Florida's Hugo's expands distribution
Gary Evans -- Furniture Today, October 1, 2012
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - For eight decades Hugo's Fine Furniture here has been a boutique manufacturer and design shop for upper-end buyers and the design trade here in Northeast Florida. Now the company is expanding into a much bigger territory.
"Our goal starting out is the East Coast. I believe we can do solid business from Florida to New York," said Mathew Hugo, the company's treasurer and great-great grandson of the German immigrant who founded the company.
Hugo's is not a household name and Mathew Hugo admits, "We are a well-kept secret." But the company is known in Florida for making high-quality upholstery with 5/8-inch doweled and glued frames and eight-way hand tied spring construction.
With a full markup, Hugo's chairs retail for $3,000 to $4,000, and sofas from $5,000 to $6,000, customizable in virtually any form and ready for shipment in six weeks, the company said. The manufacturer sells through its own two retail stores in Jacksonville and through various design oriented venues.
Hugo said he expects 90% of the company's new business to come from the design and decorator trade and the rest from "retail outlets where they would carry a sofa and two of our chairs on the floor, that sort of thing."
Hugo has been hitting the road and contacting design sources in Georgia, the Carolinas, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and the company also is seeking reps for those areas.
Meanwhile, Hugo's has been preparing for expansion by partnering with Fabricut, a fabric and trim supplier in Tulsa. The Oklahoma supplier will stock 100 fabrics for Hugo's, with about 25% inventoried in Jacksonville and the rest available in a week. That way the company "won't have to put fiscal dollars on the shelf," Hugo said.
Factory operations, which include a frame shop, employ 30 people who average 15 years' experience, and the company has the ability "to add 10 to 12 more without doing anything," according to Hugo. Hugo's produces 230 SKUs, from sofas and chairs to executive swivel chairs. Designs are mostly traditional and transitional.
Since Jacksonville isn't exactly a hotbed for upholstery making and the pool of trained labor is shallow, the company has started going to tech schools in the Southeast to interview candidates, hire them before they graduate and pay to relocate them to Florida.
"We can bring that person in and train them," Hugo said.
He added, "The reason we're so successful with our regional design trade is our ability to adapt. We're not in the business of saying no to people ... where there's a will there's a way. We say yes, and (tell them) this is what we can do."
Mathew Hugo said the company has earned a reputation for high quality since it was established by his ancestor, Albert Hugo. Albert was on his way to South Florida when his train stopped in Jacksonville, and he stepped off during a layover. He resumed his trip but the further south he went the more wild and tropical it appeared to him so he turned around and returned to Jacksonville.
Albert married and his wife, Euna, a seamstress, and he made furniture and she made drapes in a shop set up in the dockhouse of Jessica Ball duPont, which he used in exchange for tending her yacht. The company is now in its fourth generation with Mathew, 26, and his sister, Jennie, 24, who does most of the fabric selection. Their dad, Richard, who has 35 years with the company, is Hugo's president.
The new generation will preserve the founder's devotion to making fine furniture, said Matthew Hugo.
"A lot of people call it the old way to doing things. I call it the proven way to do it. It's been working for 80 years."