesreporter Macy brings to life the rise of family-owned Bassett Furniture Company as the world’s largest producer of wooden furniture and John Bassett III’s epic struggle to keep his company in business amid unfair overseas business practices that forced many U.S. manufacturers to move their factories abroad. A brash, patriotic charmer fond of quoting George Patton (“When in doubt, ATTACK”), Bassett came from a long line of wealthy Virginians with “sawdust” in their veins. “The ‘fucking Chi-Comms’ were not going to tellhimhow to make furniture!” remarked one retailer. Drawing on prodigious research and interviews with a wide range of subjects, including babysitters, retired workers and Chinese executives, Macy recounts how Bassett, now in his mid-70s, mobilized the majority of American furniture manufacturers to join him in seeking U.S. government redress for unfair Chinese trade practices. The author’s brightly written, richly detailed narrative not only illuminates globalization and the issue of offshoring, but succeeds brilliantly in conveying the human costs borne by low-income people displaced from a way of life—i.e., factory jobs that their Appalachian families had worked for generations. Writing with much empathy, Macy gives voice to former workers who must now scrape by on odd jobs, disability payments and, in some cases, thievery of copper wire from closed factories. Her book is also a revealing account of the paternalistic Bassett dynasty, whose infighting was a constant diversion for everyone living in the company town. Ultimately, Bassett’s efforts saved some 700 jobs and his Vaughan-Bassett company, the nation’s largest wood bedroom furniture maker.A masterly feat of reporting.
Library Journal
06/15/2014
"Fight harder than everybody else" is the motto of John Bassett III, the folksy but cunning scion of the eponymous furniture company. Bassett has proven his point by taking on Chinese companies that were dumping furniture into the U.S. market at artificially low prices, forcing American manufacturers out of business. He formed a coalition with other manufacturers, and they eventually won their case with the International Trade Commission in 2003. It was a hollow victory though, as most of the plants had already closed. This lengthy work written by investigative journalist Macy details the history of that case. It is much more than that, however, as the corporate and family feuds described are worthy of the television show Dallas. The book is also a story of the town Bassett, VA, and the workers—the Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co. (founded in 1902) today employs more than 700 Virginians—who are struggling to hang on in a rapidly declining economy. VERDICT Macy, herself the daughter of an assembly-line worker, offers a well-researched title that reads like a novel, with plenty of juicy characters and dialog. For public library and university business collections.—Susan Hurst, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316231435
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 7/15/2014
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 13,243
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Beth Macy won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, a joint project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard for "her extraordinary reporting and narrative skills" and her work on Factory Man. The daughter of a factory worker, she writes about outsiders and underdogs. Her articles have appeared in national magazines and the Roanoke Times, where her reporting has won more than a dozen national awards, including a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. She lives in Roanoke, Virginia.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 28 )
Rating Distribution

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(21)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2014

    This story's admirably objective and really well reported. It t

    This story's admirably objective and really well reported. It tells about the people whose lives were enriched by globalization or crushed by it. And her main character is a terrific. A very good story that happens to be true.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2014

    Just finished FACTORY MAN -- a very interesting and enlightening

    Just finished FACTORY MAN -- a very interesting and enlightening story -- I love her style -- this is not some dull dry business book! very entertaining

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 15, 2014

    Allow yourself some quiet, open time to read "Factory Man.&

    Allow yourself some quiet, open time to read "Factory Man." To tackle it while swatting at distractions will be far too frustrating, and you're likely to hurt the feelings of those close to you. As unlikely as this might sound, it's an irresistible, sassy take on globalization, as seen from laid-off factory workers and their bosses. Told with deep, observant insight, Macy trumps pundits long-held, if flawed, view that the offshoring of American manufacturing isn't really so bad. It's one of those conventional wisdoms most of us had accepted, even when our subconsciousnesses were blinking a red alert. Macy's powerful reporting and narrative reawaken our common sense, as well as our sense of decency.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2014

    This exciting and informational novel is a must read! Beth Macy

    This exciting and informational novel is a must read! Beth Macy brings you behind the scenes of furniture town that has been hit hard by global imports. By no means is this a cut and dry underdog story but one with ups and downs that will keep you glued to the pages. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 20, 2014

    FACTORY MAN is a fascinating read by a masterful storyteller. Us

    FACTORY MAN is a fascinating read by a masterful storyteller. Using the first person, Beth Macy practically invites the reader to "Have a seat while I tell you a story." And tell a story she does, using a conversational tone and anecdotes backed by copious research to captivate the reader. Only this is no fairy tale; it is the story of a family who created a town and an industry which helped thousands of people gain entry into middle America, a position now precarious, if not gone entirely, because the jobs that sustained them have been lost as industries shut their doors and send the jobs overseas. Ms. Macy makes no pretense of presenting a scholarly treatise on the pros and cons of globalization. Rather, she simply focuses on real people who built an industry, on those who have suffered the devastating results of lost jobs, and on one member of that family, imperfect though he may be, who fought to save a factory and the jobs of its workers. The obvious conclusion is that, given an even playing field, the American worker can compete, and the reader is left wondering, "Why can't we just play fair?"

