Many people would have looked at little David Longaberger and thought, “that poor little boy.” After all, he was one of twelve children born into an impoverished family in a small town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. His father worked long hours at the local paper mill after losing his position as an apprentice when the local basket factory closed. His mother juggled a full time job at the town’s woolen mill while raising him and his siblings. He was small in stature with a severe stutter, and to compound his problems, he suffered from epilepsy. But the fifth child of J.W. and Bonnie Longaberger was one very determined little boy.
By the time he was in grade school he was well known throughout his home town of Dresden, Ohio. To help support his family he raked leaves, shoveled snow, hauled trash and ran the projector at the local movie theater. Yes, everyone knew little David, and they knew how industrious he was. If fact many of them referred to him as the “25 cent millionaire.”
After high school graduation (which took him until he was 20) and two years of service in the Army, Dave returned to Dresden where he purchased two local businesses. The first was a restaurant and the second an old A&P grocery that he expanded and reopened as the Dresden IGA Foodliner. By now, a married man with two small daughters, he experienced success with each of his business endeavors, but he never lost his love for the art of basket making he had learned from his father.
It was in the early part of the 1970s Dave noticed that many department stores were selling imported baskets. It occurred to him that people might also have an appreciation for baskets like the fine handcrafted ones his father had taught him to make many years before. With his father’s help, he made a dozen “market baskets” and took them to a shop in a nearby town. The baskets sold instantly, confirming Longaberger’s belief in his product, and in the fall of 1976 Dave opened J.W.’s Handwoven Baskets of Dresden.
Over the next two years Dave moved to a larger facility and continued turning out baskets for sale in malls and department stores. Sales were sluggish and the company sank deeper and deeper into debt, causing him to rethink the way his product was being received by the public. Dave concluded that simply setting his baskets on a store shelf did not allow the consumer to realize the uniqueness of his product. At the suggestion of a friend, Longaberger began offering in-home shows with trained consultants who could not only show the baskets, but also explain the family history and craftsmanship involved in their production. Sales soared and the direct sales division of the Longaberger Company’s was born.
In 1984, Dave’s daughter, Tami, joined the company and in 1994 Dave appointed her president. A visionary like her father, she diversified the company’s production, adding pottery, wrought iron, fabric accessories and specialty foods. The company is now based in Newark, Ohio, with over 30,000 independent home consultants nationwide and sales in excess of $8 million annually.
Dave Longaberger died in 1999. The stuttering little boy, who had once raked yards for 25 cents, had overcome all odds to become the premier maker of handcrafted baskets in the world. Until next time……..Linda
Linda Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the valuation of estates and may be reached at 317-258-7835 or firstname.lastname@example.org