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Hearth & Home January 2020

Photo: ©2020 Zaid Hamid.

Modesty, Honor, Integrity

By Richard Wright

As Janet Wansor reluctantly leaves her position at Jensen Leisure Furniture, she reflects on the past 28 years, her successes, and most importantly, the people she has met along the way.

Beginning with Jensen Jarrah, then going to Jensen Leisure Furniture, Janet Wansor has been in charge of reps, meaning in charge of sales. With only a handful of dealers to start with, she was instrumental in building the dealer network up to 300.

Hearth & Home: How did you get into the patio industry?

Janet Wansor: “I was working for a graphic design company called JMP Graphics in southern California. I was hired to do the sales, to cold call, and to meet with clients. I worked with the artists to create company logos, design ads, etc. The company printed their business cards, letterheads, envelopes, that kind of thing.

“Max Jensen arrived (from Australia) for the first time to look at selling his furniture to retailers; he needed to understand what steps to take to set up his business. He saw our ad in the “Yellow Pages,” called, and I met with him in a credit company that handled companies’ receivables. We talked, and he showed me an idea he had for an ad; it was terrific. 

“It was the chair from Down Under, and the chair was upside down. It was a very bold ad. I loved it. Within a couple of weeks we put together his logo and some of the print materials. A little time went by and he contacted me and asked if I would consider working part-time for him. He said he was really comfortable with me. He liked me. I was excited because it would be a new adventure. At that time, JMP Graphics was selling the company to a printer. So everything worked out for me to start working part-time for Max.”

What year was that?

Wansor: “It was 1991 when I met him, and I started at the end of that year. At first I worked part-time in the office of the receivables company, outside of Riverside. I was doing a little bit of everything. Max was in Australia. He would come over to the U.S. a couple of times a year, at least in the beginning. So I learned a wide variety of skills, from accounts receivable to accounts payable, to bringing on a sales force. I looked into which associations I should join; at that time it was called the CFR (CasuaI Furniture Retailers).

“I made sure I joined that group and got involved. I also participated with a local Southern California Credit Management Group. That’s where I met Beverly Lee of OW Lee. I realized the value in bringing on retailers through the sales team that were credit worthy. I immediately took to the industry people. I loved them – still do.”

At that point were you actually trying to find reps to sell Max’s products?

Wansor: “Yes, I worked with Max. We researched warehousing. There was such a wide variety of research that I had to do. He was more involved with interviewing the reps, getting recommendations. He had a sales manager come over from Australia who was also involved in hiring the reps. We put together small regional teams; back then it was Chicago and New England. 

“Not all the regions were covered, and if they weren’t then I was responsible to travel the region and cold call. I did cold calls every day. I’d research who the key players were. Then I would contact the reps who covered the regions. In other regions where we didn’t have reps I would make trips and see what I could find out.”

What did you think about cold calling? Was it difficult?

Wansor: “It was, but I had done it with JP Graphics. The rep team, or family, grew as we became more involved in the industry. I met them through the CFR; I networked with people to find out what reps were the best investment.”

At that point were you attending the Casual Market?

Wansor: “Yes, the first market I attended was in the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza. Upstairs we had a 10 x 10 space. It was fabulous. It was a good group of people. 

Did you attend the Apollo Awards program?

Wansor: “Yes, the attire was through the moon. It has become a little more casual, a lot more casual, really.”

So, at first you learned how to handle the money aspect of running a business, and then you learned how to find and train the salespeople. Did you ever get into designing, or helping people to design, products for the market?

Wansor: “I’ve always been included in discussing new products. I appreciate that my feedback was always wanted. In the early years, the designs were all done in Australia. I would always be sent technical drawings, and I would provide my feedback. I learned the importance of being able to go 360 degrees around the piece to see what it looks like from the back, from the side, from the front, all of that. 

“Max had a really good understanding of the ergonomics, the importance of the comfort of wood furniture. That’s why we still have the Integra and the Governor chairs, because they are so comfortable.”

I remember Max. I remember him as being a very nice guy who was very into his business. He didn’t want to mess around and joke too much. He was there to do business.

Wansor: “That’s right. He was very focused, a very complex man. When I moved into our own office, I was in the office by myself. Each day, whatever would arise, I would think, What would Max want me to do? I took total ownership. I wanted the company to have integrity. Whatever I said I would do, I would follow through and make sure it was done.”