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 20, 2014

    When you hear about the need for jobs in America, and, the risin

    When you hear about the need for jobs in America, and, the rising jobless rate, you can't help but appreciate this story.
    John D.Bassett III was determined to save Vaughan Bassett, 700 factory jobs, and ultimately the town of Galax in the hills of Virginia.
    Beth Macy did her ground work and research in order to craft her story this great heroic maneuver by JDB III to fight the odds, to do what  
     he saw as the best way to compete with the ever growing invasion of overseas furniture manufacturers.
    He rolled up his sleeves and starting swinging in a battle he knew would create a shake up in the furniture industry which he and his
    family has played a major roll in for decades. Beth Macy includes key characters you really will enjoy knowing while reading
    "Factory Man".  Because of this heroic maneuver, Vaughan Bassett has become the largest domestic furniture manufacturer in America 
    at the same time that hundreds, if not thousands of domestic manufacturers have closed down because they failed to compete with
    the importers of wood furniture. Beth Macy's "Factory Man" is truly a fabulous read.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2014

    An amazing story of small town America and why it is important t

    An amazing story of small town America and why it is important to do the right thing and fight for the things that matter-- Beth Macy tells the story of small town America and one mans journey to keep his community alive. Her description and detail bring the characters to life in such a way that you feel as though you're submerged in the heart of the mountain town with them where the story takes place. John Bassett, III, around which the story takes place is a fiercely loyal, charmingly witty and driven man. His fight for fairness and equality and devotion to his community-- the people that work in his factory-- are profound and captivating. An absolute must read

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2014

    After reading so many reviews, I felt like I'd already read the

    After reading so many reviews, I felt like I'd already read the first two chapters of the book! This, however, is not the fault of the author, but of too much information already "out there" about the book's contents. But by the third chapter, I was on a ride, through the course of the history of both the American furniture market and the Bassett-Vaughn empire. Though the reporting includes much about global competition and U.S. economic policy, this book was first and foremost a fabulous tale about an incredible family. You'll love the characters, you'll hate the characters, and you will want to read more Beth Macy when you're done.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2014

    Pull up a comfortable chair (American-made, if you can find one)

    Pull up a comfortable chair (American-made, if you can find one) and prepare to be hooked on this compelling work by Beth Macy. The subject is, of all things, globalization in the furniture industry. What sets "Factory Man" apart is Macy's exceptional, relentless reporting, which produces the very finest storytelling. Prepare to lean the backstory on the Bassett furniture-making family and its business practices, as well as the effects on their loyal factory workers. But above all, this is a story of survival.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2014

    This is a fantastic book. Janet Maslin compared Beth Macy's fir

    This is a fantastic book. Janet Maslin compared Beth Macy's first book "Factory Man" to "Seabiscuit," which launched Laura Hillenbrand's career. I concur.
    The clever and courageous tactics used by John Bassett to keep Vaughan-Bassett's factories open makes for entertaining and inspirational reading. This book should be required reading at every business school in America. The best book about business -- and the American spirit -- that I have read in years.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2014

    A cross among "Gone With The Wind", "Peyton Place

    A cross among "Gone With The Wind", "Peyton Place" and "Economics 201"-"Factory Man" has it all! Incredible insight about world globalization in the furniture manufacturing businss is revealed in depth in this outstanding book. Having grown up in Bassett, VA and knowing most of the characters in the book, Beth Macy has done her homework and tells it like it is about the people surrounding John Bassett III and what lead to his fight against China's dumping of below cost furniture into America. Once you start reading, you will not want to put down the book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 16, 2014

    I was disappointed to find this to be an ill-informed polemic ag

    I was disappointed to find this to be an ill-informed polemic against global economics rather than an objective approach to the topic of the challenge American producers face competing in international markets. It read more like a promotional piece for the main character and an long Op Ed advocating against international trade.

    1 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2015

    Where the "rubber hits the road", so to speak

    The best thing for me about this book was the view of how trade litigation really works; how damage is done to industries by "dumping"practices and how seductive they are; and how expensive, frustrating and ultimately futile the enforcement procedures were. The social settings and family wars were also interesting. Although the writing is a little uneven, I enjoyed the book.

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  • Posted January 3, 2015

    Factory Man is poorly written and edited such that it jumps arou

    Factory Man is poorly written and edited such that it jumps around in time and among the key figures, making it hard to follow at times.  Also, it is terribly wordy and has numerous anecdotes that don't seem to relate to the story but the author found them interesting.  If you can wade through the verbiage it is a pretty interesting story.   

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2014

    Definitely recommend. Well researched, provided broad coverage a

    Definitely recommend. Well researched, provided broad coverage a vast cast of characters.

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  • Posted September 19, 2014

    Great book! What a character JBIII is. Very different perspect

    Great book! What a character JBIII is. Very different perspective on economics than one hears or reads from economists. A real eye-opener.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2014

    A compelling story of how globalization decimated the American f

    A compelling story of how globalization decimated the American furniture industry; telling of its effects in a southern company town and the complex company man who didn't give up when it looked like he was beat. One can't help wishing that American manufacturing had a few more advocates like John Bassett. The writing could have used a little more editing, but the story is so good you don't really notice.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2014

    A must read includes- family saga, business and politics all in

    A must read includes- family saga, business and politics all in one

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2014

    Wonderful, accurate, and engaging story

    Beth Macy has chronicled the rise and fall of the furniture industry by telling the Bassett story in Virginia - both the man and the town. The story itself is a fascinating tale of family intrigue, small town politics, social elitism, loyalty, betrayal, and commitment to excellence. This is also the best description I have read of what has happened to manufacturing in the last 30 years throughout the United States. I highly recommend this to anyone who still shops at Wal-Mart.

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  • Posted August 9, 2014

    Great for those who love furniture

    Easy reading, goes fast, and could not put it down. I must include that I come from a furniture/wood family so I am biased.

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