I grew up in a small town in Southwest Virginia. Once I left home I quickly realized that NO ONE had ever heard of my small hometown. Eventually I was able to make a connection for them. I'd ask if they had ever heard of Bassett Furniture and then spark their memory by reminding them that it was often given away on game shows. Bassett Furniture was a frequent prize package on The Price is Right. I was from Bassett, VA where all of that furniture was made.
That was then.
Nothing is made there now.
When I was in high school about a third (or more) of the students would drop out at 16 so that they could get a job one of the many factories and mills around Henry County and Martinsville. It was good money and it was easy to get a job in the 70's.
My parents didn't work at the factory so I really didn't know much about it. I didn't even know that each building was a different "company" specializing in different products. All I knew was that I wanted OUT. I did not like living there and as a result I never really got to know the town or area......even though I was born there. I had my little world and lived comfortably there waiting to escape to college. I knew that the Bassett family started the town and I knew they were rich and that was the extent of it. I didn't know how rich (some of their children went to the public high school with me) and I didn't even know how big the family was.
I learned all that and more in this book. Normally I don't mention non-fiction business books on the blog because most people aren't interested in them. I also wouldn't mention this one if it was only about Bassett family history. There's a small audience for that tale. There's a ton of family history in Factory Man but it's really the story of every factory and mill town in the US as jobs were being moved overseas to be done by cheaper labor.
Here's the publisher's summary:
With over $500 million a year in sales, the Bassett Furniture Company was once the world's biggest wood furniture manufacturer. Run by the same powerful Virginia family for three generations, it was also the center of life in Bassett, VA-an unincorporated town that existed solely for the people who built the company's products. But beginning in the 1980s, the Bassett company suffered from an influx of cheap Chinese furniture as the first waves of Asian competition hit, and ultimately was forced to send its production offshore to Asia.
Only one man fought back. That man is John Bassett III, a descendant of the Bassetts who is now chairman of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co, which employs more than 700 Virginians and has sales of over $90 million. In Factory Man, Beth Macy brings to life Bassett's deeply personal furniture and family story. As she shows how he uses legal maneuvers, factory efficiencies, and sheer grit, cunning, and will to save hundreds of jobs, she also discovers the hidden and shocking truth about industry and America.
The family history is very interesting and that makes up the early parts of the book. But then it gets in to the real story about John Bassett III and how he kept his factory jobs in Galax, VA. What I particularly loved about the book is that Beth Macy did an impressive job of keeping the tale balanced. It's not about the mean and selfish factory owners, the lazy workers or the corrupt politicians. It's a story about people making decisions to solve problems as best they can and it's a story that can be overlaid on any company town where naturally flawed people are making decisions in trying times. Some are good at it and some aren't. We get both sides of the story in this book.
The narration is also very good and the book is more like a coming of age novel than a real story about thousands of people's lives.