Whiting looks to build on legacy

Marvin Lazaro, November 13, 2000

CINCINNATI -In 1949, Carson Ross Whiting founded the Whiting Manufacturing Company armed with only one order and his determination.

Fifty-one years later Whiting's son, Dick Whiting, is leading the bedding manufacturer into the 21st century.

An order for several thousand satin and taffeta comforters from Montgomery Ward was the first order fledgling Whiting Manufacturing fulfilled.

Whiting started working full-time for his father in 1968 when he was 26 years old. There was no special consideration for the owner's son, however, as Whiting started off as a management trainee in the manufacturing plant and proceeded to work in practically every aspect of manufacturing, production, design and sales that the company had to offer.

"I literally learned from the ground up," Whiting recalled while speaking with Home Textiles Today. "I went from department to department and learned everything. I had also worked summers at the company for years in the shipping and receiving rooms."

Whiting also remembered learning how to repair the various pieces of machinery the company had in its original 25,000-square-foot plant in Cincinnati, where practically everything for the bed was made, except sheets.

Whiting spent 10 to 12 years, he said, in the different areas of manufacturing and eventually moved on to selling bed pillows. From there, he became involved in selling the company's other quilted bed products.

"That whole time I don't think I had a title," Whiting said. "I was just involved in certain aspects of the company."

In 1980, Whiting was named vp, and four years later he added "executive" to that title. It was in 1986 that the elder Whiting handed over the reins permanently to his son, who now heads the company as president and ceo.

After 32 years in the industry, Whiting has seen his share of good times and bad.

"There are always tough times," he said. "There are ups and downs for everybody."

From a nine-month-long union strike in 1972, which included a million-dollar plant fire, to the recent sale of the Blue Ash, OH, facility and refocusing of its product offering, Whiting Manufacturing continues to endure.

Whiting recalled one particularly tough time that involved the rise-and ultimate demise-of the popularity of a product called a comfort pouch. The pouch, which was a twin-sized, wraparound personal comforter with buttons so a person could wear it like a cloak, enjoyed its heyday in the 1970s when the country was immersed in an energy crisis. Retailers ordered millions of the pouches from Whiting for an eager public. After enjoying a boon for several years, the pouches' popularity died, leaving the company with thousands in its inventory.

"When that item died, we got stuck with them," Whiting said. "Everybody had one, but then no one wanted them anymore."

Whiting also recalled union problems in 1972, which resulted in a strike. Production was virtually stopped for the better part of a year. And a plant fire during the strike, resulting in $1 million worth of damage and lost inventory, also tested Whiting's resolve.

All has not been dim for the bedding manufacturer, though. During its 51 years in business, the company has always enjoyed excellent credit, Whiting said, and has also never used a factor to sell its products. Since many major manufacturers and retailers have closed their doors during the time Whiting has been in business, its longevity is a point of pride.

In light of its recent decision to refocus its product offering to comforters and accessories, Whiting said the company has decided to build its sales to catalog merchants while maintaining and building its department store and specialty retailer business.

"The biggest problem that everyone has is sales," he said. "Our biggest problem, if we had one, is to continue our growth in sales."

A third generation of Whitings is also in the home textiles business. Whiting's daughter, Dee Ann Whiting Guilmore, is running the company's computer department, and Whiting hopes she will become more involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.

"Last year, we celebrated 50 years of being in the business," Whiting said, "which is quite a milestone in today's climate. If my father were alive today, I know he would be very proud of the company he started."

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