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Butler Specialty Celebrates 75th Anniversary Year

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Butler Specialty Company, which has emerged during the past decade as a premier resource in accent home furnishings, celebrates its 75th anniversary this year focused on a future built on its historical commitment to product, excellence, integrity and (Yes!) accent. “What drives Butler today is my determination to make this company the best in accent home furnishings,” says David Bergman, third generation owner, president and chief executive officer. “That is the cornerstone of how I make decisions and the clear expectation of everybody around here. We believe it is not OK to be anything less than excellent in everything we do. We will not be average. We are only going to be great.” That sentiment echoes back through the decades in Chicagoland. Martin Fainman opened Butler Specialty Company on April 1, 1930 with another partner to manufacture novelty furniture items like clock shelves and radio benches. Two years later Harry Bergman approached Butler owners about producing cabinets for pinball machines at the factory. But word on the street was that organized crime controlled the Chicago pinball industry, so they all decided to stick with the existing product line. In 1933, Martin Fainman and Harry Bergman became Butler’s sole owners, establishing a partnership that worked well for many years – Bergman, the engineer and designer charged with product development and manufacturing; and Fainman, the businessman responsible for sales and marketing. Harry’s son, Burton, and Martin’s son, Burt, succeeded their fathers and ran the company for years as second-generation owners. Just as their fathers, Burt Bergman concentrated on production and product development while Burt Fainman directed sales and marketing. Today, they are officers in the company and still work daily in the building the company moved into in 1940 – at 8200 S. South Chicago Ave. From the beginning Butler’s owners chose to manufacture accent pieces, and the company has produced a growing line of accent home furnishings – exclusively – ever since. “Accent is who we are – accent is what we do,” David Bergman says. “For 75 years we have been focused on the same niche. As a result, we are widely recognized as the experts in accent home furnishings. We do everything we can to be the best in this category, to be the leader. We constantly push the envelope with product introductions and merchandising ideas, and, in a sense, redefine the category. Accent home furnishings is changing and growing with Butler. I truly believe that nobody does accent better than Butler.” PRODUCT Without a doubt the most important factor in Butler’s staying power and enduring success is product, he says: “Unless you have good product, it doesn’t matter what else you do.” The other essential element is integrity. More on that in a moment. Today, Butler offers more accent home furnishings than any other manufacturer – with approximately 800 products in the line and more than 1,200 projected by year’s end. Just as important, these products feature the broadest range of styles… for every room in the home… at virtually all price points. They include chests, tables, benches, chairs, game tables, console cabinets, secretaries, desks, armoires, bars, entertainment centers, headboards, fireplace screens, desks, pedestals, mirrors and globes. Of course, the line hasn’t always been so broad. In the beginning, Butler Specialty made smaller pieces: magazine baskets, curios, costumers, valets and blanket racks, for example. It wasn’t long before the company added chests, consoles and small tables – primarily in a popular cherry finish. Until the mid-1990s, these products defined Butler. Enter David Bergman, who launched a design initiative in 1993 that changed the face of the venerable company. Bergman’s goal was to distinguish Butler as the leader – the definer – of the accent category. Since then the company has introduced a series of collections that fuse innovative design, exquisite craftsmanship and exotic materials into the industry’s broadest lineup of accent home furnishings. “In the past seven to 10 years, they’ve expanded what they do – the transformation, it’s just amazing,” says David Patnesky, general manager of Sharp’s Furniture in Washington, Pa., a long-time Butler customer and the first to install a Butler boutique. “If you’d gone away for 10 years and came back, you would never believe it was the same company.” In addition to the Plantation Cherry collection, which continues to sell well, many pieces now feature authentic, one-of-a-kind hand painting. Others are made from an array of exotic materials and feature intricate inlays and inspired combinations of seashells, fossil stone, hand-hammered metals, split bamboo, cane and rattan. New products, always featuring original designs, frequently stem from suggestions from one or more of the company’s 4,000 customers across America. David Bergman and his management team are committed to keeping the line fresh. Roughly 400 new products will be added during this 75th anniversary year, he says. Customers can look for a new Connie Post Collection, a new line of accessories called Hors D’oeuvres, new private label offerings and more large items – armoires and entertainment centers, for example. All will be designed and produced with an emphasis on accent and destined to be “brightest spots in the room.” This emphasis reflects the company’s new slogan and commitment to lead the accent category to greater recognition among retailers and consumers. “Their new direction in merchandising is excellent,” says Marty Darvin of Darvin Furniture in Orland Park, Ill. “The new generation with David is outstanding, and the other people they have hired to grow the line bring a lot to the table.” INTEGRITY Beyond product, Bergman attributes a fundamental commitment to integrity as another key reason for Butler’s long, successful run. “Integrity and honesty are very important to us today just as they always have been,” he says. “I know integrity helps us in business. Our customers, suppliers and employees know they can trust us, which is something very important that you can only earn over time by doing the right thing always.” So Jack Klein, who is in his 58th year as a sales representative for the line in Texas, agrees: “From the beginning, Butler leaders built their business model on integrity and fair treatment. Within good business parameters, it is almost an extended family relationship between owners, associates, suppliers and dealers. It is family for me. We adopted each other a long, long time ago.” (Klein’s father represented the line before Jack joined the company in 1947.) Next, it’s David Patnesky in Pennsylvania: “If there’s a problem with a product or anything else, they are quick to take care of it – no questions asked.” Then back to Marty Darvin: “We’ve been doing business with Burt Bergman and Burt Fainman for over 30 years. Their products and their families are very, very high class. Butler is a family business, and it is run by men of tremendous honesty and integrity. When they do things, they always have the dealers’ best interest in mind. … We salute them on their 75 years in business. We salute them as being a wonderful company.” Apparently, that’s the way customers feel after you’ve delivered good products with integrity for 75 years – full of trust and optimism.

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