Universal Furniture’s Jeff Scheffer to retire; SVP O’Connor named president

After 45 years in the furniture business, Universal Furniture Chief Executive Officer and President Jeff Scheffer has announced that he will step down at the end of the year. Sean O’Connor, currently senior vice president of the High Point-based company, will succeed Scheffer as president on Jan. 1.

Sean O’Connor (left) will become president of Universal Furniture when longtime industry veteran Jeff Scheffer steps down as president and CEO.

Scheffer has led Universal Furniture, a division of Samson Holding, since 2008, taking it from a commodity case goods manufacturer to a whole home resource, offering fashion-forward looks across multiple styles in the upper-middle market segment. He has driven the company’s modernization and expansion, including a new showroom, a new domestic upholstery program, successful licenses with brands such as Coastal Living and Miranda Kerr Home, and the introduction of a to-the-trade program for interior designers, according to a news release.

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“Jeff’s leadership at Universal has been exemplary,” said Samuel Kuo, chair of Samson Holdings. “Both his vision to revitalize the company and his ability to successfully navigate the business through unprecented challenges, including a recession and a pandemic, are laudable.”

Scheffer’s career includes successful executive tenures at Universal Furniture (vice president national sales 1992-’96), American Drew (president 1996-2001), Stanley Furniture (president and CEO 2001-’08) and Universal Furniture (president and CEO 2008-’22). His industry leadership positions have included chair of the High Point Market Authority (2017-’18) and board member of the American Home Furnishings Alliance (2018-’22). Scheffer began his career as an assistant buyer in furniture for Burdine’s Department Store in 1978.

“It’s been an honor to work with Samuel and Grace at Samson. Their trust and support allowed us to change the company’s course and attract a new level of retailer, while expanding into the interior design trade,” Scheffer said. “I’d like to thank our employees, the people that I’ve worked for and learned from, and my industry colleagues, all of whom have made this such a wonderful ride.”

New leadership

O’Connor will assume the presidency of Universal Furniture on Jan. 1. He joined the company in 2011 as vice president of sales and was promoted to senior vice president of sales in 2017. He has been instrumental in the development of Universal’s upholstery program, both domestic and imported, and is a lifelong student of the home furnishings industry, having spent 14 years at Rowe before moving to Universal.

He began as marketing representative for Tennessee and Arkansas and ended his tenure at Rowe as national sales director.

“Leading a company like Universal has been a long-term goal,” O’Connor said. “Jeff is a great mentor with a widely held reputation for personal integrity, and it has been an honor to work with him for the last 11 years.”

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Scheffer added: “This leadership change is a planned succession. Sean and I have spent the last couple of years working closely together in the day-to-day operation of the company. He is well-prepared for this next chapter in his career.”

O’Connor is focused on a singular goal for Universal — continuing to prioritize the development of furnishings that resonate with retailers and interior designers, the news release said.

“More than anything, we want Universal Furniture to continue to be known as the easiest company to do business with,” O’Connor said. “We look forward to continued success in the future as we build on the relationships, craftsmanship and design expertise that has brought us this far.”

Kuo added: “We look forward to Sean’s tenure as president. We’ve watched Sean grow and succeed under Jeff’s mentorship and we are confident he will help the Universal brand continue to evolve to support customer needs.”

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