In the late 1970s, oceanography professor Frank Fang traveled overseas from the Virginia Peninsula. While Frank did his consulting work, his wife Carol enjoyed personal shopping. The first saga of C&F Enterprises begins with Carol Fang’s realization that there was a market in the United States for overseas porcelain and antiques.
As their son Jimmy Fang tells the saga, “I spent my childhood driving with my mom to pottery outlets while she did business out of the back of her car.” Essentially, Carol Fang was a wholesaler of goods that she had imported from overseas. The wholesaling opportunities became more lucrative. Frank stopped teaching to work for Carol’s growing business. By the late 80s, Carol was taking quilting classes and going to China to teach quilting and needlepoint. Quilting fabrics did not exist in China, so C&F designs them here and makes them there.
Today, Jimmy Fang is managing partner of the wholesale conglomerate named after his parents: C&F Enterprises. Jimmy’s brother Ed is vice president for operations. Carol is company president. Frank is now deceased. Jimmy continues, “We design it, get it manufactured, import and warehouse it and distribute it to retailers.”
Christmas stockings made of needlepoint hang on mantels at the user-end of this very long and complex supply chain. Today, total warehousing space nears 800,000 square feet and 300 local residents enjoy jobs with C&F Enterprises. The warehouse and offices are barely seen by the public, but that does not matter.
Director of Marketing Colleen Hall explains that their customers are large retailers like Bed Bath and Beyond and Wayfair and also specialty retailers.
“We are in your bedroom, your kitchen, your bathroom, your dining room, your fireplace mantel — your whole home inside and out — and your beach home, your lake house, your hunting lodge — a full range of lifestyles” Hall says, “but you won’t buy it directly from us and you won’t even have heard of us.”
The second saga begins with continued demand for all things beautiful and functional and the Internet’s exploding ability to support shoppers’ wants and needs. “We have seen a gradual whittling away of the middle people in the classic supply chain. The Internet is fantastic for consumers, so we find a way to embrace it and support our customers’ websites,” Jimmy says. Hall says that their company even has a product photography unit that takes the pictures and writes copy that ends up on their customers’ websites.
Hall continues, “The [wholesale] world is changing. We just started selling one of our wholesale product lines also directly to consumers but the customer is different — Millennials and GenZ shoppers. But even then, we are building brand awareness when that shopper ends up in a retail location and recognizes that product.”
Examining the changing role of the wholesaler, Hall adds, “We launched our first social media ‘influencer’ campaign this morning for our ‘Carol and Frank’ brand of bedding and textiles.” Jimmy says the best way to describe the way to adapt and survive in the technological marketplace is to embrace “omnichannel selling. Traditional media is being used in untraditional ways.” Social media influencers start showing up in traditional cable TV ads as companies test new ways to build brand awareness.
This second saga is about C&F Enterprises’ constant adaptation of its wholesale functions in the rapidly changing technological world. In that regard, the second saga is much like the first. Carol Fang adapted to her developing markets, and her namesake company realizes that same imperative to adapt, grow and thrive.
TO THE POINT:
Address: 819 Blue Crab Rd., Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Colleen Hall, MBA, director of marketing
Business: Wholesaler of textiles, home decor