CONCORD, NC–A memorial service for Don Eng, a beloved character and mentor to many in the upholstery fabrics business will be held at 11:00 am Thursday, March 4, 2021, at St. James Lutheran Church.
He was most remembered for his role as Vice President of Marketing at Collins & Aikman, at one time a major player in the upholstery fabrics business.
The family will receive friends at Wilkinson Funeral Home on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, from 4:00-8:00 pm. Covid protocols will be in place for both the service and visitation.
The service will be live-streamed on the Wilkinson Funeral Home Facebook Page.
Eng was born June 9, 1930, in Kings Mountain, NC. Don grew up in Kings Mountain and graduated from Kings Mountain High School in 1949. He was employed by Neisler Mills in Kings Mountain until 1956.
Eng was married to Janell on June 17, 1956, and they moved to Concord where he joined Collins and Aikman in the styling department. In 1966 he graduated from the Executive Program of the Thirteenth Executive Group at Chapel Hill. For many years, Don served as the manager of Collins and Aikman Home Fabrics at the mill in Concord, NC. In 1985 he was named Vice President of Marketing for Collins and Aikman, Home Fabrics upholstery. As his career grew, he became well known internationally in the textile industry. He retired from Collins and Aikman in 1998, but he continued to consult with several textile mills within the U.S. and China until 2010.
Don is survived by his wife Janell (Jo), sister Brenda Thomason, daughter Kimberly Haberman, and husband Scot, daughter Kelley Carpenter, and husband Jeff; grandchildren Sydney Haberman, Samuel Haberman, Casie Carpenter, and Jeffery Carpenter; great grand-children Annabelle, Hudson, and Hannah.
Memorials should be made to St. James Lutheran Church, PO Box 684, Concord, NC 28026.
Wesley Mancini, Designed the “Home Fabrics by Wesley Mancini” line for 38 years, president of Wesley Mancini, Ltd. :
When I first started to work for Home Fabrics in 1982 (Collins & Aikman owned it then), Don was taking me to the Mastercraft plant to meet Andrew Major. Don drove a blue, very old mustang without air conditioning that he was test driving. It was the peak of summer in the South, very hot even with the windows wide open, and Don was chewing tobacco spitting the swill into a soda can. The car died in the middle of nowhere. The car eventually was repaired, but now drenched from the heavy humid heat, we went onward to meet Andrew, the president of Mastercraft. This was my introduction to life with Don and C&A (not quite what someone from Connecticut was accustomed to).
Don Eng was like a father to me and Steve McCusker (me in design and Steve in sales, both the same age)it was like being raised in the family business. Back then the working force was strictly white, straight, grey haired men so taking on two youngsters was a novel idea (especially one that was openly gay, me). He taught us by example that your word is exactly what you do. He had his funny southernisms and tales that were as entertaining as anything on TV. Don was the most influential straight man in my life, he was a man among men and many in our industry felt the same way and admired him for that.
Steve McCusker, was the sales rep for the Southeast territory of Home Fabrics (now reps Bella Home):
In the early ’90s, Don was hearing from our customers that the fabrics had to be softer. He immediately went to work on developing a process for softening the fabrics. After experimenting on his home washing machine and dryer, he started washing fabrics in industrial size washing machines. With the combination of polyester and cotton yarns, the fabric went from flat and stiff to soft and dimensional. The Shabby Chic look immediately became an industry standard finish. Merchandisers used to require pattern, color, and price, now a soft hand was a ”new” requirement. The industry today would be no where without the hand of softer fabrics he originated back then.
Jack Cobb, was a sales manager of Home Fabrics for many years:
Don was a guy that was comfortable in any setting. He came up through the mill and was equally comfortable around a loom fixer or an individual of high professional or social status. He was a genuine guy without any hidden agenda. He was, without a doubt, the person with the highest level of integrity that I have ever met or worked with. His word was his bond.
