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Still Selling After All These Years; Interview with Carl Brinson

1957 was a milestone year. The Soviet Union ushered in the Space Age with the launch of the world’s first man-made satellite called Sputnik. The average American’s salary was about $4,500 a year; a nice house cost $20,000; a brand-new Ford could be bought for $2,500 and you could fill the car’s tank for 29 cents a gallon.
And while practically everything else has changed since then, one man—Carl Brinson—has been as steady as the day is long since joining IHFRA and the furniture industry some 63 years ago.
With all the doom, gloom and sky-is-falling concerns thanks to the COVID-19 virus, IHFRA felt this was the perfect time to have Carl, who is 90 years young and still calling on customers, share some highlights of his remarkable career.
Carl was born on December 5, 1929, joined the Marines after high school and saw combat while serving 14 months in Korea.
After the war— and after hitting the road for a year to see America—Carl came home for Christmas and happened to bump into John Cooney, then President, Augusta Bedding Co., (Serta Mattress Co.) who offered him a job. “I took the job on the spot and that became my first job in the furniture industry. I worked for him for four years,“ Brinson said.
In 1962, Carl accepted a job with Kroehler Manufacturing Co.  It was to be his first job selling upholstery and in moving to Columbus, Georgia, it also represented his largest territory.
Carl worked areas from Mobile, Al to Tallahassee, FL to Columbus, GA including Savannah, Columbus, areas south of Atlanta, Montgomery, AL, and Pensacola, FL.
He also recalls that the territory, while huge, was also lucrative for him. “This was the best money I had made—$50,000 my first year in that territory,” he remembers. Not too shabby for 1962!
Carl was originally given a 10% commission, but after three years, “The company cut me back to a 3% commission and told me all my accounts had to buy $10,000 a year, which made it impossible for my accounts to order,” he recalled.
In response, Carl reached out to a friend who worked for Dixie Furniture to see if they needed a salesman. As luck would have it, his friend happened to be with Smith Young, a key executive at Dixie, who seemed interested.
A short time later, Brinson found himself in Lexington, NC, waiting to interview with Young and having to wait two hours for him to finish playing tennis. When Young finally walked in, his first words to Brinson were, ‘Where is your halo?’  Everybody tells me you have one.’
Carl assured him that while he had no halo, he could produce heavenly sales. “The interview lasted all of ten minutes and I was given the job and moved to Indiana in 1963, proud to be a part of the Dixie family.”
However, before leaving to go to Indiana, Carl, ever the consummate salesman, stopped to see Grover Maxwell, a good customer of his who operated 40 stores.
Carl explained he was going to work for Dixie and walked out with a huge order for his new company.
When news of the sale reached Dixie, Carl got a call from Young who said, “Now I know why you have a halo. We’ve tried to  sell Maxwell for years and you’ve already sold him in one day.  We can’t give you commission for your sale because it is not in your territory, but will take care of you,” Young promised.
And while Dixie did just that, Carl more than repaid their efforts. He recalls that, when he got to market in Lexington, NC, they informed him that he had opened 149 accounts.
They increased Carl’s territory and he moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the next four years.
But Brinson missed the south and asked for a territory there. Young introduced him to Mr. Franzman, who became Carl’s business partner in Atlanta for the next seven years. The business took off and Carl reports earning some $60,000 annually from that territory.
But good news about great reps travels fast and Carl received an offer from Bernhardt to take over the Washington, DC area. “I was told I could make $100,000 a year and I decided I needed to take that opportunity.”
Brinson remembers getting a call from Young who while disappointed, understood Carl’s decision.
However, Brinson’s stint with Bernhardt got off to a terrible start. “The first account I called on had a shipment that was damaged, which was not a great way to start a new job,” he said.
Even so, in the first three weeks Brinson had the territory, he sold half a million dollars in sales.  “I remember getting a call from Mr. Young checking in with me. I told him I hated Washington  DC and said he knew I would.”
While Young had a reputation for never hiring a rep who left Dixie, he made an exception for Brinson, rehiring him and giving him Columbus, GA, Mobile, AL, Montgomery, Al and the panhandle of Florida.
But he told Brinson, “You will live in Atlanta until you sell a million dollar’s worth of furniture.
Young then then took Brinson into the production area and showed him a new wicker set.
Armed with the new wicker goods, Brinson promptly sold $3 million in wicker, then again asked Smith if he could relocate. “At that point, Young said with my sales figures, he didn’t care where I lived, so I moved my family to Gulf Breeze, Florida.
“I retired when I turned 70 from Dixie Furniture Co.” Brinson said.
During his long career with Dixie Furn. Co. (Link Taylor, Young Hinkle, Henry Link) which became Lexington Furn. Co., Brinson not only sold the furniture…he helped design some of the groups.  “My first one was Ship Ahoy, a bedroom suite for a boy,” he confirmed.
“I later helped with some other ones. I took our team to many of the old historical towns in my territory and we did bedroom and dining room suites that featured designs from the historical houses in those areas,” Brinson said.
Brinson was always heavily involved with IHFRA and served as chapter President for Indiana, Georgia, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
Carl still keeps in touch with reps and management from Dixie Furniture Co. Back in 2013, I was in touch with Jeff Young, who referred to Brinson’s career as “star studded.”
Young went on to salute Brinson for, “Accomplishing more than any rep he knew” adding, “every dealer with whom you made contact really and truly ‘wanted’ to do business with you and to spend time with you.”
Young also noted that, “charismatic people like Carl Brinson are few and far between. We do not meet many individuals with his combination of high character, a caring and genuinely earnest interest in the welfare of others, a sense of humor second to none; all rolled up in one high energy selling machine with business savvy far exceeding his peers.”
After a year of being retired, a friend called and asked if Brinson wanted to go back to work. He eagerly came out of retirement and went to work for several smaller companies back in the Florida panhandle and lower Alabama and lower Georgia.
Now, almost twenty years later he is still working – and still getting calls from suppliers asking if he will represent their lines. “I have to turn them down, but my doctor tells me since I am in better health than most of his patients I should probably keep working.
To Brinson, his dealers are like his family – “I’ve been with them for many years. I also love my career and thankfully am going strong at 90 years old.”

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