West Virginia Executive Summer 2014 - Page 29

[ leadership ] Young Guns Gat Caperton In 2001, West Virgin- ia Executive named Gat Caperton, president and CEO of Tom Seely Furniture, a Young Gun, recognizing his production of a quality West Virginia product and dedication to his community. Even though Tom Seely Furniture now operates under the name Gat Creek Furniture, Caperton still upholds the goal of providing great craftsmanship with a distinct touch. Since its inception, the company’s goal has been to provide first-class antique reproduction furniture manufactured with open, natural surfaces. In 2000, Gat Creek’s 150 skilled craftspeople provided a select group of independent retailers with more than $13 million in product. Today, that number has increased to $14.5 million in product, with growth at almost 10 percent per year since 2009. “When I purchased Tom Seely Furniture in 1996, the company had a fantastic reputation for building antique reproduction furniture,” says Caperton. “Friends and customers started asking if we could build cleaner, more contemporary designs. We could, but we didn’t feel right calling it Tom Seely Furniture, so we began branding our newest designs as Gat Creek, a name from where I grew up in Charleston.” Before finding his permanent home in the furniture manufacturing business, Caperton worked for Eagle Industries. During his final two years at Eagle, he managed the acquisition and divestiture of 13 different manufacturing companies, which is where he acquired the necessary skills to make Gat Creek a company that has a unique take on importing. Today, his business works predominantly with West Virginians and West Virginia hardwoods and sources more than 95 percent of its raw materials from within a 350-mile radius of the award-winning factory. “At Eagle Industries, I worked with a dozen different factories that made a wide range of building and electrical products,” says Caperton. “I also became a student of lean manufacturing practices. Instead of our state sending lumber to North Carolina and then buying furniture back, I thought we could make it here. That’s how I learned that lean manufacturing was the key to success.” Each piece of furniture is hand-made from solid Appalachian cherry and signed by the individual who builds it. “Taking a personal approach to business is a key tenant of ours,” says Caperton. “Building furniture for people is much more fun than building furniture to fill a container or warehouse. I think people like to know where things come from, too. A signature gives a table a little extra personality, and it’s a great way to show pride.” Ten years ago, Caperton took on a sustainable approach for his business to show his appreciation for the tall trees and mountains around which he was raised. Due to locally-sourced materials and production, Gat Creek’s furniture avoids oil-intensive shipping, deforestation and the unmitigated pollution that is allowed with overseas production. “After running the furniture company for a few years, I remember waking one night in a panic, fearing that I could be the guy cutting down all the trees I played around as a kid,” says Caperton. “Thus, my journey toward sustainability began. Gat Creek is now a leader in sustainability in our industry. In addition to helping reduce our own environmental footprint, I also founded the Sustainable Furnishings Council, a worldwide organization of more than 400 companies that promotes sustainability in our industry. Improving sustainability is one of the most important things I do these days.” With Gat Creek now having been in business for more than 40 years, Caperton looks back and notes the impact his company has had on the community and the State of West Virginia. “We employee 120 people with good wages and health care in Berkeley Springs,” says Caperton. “We are able to do this because of the awesome people who work here. You just can’t do this in any community