Challenges of the late 1970s
Barrentine recalls some of the challenges he faced administering the International Home Furnishings Market in the late 1970s. His role was to facilitate communication and coordinate the creation of infrastructure to keep the Market running smoothly.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Richard Barentine, January 28, 1999. Interview I-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
How long had problems been stewing before they then decided “We need to go out and take some action.” Were those problems essentially just the problems of too much success?
RB: I can't answer that because they weren't talking to us in Winston-Salem. High Point was very parochial about this event and can be sometimes today very parochial about it. It's theirs. We didn't know anything about it in the Triad. We didn't exactly say, “Oh, Lord, who are all these people?” We knew when Market was going to take place and it was a good piece of business. You knew you were going to get full. But, we didn't really know what kind of problems they were having. They weren't telling us. These problems were accumulating. It was problems with transportation. It was problems with accommodations [and] problems with communications. This Market was stretched out across North Carolina for 150 miles. The interstate didn't even go all the way to Hickory in '77. You had people come down here, and they didn't know where to fly. Then they couldn't get a car. You had to have a car then. You had to move back and forth in a car. The east wasn't talking to the west because they were very competitive. You just didn't talk because there was no one carrying the message. The manufacturers [and] certainly the landlords weren't talking to each other because they're competitors.
So the Market had perhaps depended a little on the manufacturers, and they had found a very strong advocate in Robert Gruenburg. Bob Gruenburg, the late Robert Gruenburg, was the head of the Southern Furniture Market Center for many years and was in that position of leadership in '77 when I was hired. He was one of my supporters, one of the people who advanced my name. He was tough. He was fair. He ran a very tight ship, and his influence was broader than just his building. Yet, he wasn't the right one to do the job. He was a landlord. There were these other buildings growing up. And he realized it. Bob and I had not an uneasy relationship, but it took Bob a while to relinquish spokesperson roles and things of that nature that he had done because it had sort of been left to him to do it. He picked up the responsibility. Manufacturers weren't angry about him, but they didn't want him doing it. They didn't want the landlords doing it.
I don't know how long they were sitting over here wringing their hands. I don’t know how long these problems were going on, but they were pretty serious by the time they got to me. Yet, they were very simple to solve. They simply needed day to day leadership -- someone carrying the message back and forth and some entity that actually communicated with all the landlords, all the exhibitors, all the hotels, everybody that needed to be a part of this event. My style, my mandate was “You do this. We want you to straighten all this up.” We talked about what was practical, what wasn't practical and kind of set the mandate. The mandate came together that we were to create and sustain a business climate where all of Market's participants can have a profitable, a pleasant, and a safe experience. Now, we've added safe later. In the late '70s, safety wasn't the concern we all have now. So, that's what we said. We want people to come down here. We want them to enjoy having them come down here. We want to be able to do business. We need to make some money while we're doing it. So, “That's your job. Get all this infrastructure put together. Get all these problems put together, so when we come down here, we can do business.”
Now, the other day, Bob Spilman described my career as, “We told him to do all this. He's done it. Everything now runs real smoothly. “Now when we come down there,” of course, he doesn't now, but, “When we come down there, he's who we can yell at if something goes wrong.” That's Bob Spilman. The way to make all that happen was to bring forward my Convention and Visitor's Bureau career. This is just a bigger audience. They have to have a place to sleep. They need to move around. They need to eat, and all those things. We're going to push them into a box that's a private event. That's different. That's a little different because you're only promoting to a qualified group of people that can come. That's a little different. But, I had the visibility in the Triad to be able to work with all these communities. We had taught most of them what they were doing. We were not an adversary.