A funny story from either Heimtex or Decosit was when Regina Gurman introduced Don to a Saudi Prince. Of course she was really playing it up as were the rest of us on the stand. When she introduced the Prince to Don, he replied “Nice to meet you Prince. In Concord, NC, I’m known as King Eng” There was a moment of hesitation to see how this went over and then everyone laughed.
Don may have been a “good old guy” but he was a textile genius. One of our customers told Don that some of the Wesley Mancini Home Fabrics designs were being washed by a trendy retailer called Shabby Chic and wondered if we could put this process in mass production. Don was the first guy to wash fabrics in a legitimate finishing operation. The fabric industry considered it a novelty at best but Don knew better. Consequently, we had this category to ourselves for over a year before anyone else decided that it was a trend that was going to stick around.
Don was a marketing genius as well. He only allowed this new process to be sold to eight way hand tied manufacturers. He understood that trends trickled down and he would not degrade the brand by chasing the bottom. I had just joined him as sales manager and I remember that we were called to see a very large customer during the October furniture market after washed fabrics were first introduced. This customer was huge but was not using eight way hand tied springs in his furniture. We were given a real “dressing down” and to be honest, I was shaken. Don on the other hand was super cool. When we finished, he told me a valuable lesson. He said, “when they are yelling at you for not being allowed to buy your product; you have something good.”
Don was a mill man as well and abhorred complexity in manufacturing. It is a challenge to be simple and stylish and sometimes we were frustrated on the design and selling side. He held has ground and in the end, he was always right. He also preferred to number our designs instead of giving them names. This was also a frustration but the numbers told you the warp group and the sequence of when it was introduced. To this day, I still remember what these number mean long after I’ve forgotten the names of popular competitive fabrics of the day. When asked by our company president why he wouldn’t name the fabrics, Don replied that Mercedes Benz used numbers and Chevrolet used names. He preferred to be like Mercedes.
The stories go on and on but the bottom line is that Don Eng was the most respected person that I have ever worked with. Even people that disagreed with some of his decisions could a never challenge his integrity.
Natalie Scott was the sales rep for Home Fabrics bedding accounts:
I have so many funny stories and wonderful memories about Don who we called “King Eng”, I could write a novel…..
King Eng is what we often called Don and that is what he was to me as I consider him an industry icon and the king of textiles. Through the years, Don taught me more than I could ever learn in textile school as well as how to be a good business partner. Don was honest, hard- working, disciplined, innovative, and smart. He was always very clear in his leadership and was a great problem solver. You could not find a better person to learn from.
When working together with Don, I ate lunch with him every day either at the Speedway Club, the infamous Red Pig in Concord or the gas station near Cone Mills which happened to serve the best BLTS. We carpooled from Charlotte to Cone at one point in time and even shared offices once Don moved into the role of a consultant. I cherish the hands on working experience I gained through spending time with Don.
After he fully retired, Don was the first person I called if I needed to solve a problem with a fabric or had a challenging issue with a customer.
Don was funny….he had countless sayings that would make you laugh. One of my favorite sayings from Don was, “I don’t know nothing about nothing” if asked about something confidential.
One of my favorite work day memories was sitting in his office with other colleagues in a very heated discussion (I was on the edge of my seat)…..at 12:00p, he stopped the discussion like a light switch being turned off and said, “it’s time to go eat lunch”. We got into the car, went to lunch never speaking of work and returned promptly at 1:00p. Once seated, the switched was immediately back on and the heated discussion resumed as if it never stopped.
Don was at my wedding. Jo, his wife, made cheese straws for both my children’s christenings and we as families along with Steve McCusker and Wesley Mancini enjoyed many meals together over the years. While Don was 100% business during his work time and the very best at what he did, he was well respected in Concord where he lived all of his adult life. He was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. He adored Jo and was so proud of his daughters and two grandchildren and their accomplishments.
Don was my mentor and dear friend and I will be forever grateful for all that I learned from him as well as for his friendship.