Henkel Harris to close
Thomas Russell -- Furniture Today, November 8, 2012
WINCHESTER, Va. - Henkel Harris, a longtime manufacturer specializing in high-end 18th and 19th century case goods, plans to close its doors later this year, the company announced to its employees and state officials last week.
In a notice to the Virginia Community College System's Rapid Response department for dislocated workers, the company said it expects to close the Winchester plant on Dec. 31, idling 109 production workers and 13 administrative employees, according to the notice obtained by Furniture/Today. It said the company faced financial difficulties in its manufacturing business, significantly related to foreign competition.
In an Oct 29 letter to employees, company President Bill Henkel said management hopes that "as the economy improves, demand will improve to the point that we may be able to recommence manufacturing. We are not certain that will occur and under what circumstances. However, the Henkel Harris company has been a part of our community for more than 60 years and we do not willingly do this. We hope this is temporary, but we do not know what the future holds in these uncertain times."
Company officials did not respond to requests for further comment last week.
Henkel Harris was formed in 1946 by Carroll and Mary Henkel. The couple, along with a family friend John Harris, built their first piece of furniture in their basement, according to a company history posted on the Henkel Harris website.
By 1954, the company employed 22 workers. That same year, John Harris sold his interest in the company to Carroll and Mary Henkel, and the business continued as Henkel Harris.
Carroll Henkel died in 1969. Mary Henkel ran the business after his death and remained at the helm until 1982, when their son Bill Henkel was named president and CEO.
Mary Henkel continued as chairman of the board and was chairman emeritus at the time of her death in 2001. She was named to the American Furniture Hall of Fame in 1996, becoming the second woman to receive the honor.
Today Henkel Harris employs about 122 workers in its Winchester, Va., factory and headquarters operation. Its 2011 sales were estimated at $12 million.
The company has long been known for its traditional designs. It has updated the line with a number of new finishes and transitional designs. But industry sources said that as customers came to rely on the company for its 18th and 19th century inspired looks, it was difficult for it to break out of that mold.
"They were purveyors of that American 18th century mahogany look and they excelled at it," said Don Wright, president of wood furniture manufacturer Wright Table Co. "Times changed."
"I just think it's a shame," he said of the planned closing. "You have a number of people that are highly skilled and they are out of work. It's a terrible thing to do."
Scott Price, president of Chicago-area retailer Toms- Price Home Furnishings, said he was saddened by the news. His fourth-generation store has carried the line since the late 1950s. By the 1970s and 1980s it was the company's largest vendor.
"It is such a fine quality company with product that our customers really loved and passed down to different generations," he said. "We have a lot of customers that over the years have collected that furniture a piece at a time."
He said the store has more recently evolved to carry more diverse styles and price points.
"Certainly the (18th century) style category has waned in recent times," Price said, noting that formal décor is not as prevalent as it once was. "They were just so known for 18th century and it was hard to evolve."
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