Simon Kaplan, the founder of New Jersey-based Crest Furniture, doing business as Value City Furniture and Ashley Furniture HomeStore, Passed away at the age of 97 on January 13, 2022.
Kaplan was a remarkable individual who, with his wife Annette and a group of talented WW2 veteran managers, built his operation from the ground up.
Military service had a profound effect on the core values that shaped his life and his career — honor, loyalty, truthfulness, commitment, and dedication. He was the embodiment of the “Greatest Generation.”
Kaplan served in the Army’s 104th Division, also known as The Timberwolves in WW2. During the Battle of The Bulge, he was wounded in January 1945, and received a Purple Heart for his service. Out of a group of 189 men that entered the battle, only six remained by the end of the war.
Upon returning home, he started a furniture business with his father and uncle, selling home goods door to door.
Kaplan embraced the principles Major Richard “Dick” Winters, Leader of WWII 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, wrote about that included:
- Strive to be a leader of character, competence, and courage.
- Lead from the front. Say, “Follow me!” and then lead the way.
- Stay in top physical shape – physical stamina is the root of mental toughness.
- Develop your team. If you know your people, are fair in setting realistic goals and expectations, and lead by example, you will develop teamwork.
- Delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their job. You can’t do a good job if you don’t have a chance to use your imagination and creativity.
- Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge and then make up your mind.
- Remain humble. Don’t worry about who receives the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head.
- Take a moment of self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask yourself if you did your best.
- True satisfaction comes from getting the job done. The key to a successful leader is to earn respect – not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character.
- Hang tough! Never, ever, give up.
He established a mentoring process for potential new employees, that began with a discussion of core principles. If hired, they were given a copy of Crest’s corporate culture booklet to read and follow. Kaplan believed that there are three legs to success in the furniture business: customers, employees and systems. Of these, he believed that by far, the most important is systems.
Kaplan saw himself as a cheerleader, a mentor and a coach. The business system he developed was heavily influenced by his interpretation of “Deming’s 14 Points” that started with a description of what it took to be a Value City Furniture retail executive and ended with how to achieve constant and never-ending improvement.
Working alongside his employees, his suppliers, and just about everyone else in the industry (including competitors) he forged partnerships and treated people inside and outside his business with respect. At 97 during the pandemic, he was still coming to the office most days.
Aside from building a large, successful business, Simon Kaplan was instrumental in the creation of the Furniture Marketing Group, served as its first co-president, and later as president.
He lent his name to many causes and threw his weight behind industry organizations and charitable efforts. During his tenure, Crest Furniture, Inc., gave generously to the Salvation Army, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, The Celiac Foundation, The Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation at Columbia University and over 70 other local/regional charitable foundations.
He was recognized by the Greater Metropolitan Furnishings Association and FMG for his exemplary life, leadership and philanthropy. In 2011, Simon Kaplan was honored by City of Hope at an event that raised $170,000. He also donated $200,000 worth of furniture to residents of Union Beach, N.J., whose homes were severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy and participated in a campaign through FMG (Furniture Marketing Group) to raise more than $80,000 to support High Point University.
A private service will be held to honor Simon Kaplan on Sunday, January 16th followed by a memorial event at a date and time that has yet to be announced. He will be missed.
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