‘Agonizing’: United Furniture owner quietly emerges after shooting 2,700 in one night

The owner of United Furniture Industries, which laid off all 2,700 workers overnight last month, has quietly helped wind down the business – with some insiders claiming he is trying to “save face” after the bloodbath. Post learned.

David Belford – Wealthy entrepreneur David Belford, who has been quiet for weeks after being fired from furniture factories in Mississippi, North Carolina and California on November 21st, resurfaced earlier this month, telling a local business publication he was “devastated by the turn of events.” “” and calls the situation “painful”.

Belford also pleaded not guilty, according to a Dec. 12 interview with Columbus Business First. According to the report, he called himself a “passive investor” in the Okolona business in Mission, adding that “my understanding of the company’s finances is limited.”

“Recently, I found out how difficult the situation is, how limited the company’s capabilities are,” he said. “Unfortunately, the reality of UFI’s circumstances was brought to the council’s attention too late.”

David Belford told a local business publication earlier this month he was “devastated by the turn of events”.
Flying horse farm

Still, sources said Belford played an active role in the quiet liquidation and rehired several employees, including former financial controller Kim Harper. Former human resources chief Helen Benfield was brought in to help employees retrieve items from shuttered facilities and assure them they would receive W2 statements, sources said.

“He hired Harper and Benfield and others to save his name because he was beaten,” said lawyer Philip Hearn, who is suing on behalf of UFI employees. “Who looks like a bigger Scrooge than this guy?”

Belford did not return calls for comment.

UFI’s lenders, including Wells Fargo, are handling the bulk of the closing, returning trucks and equipment to vendors and paying for security to protect those assets, the sources said. A Wells Fargo spokeswoman declined to comment. UFI suppliers, however, said they were blindsided by the sudden halt and were baffled by Belford’s explanation that he was out of the process.

United Furniture Industries workers
All 2,700 United Furniture employees were laid off overnight last month.
United Furniture Industries
Inside the United Furniture Industries warehouse
According to sources, Belford played an active role in the quiet termination.
United Furniture Industries

“I can’t imagine having a company as big as UFI and not knowing what’s going on,” said Keith Sechrest, co-owner of Seagrove Lumber LLC, which had to lay off 45 employees after most of its business collapsed. Walk away when UFI closes.

UFI fell behind on payments to North Carolina-based Seagrove this year, but “there was no warning” that it would simply collect, Sechrest said. His brother also owns a lumber company that has had to shut down and lay off 30 employees.

Sechrest said UFI owes Seagrove $1.2 million in unpaid invoices over the past 90 days and owes his brother’s firm half a million dollars. A small knife-sharpening business that worked with both lumber companies is also on the verge of closing, adding four more jobs, he said.

It is unclear whether UFI will file for bankruptcy. UFI’s board — whose chairman is still Belford — recently retained troubled debt attorney Mark Melikian, a Chicago partner at Sugar Felsenthal Grais & Helsinger, sources said, according to the Ohio Business Journal. He did not answer his questions. UFI has also hired Michael Kelly, a partner at Squire Patton Boggs in San Francisco, as a litigation attorney for the case, who declined to comment.

“The owner may think it’s too expensive to file for bankruptcy protection and the bank wants to sell it as a turnkey transaction,” said Kenneth Rosen, a debt attorney at Lowenstein Sandler who was not involved in the case.

Suppliers and vendors were recently told that business was improving and there was no indication that the company was in a “terrible” state, according to Belford’s claims. While demand for furniture has fallen due to rising interest rates and inflation, UFI has traditionally done well during recessions because its products are value-oriented, a former executive told The Post.

Lane furniture store in Verona, Miss Lane is a unit of UFI.
Lane furniture store in Verona, Miss Lane is a unit of UFI.
Kenzie Neal

Longtime UFI president Larry George wrote in an op-ed: “There is no reason for this company to be in the position it is.” Facebook post on November 29. George left the company nearly two years ago and said that if he had known it was going to close he “would have stayed” and “would have handled it very differently”.

George declined to comment on the story.

“How come someone who owns a majority of a company doesn’t know the financials,” a former manager of North Carolina operations told The Post, and as recently as October, a top executive visited the plants he ran, assuring him. things were going in the right direction.”

United Furniture Industries
UFI’s lenders, including Wells Fargo, are handling the bulk of the closing, returning trucks and equipment to vendors and paying for security to protect those assets, the sources said.
United Furniture Industries

Some employees have signed claims that UFI violated labor laws by firing them without 60 days’ notice. UFI sent texts and emails to employees telling them not to come to work on Nov. 21 because their jobs and health insurance were canceled, effective immediately.

A new WARNING notice was sent to employees two weeks ago, stating for the first time that UFI “has not received sufficient funding to continue operations” and that the company is “working very hard” to obtain this funding.

“It’s sad that he’s full of it and he’s not at fault for it,” a former UFI employee said of Belford on a Facebook page for laid-off workers sharing information about health insurance, utilities and other services.

“This is bull-s–t,” wrote another former employee, in response to Belford’s claims that he was ignoring the downturn in business. “David’s gone down in the last 6 months. So he could have given us more warning. Instead [the] The CEO kept telling us that business was improving.


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