You were the one managing Max’s business in the U.S.

Wansor: “Yes.”

What happened with Max? My understanding was that he ran out of Jarrah wood.

Wansor: “It was partially that. It was a combination of things that collided. The quality Jarrah, which is only found in southwestern Australia, became less and less available. We were also seeing the impact on the quality of the timber that was being used. The cost, of course, went up and up. 

“He had a really top quality team of production people, but coal mining became a really big thing in northwestern Australia. They were able to offer high wages, so he was losing people. It was a combination of that, the quality of the Jarrah, and the increasing cost of the wood. It became impossible to be able to be successful in the U.S.”

So he sold the business. Am I correct?

Wansor: “We were at the September market and Max met a gentleman who became the tie between Jensen Jarrah and the Roda Group. Max left that show and headed straight for the Roda Group in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.”

Now, Roda is a very large company, correct?

Wansor: “Yes, they have all kinds of ventures. Outdoor furniture is probably the smallest of their businesses. They were already in the outdoor furniture business. They were using Roble timber and selling it in Europe, England, and the British Isles. 

“They bought Max out; that was around 2009 and what they wanted was Max’s designs. Jensen Jarrah closed in 2010. I don’t know all the details of what they purchased, but they knew that Ipe and Roble are the best timber to use in outdoor furniture. They have the forests right there in Bolivia. I think it was at the Preview Show in July, 2009, when we introduced the Ipe. What a wonderful wood that is.”

It’s beautiful. Did Max already have certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)?

Wansor: “Max was not involved in that at all. That came about through the Roda family.”

At that point, when Roda was taking over, do you recall how many dealers you already had?

Wansor: “Well, Jensen Jarrah started with about a dozen dealers. At the time when Roda was taking over, we had about 200, and now we have close to 300 accounts.”

At that point what was your job?

Wansor: “I was vice president of Sales and Marketing. That’s still my title today.”

So you found your niche in sales as opposed to finance?

Wansor: “Yes.”

When Roda took over, the reps reported to you, correct? And that lasted for another 10 years or so.

Wansor: “Yes. Until Eric Parsons came in (Parsons joined the company in February 2019; he is now vice president of Jensen Leisure Furniture. For years he had a high-level job at Gloster).”

Where does Charles Vernon fit in (Vernon joined the company in January 2019 after many years of working with Gloster). 

Wansor: “He’s Chairman of the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors has always been involved with Jensen Leisure Furniture. I would say, in this last year, it is much more involved.”

How much longer will you be involved with the company?

Wansor: “Four weeks.”

That brings you to about the end of December. Where and what do you want to do? Ideally, what would you like to be doing with your life right now?

Wansor: “I really don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know I want more independence. I want something part-time. Whatever it is, I’m going to love it. I would hope something would open up in the industry. I have a couple of ideas. I’m going to take the holidays off, Christmas and New Year’s. I’m going to be meeting family in Colorado and just enjoy some time off, then I’ll see. 

“I’m going to be in Virginia through at least half of next year. I’m still in my lease. I thought I was going to retire in 2020, but things got moved up. I go back and forth between being incredibly sad and being excited. It’s bittersweet.

“My husband and I have talked about moving to Colorado, or to Oregon. I love Oregon.”

What have I not asked that you would like to get out in this article?

Wansor: “Just that I love what I do. I love the industry, the people. People are what make it. The retailers are great, and the ability to really get to know people and share their joys and pain is also wonderful. I love that. That is going to be what I miss, and the reps. I love the reps, and the wide variety of personalities they have; some of it relates to the region they are in, and some of it is just personality.

“Now, earlier you asked how I grew the Jensen business. That’s best answered by the quality of the people I have worked with over those 28 years. For example, reps such as Todd Crandall, Jack Glynn, Jeff and Claire Walvick, as well as longstanding retailers such as John Billings of Daylight Home, Lighting & Patio, CA; Tom and Deb Stegman of Elegant Outdoors, FL; Jack Wills III of Jack Wills Outdoor Living, OK; Mariah Maydew of Fruehauf’s, CO.”

Ed. Note: Janet Wansor can be reached at (951) 315-7920 – calls or text.

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