From Home Furnishing Business
Take 5: Cameron Capel
In 1917, A. Leon Capel got his first look at a mechanical tractor, and quickly realized there wasn’t much future for his tiny business making rope plow lines that farmers tied to their mules while working their fields.
The forward-thinking Capel was undeterred, however, and decided to buy a sewing machine so his ropes could be braided instead of twisted. The braids were then sewn together to form the first-ever reversible braided rug.
Two years later, Sears Roebuck bought 5,000 of them and included a picture of Capel’s creation in its famous catalog.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
One hundred years later, those braided rugs (and woven rugs, as well) are still produced in the small town of Troy, N.C., where the company’s founder fashioned that first rug. About 150 of the company’s 200 employees work at facilities in Troy, and its domestically-made product accounts for roughly half the company’s annual sales.
The founder’s three sons, A. Leon Capel Jr., Jesse Capel and Arron Capel ran the company after their father retired, and when the trio retired a decade ago, four of the founder’s grandchildren took the helm.
Today, Leon Capel Jr.’s daughter, Cameron Capel, who is vice president of national accounts, and her cousins Ron (managing director of the company’s eight retail stores), Richard (director of manufacturing), and Mary Clara Capel (director of marketing and administration) are leading the company into its second century. But they’re taking time to celebrate the first 100 years with a year-long series of events that have included a cake-cutting ceremony at the High Point Market and a festive catered lunch for employees, where each worker received a $100 gift card.
Recently, Cameron Capel spoke with Larry Thomas, senior business editor of Home Furnishings Business, about the challenges of running a 100-year-old family business and the growth prospects for the rug category.
Home Furnishings Business: As you know, a very small percentage of family-owned companies remain in the hands of the founding family in the third generation and beyond. What have been the keys to keeping the business strong – and family members happy – for such a long time?
Cameron Capel: It can be challenging, and not even because it’s family. In any work environment, you’re going to have disagreements, but when you’re family, it obviously brings other challenges. There are four of us from the third generation who are involved, and we each have our own strengths. We all handle different areas of the business, so we’re not stepping on each other’s toes. It just kind of worked out that way.
When we come together for board meetings or management meetings, sometimes there are disagreements, but we’ve found that the four of us are very open to listening to other points of view. We keep an open mind. It’s not just ‘my way or the highway.’ You can’t have that in a family business.
Plus, we’re able to leave (problems) at work and not bring them home. We don’t let it get in the way of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and other family events.
HFB: What are your earliest memories of the company?
Capel: I remember going to visit my Dad in his office when I was a little girl. Just being a little kid, I didn’t really understand what was going on. But I also remember going to the outlet store (in Troy) and climbing on piles and piles of rugs. It was like a jungle gym (laughs). That was before we had display racks.
All four of us started working here in our teens. Some of us worked in the outlet store, learning to sell rugs. I worked in the office -- answering phones or filing. The boys did a little harder labor. They got to drive forklifts and stuff like that.
After college, the other three came back to Troy and started working for the company. I went straight to New York and worked in the Garment District in the fashion industry for two years. I always say I went from rags to rugs, but it was an easy transition.
HFB: In addition to parties earlier this year in your Las Vegas, Atlanta and High Point showrooms, what other anniversary celebrations are being planned?
Capel: We’ll continue to celebrate all year. We’ll be doing a big party in High Point on Oct. 14, the first day of the October market. One thing that we did in April that everybody seemed to like was ‘pop a balloon for cash.’ When you placed an order, you got to pop your balloon. Inside was anywhere from $20 to $100 in cash. Some people who got $20 were just as excited as the people who got $50. We’ll continue to do that, because I think that was a big hit.
Recently, we had a big employee celebration here in Troy. We had lunch brought in for all of our employees. They didn’t have to work for a couple of hours, and everybody got a $100 gift card to celebrate our 100th year. I think they really appreciated that. We wouldn’t be where we are without all of our loyal employees.
HFB: What challenges and opportunities do you see for the rug category?
Capel: The market has shifted so dramatically over the past decade. The price points have had a major drop. It’s such a different animal now, and it’s constantly changing. For years, our sweet spot was $499 wholesale for a five-by-eight. Now, with machine-made rugs, you can get down to $99 or $199 for that five-by-eight. But I feel like we were able to respond to that change the past two markets with some great-looking products.
We have really worked hard on revamping our line and listening to our customers’ needs. We have had a lot of introductions (in the past year), and we’ve had a great reaction to them. I think it’s because we’re listening to our customers and giving them what they want.
The Millennials are the ones driving these lower price points. They’re buying rugs at $199 or $299 retail. They move around, and since they didn’t spend much money on their rug, they’ll just leave it and go buy another one. As they grow and settle down and become more prosperous, I think they’ll spend more money on rugs and home furnishings in general. But they’re buying them more often because their tastes change, or they move. We’re not specifically marketing to them (Millennials), but we’re responding with product lines at those lower price points. That was a huge focus for us at the April market. There was a time when we really didn’t have a product that was applicable to that generation.
HFB: Does is present any special challenges being a domestic producer in this pricing environment?
Capel: It does. We have thought about going offshore to complement our braided rugs with a less expensive line. We’ve toyed with that, and even brought in some samples and some proprietary items for (specific customers.) But we’ve found, frankly, that the quality is just not there. Yes, it’s less expensive, but there are a lot of reasons why it is less expensive. We’re completely vertical, and there’s a lot of labor involved. But we feel like we make the best braided rug out there. People appreciate the quality. They appreciate that it’s American-made. And they will pay more for an American-made product. And they will pay more for quality.