• Cindy W. Hodnett

Upholstery sales buoy fabric suppliers' investments

HIGH POINT — Fabric suppliers invested in their businesses in a big way in 2016, buoyed by upholstered furniture sales that continue to drive retail.

valdese-fabric investmentValdese Weavers has invested more than $31 million in the company’s equipment, facilities and employees over the past four years.
During the winter edition of the Showtime market in December, several key fabric suppliers said that expanded facilities and equipment capabilities were the focus of investment allocations last year, along with an emphasis on employee retention and recruitment. And many of those suppliers plan to continue those investments into 2017.

STI, the company that produces the Revolution performance fabric line, invested $5.5 million in facilities expansion in 2016, increasing space by 75,000 square feet. STI also added 30 new Dornier weaving machines from Germany, state-of-the-art jet texturing equipment from Switzerland, additional yarn manufacturing equipment made in North Carolina and warping equipment from Spain. All of the equipment is in production and complements $7 million in investments made by STI’s yarn suppliers to support the company, according to STI officials.

“We are a private, family-owned firm,” said Sean Gibbons, CEO. “We almost went out of business in 2005-2006 because of Asian imports and particularly, the introduction and popularity of microfiber suedes from China. To survive, we invested in jacquard looms to make accent fabrics. … We hired signature designers like Glen Read, and we invested heavily in all the yarns necessary to make a broad offering of upholstery fabrics.”

The strategy paid off, Gibbons said, allowing STI to move up in price points and add new customers. The timing of the Revolution launch corresponded with consumer demand for performance fabrics, transforming “slow, steady growth after 2008 to exponential growth.”

In 2017, STI will continue its expansion with a $17 million investment that will add 150,000 square feet and 90 new positions. Gibbons said the project, to be completed next year, will include 36 additional weaving machines, additional yarn manufacturing equipment, a new finishing line and needle punch equipment to support it. The company is looking at property for continued expansion in 2018.

“Many domestic textile mills did not survive this time,” he noted. “My best guess is about $2 billion of upholstery fabric production moved to Asia with the closing of companies like Quaker and Mastercraft. This has created tremendous opportunity for us to expand as some production of upholstery shifts back to North America from Asia.”

BT, parent company of the Keystone Weaving, Se7en and Bentex divisions, added weaving looms in 2016 as well, increasing capacity by 20%, said Mike Durham, president. Home to 355 employees, the company also invested in its existing looms, increasing the speed and reliability of the production output.

In addition, Durham said that BT developed a new evaluation program that allows the company to grade its suppliers on their quality and delivery. The company also made system improvements on its MRP/ERP infrastructure and upgraded the management organization to support more effective operations within the 300,000-square-foot dye house.

Durham added that both the dyeing and weaving facilities are located in Burlington, N.C., enhancing BT’s speed-to-market capabilities from concept to finished product.

“We are vertical and own the largest yarn dye house in our industry; therefore, we can be on the forefront of new colors and control our deliveries and destiny,” Durham said. “During 2016, our on-time delivery for the year exceeded 95% for all our divisions and, in many weeks, was more than 98%.”

Investments in 2017 will include new looms, renovations throughout the manufacturing facilities, enhancements to the company’s dyeing process and an extension of the BT University training programs throughout the company.

“Researching and interpreting consumer and design trends remains at the forefront of our marketing and merchandising focus,” Durham said. “We spend a lot of time, effort and financial resources on this endeavor and consider this research very proprietary towards our mission of creating highly decorative fabrics.”

Culp Upholstery Fabrics is another company that has made strategic investments in technology, state-of-the-art finishing and innovation, according to Teresa Huffman, vice president.

Huffman notes that the company has invested heavily in design and development as “key drivers of our industry,” following the “forward-thinking approach” and vision of founders Robert G. (Bob) Culp and Robert G. (Rob) Culp III.

“The upholstery fabric segment of the business has focused on three critical areas: design and innovation, providing a diverse range of products and expanding our customer base to both new markets and broader global markets,” Huffman said. “Culp has maintained the financial strength to support growth strategies.”

Another company investing in facilities, Glen Raven broke ground on new headquarters for Sunbrella in 2016, renovating the company’s first manufacturing facility to now house sales, marketing, design and customer service.

Glen Raven also expanded its capacity and manufacturing capabilities in the U.S., France and China and currently has 2,000 employees globally, 1,350 of which are in the U.S. in the custom fabrics division that manufactures Sunbrella and Dickson fabrics worldwide.

“In 2017, we will initiate a plan that significantly increases weaving, spinning and finishing capacities over the next two years in our U.S. facilities,” said David Swers, president of the custom fabrics division. “As we continue to grow Sunbrella fabrics, we will also increase personnel in our sales, design and marketing operations areas.”

At Valdese Weavers, 2016 investments included facilities and people, according to company president Mike Shelton. The company purchased the building it had been leasing for the Circa 1801 division in 2016, allowing it to move the yarn manufacturing facility it purchased in the Dicey Fabrics acquisition from Shelby to Connelly Springs, N.C.

Additional expenditures included new equipment and improvements to existing equipment that allow Valdese to increase production efficiencies and capabilities, completing an optimization initiative that culminated in a $31 million investment over the past four years.

“We have a long and rich history as a domestic manufacturer with a very short supply chain, and we also have a great response rate to the industry with product and fulfillment,” Shelton said. “Now we have new products for customization that allow us to maintain consistent performance and quality as well as our reputation for service that we’ve had for a long time.”

Performance power

Cindy HodnettCindy W. Hodnett | Upholstery/Style Editor

As the Upholstery/Style Editor for Furniture/Today, I spend my work hours studying the sloping curves of sofa frames, the intricacies of fabric and the nail head trim and button accents that function as jewelry on a piece of upholstery. I research the companies that bring these things together for retailers, and ultimately consumers, and interview industry leaders about their business strategies and where they think furniture is heading in the future. And when traveling, I provide a sneak peek at what I'm seeing, whether at international markets or in High Point or Las Vegas.

I look forward to sharing what I see and I hope you'll feel free to do the same. Email me at chodnett@furnituretoday.com or follow me on Twitter @CynthiaWHodnett.

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