In her 50 years working for Bassett Furniture, Becky Fulcher has seen the transition from Western Union teletype machines to computers.
“I had an old-timey Western Union machine,” Fulcher said. “We typed on that thing and it was like beating it to death. Before computers, there was a lot of detailed paperwork that you had to learn.”
Fulcher, 69, has learned it all, and is still taking on new challenges.
“I started out here in 1963,” she said. “I started in filing. Well Lord, back in those days, we had sales reps all over the U.S. You’d learn all the sales reps because they came in for (High Point, N.C.) market. I learned about suites ... everything has a piece number, everything had a suite number, and I had to learn about all that stuff.”
Fulcher applied for a job at Bassett Furniture when she was 19, shortly after she graduated from high school.
“My daddy worked on the police force. He kept saying, ‘Becky, go in and put in an application.’ I kept putting it off because all my friends worked at Stanley,” she laughed.
When Fulcher started work as a filing clerk in the Bassett Furniture office building, Doug Bassett was president of the company, she said.
“He was one tough man, and I mean tough,” Fulcher said. “There was no funny business about him; you had better be working when he came through. I could tell when he was on the second floor because everybody got quiet.”
Fulcher also remembers frequently seeing Bassett Furniture founder John D. Bassett.
“He would ride his Cadillac into town and see what was going on, see what everybody was doing,” she said. “If you were outside, you had to have a good excuse for being outside this office building.”
The work wasn’t always easy, and Fulcher frequently found herself in the role of the guinea pig for new technology.
“I had to learn how to run the first fax machine,” she said, and she also learned how to operate a Telex machine, which sent text-based messages along a telephone network to sales reps in the field.
“For a while, I even had to run Xerox machines,” she said. “Remember the ones in ‘9 to 5’ that Dolly Parton had to run? That was the dirtiest job. You had to put toner in that machine every day and stir it up. It would go up your nose and on your clothes. Now the copiers are cleaner than they were when I started out.”
Years ago, when an employee was out sick, Fulcher said, she would be asked to fill out rush orders for furniture. She didn’t know how to do rush orders, so she pulled a few old ones from the filing cabinet and taught herself.
However, it wasn’t always easy to learn the new systems, she said, particularly when she didn’t know the lingo. One time, while filling out a rush order, she asked why the company was sending a customer a free ashtray. It was explained to her that “free astray” meant an order was unloaded at the wrong destination and is being re-sent free of charge.
“I’ve had to learn a lot of stuff I didn’t know about the hard way,” Fulcher said. “I just had to pick it up on my own.”
A little over 10 years ago, Fulcher said, she moved to the mail room, where she had to learn the ins-and-outs of packing, mailing and foreign and domestic postal rates. Just a few years ago, she said, as Bassett Furniture began using ground shipping more frequently in the mail room, she was tasked with learning the idiosyncracies of another new service.
“When they gave me UPS and FedEx,” she said, “I thought, here we go again, learning something new.”
Fulcher said she often is asked when she’s going to retire.
“I say, as long as they let me stay, I’m just going to stay on,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of good friends here. I’ve enjoyed myself.”