Wood Industry Market Leader: John Bray, Vanguard Furniture

John Bray, CEO of Vanguard Furniture, has dedicated more than half his life to the industry. In recognition of his achievements, he received the American Home Furnishings Alliance Distinguished Service Award and was inducted into the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame in 2016.

Bray traces many of his leadership skills to his years as a Marine, where he saw combat in Vietnam and received a Bronze Star. Upon leaving the military, he worked at Highland House of Hickory for a few years before embarking on his career at Vanguard in 1970.

“It seemed to me to be a good opportunity, to learn the business, learn the industry, and have an opportunity for unlimited professional growth,” Bray said of his entry into the furniture industry. And under his leadership Vanguard has grown in size and scope, becoming one of the largest U.S. providers of upholstered furniture and case goods.

From the start, Vanguard emphasized customization, quality and design. “We were constantly looking for ways to ‘differentiate’ ourselves from other companies who made similar products,” Bray said. “We thought that to be successful, we needed to own a niche, to be a little different, to offer customers something that they can’t get, or a service we could perform better than our competitors.”

“Our very name, Vanguard, literally means ‘a group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas.’”

Among his achievements, Bray helped spearhead the use of digital simulation in the furniture industry. Vanguard was also an early adapter of lean manufacturing.

The company also helped develop a configurator to simplify the pricing of customized furniture for ordering, as well as instituted a healthcare/patient-centered medical home plan; Vanguard has opened the use of both to other companies.

Also noteworthy has been Vanguard’s role in the creation of the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy, an industry-driven training program to prepare students for skilled positions.

Outside of industry endeavors,  “We have an unwritten code at Vanguard that we want to contribute to making our communities a better place for our families to live and work,” he said. He also has served on many boards, including the High Point Market Authority, Frye Regional Medical Center, the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce, the Catawba County Champions of Education, and is a longtime member of the AHFA Board of Directors.

In his free time, Bray said he loves to read, travel and spend time with his family.

Quick Glimpse:

• Education: BBA from Wake Forest
• Number of years at the company: 51
• Number of years in the industry: 53
• Words that best describe you: Generalist, problem solver
• Business mantra: Creating a “learning organization” is a competitive advantage.  That includes embracing change.
Best advice: From my Marine Corps Commander, Captain Terry Cooper: “We all come from different life experiences, but with proper training, education and motivation we can all be successful, no matter what challenges or obstacles come our way.”
• Who have you tried to emulate: Two initial investors and men of high character:  The banker single-handedly created the economic engine that grew our community and mostly made decisions based on the character of the person. Similarly, the attorney exuded honesty and integrity in all of his encounters with clients.

About the Wood Industry Market Leaders: This marks the 12th year Woodworking Network has paid tribute to outstanding men and women that have made an impact, not only at their companies, but within the various wood products industries. Since 2009, more than 80 industry professionals have shared their influencers, insights and strategies.  Read more about the 2020 and past honorees at WoodworkingNetwork.com/Market-Leaders.

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About the author
Karen Koenig | Editor

Karen M. Koenig has more than 30 years of experience in the woodworking industry, including visits to wood products manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As editor of special publications under the Woodworking Network brand, including the Red Book Best Practices resource guide and website, Karen’s responsibilities include writing, editing and coordinating of editorial content. She is also a contributor to FDMC and other Woodworking Network online and print media owned by CCI Media. She can be reached at [email protected]