Future's bright for upholstery
Cindy W. Hodnett -- Furniture Today, February 25, 2013
HIGH POINT - A recovering housing sector will likely translate into stronger furniture sales in 2013, and domestic upholstery suppliers could be significant beneficiaries of the trend.
Statistics from the National Assn. of Home Builders indicate that U.S. metro areas have shown improvement in housing permits, employment and home prices for at least six consecutive months.
As new homeowners shop for furniture, some will look for domestically made goods, according to a recent poll by Furniture/Today and Apartment Therapy. Although only 45% of consumers surveyed report that they specifically look for Made in the USA products, 66% said they are willing to pay more for U.S. products. That points to an opportunity for domestic suppliers.
"The United States has a culture that is very patriotic compared to other countries and Made in America is something people understand and want to support," said Mark Gilmore, vice president of sales for CR Laine, a North Carolina-based upholstery manufacturer founded in 1958. "It is hard to quantify what percentage buy because of Made in America, but it is easy to see significant growth within our company due to our position on keeping it here instead of abroad."
Phil Cooper, president of Comfort Design Furniture, a custom order stationary and motion furniture manufacturer in North Carolina, said he thinks consumers now understand the value of domestic production.
"Recently, there has been a movement to bring some of the textile industry back to America, and this is more apparent in better-end goods," he said. "There has been a noticeable backlash against so many of our jobs being outsourced, and that has helped Comfort Design get established as a new company.
"The major benefit of American-made products is that I can personally tour the plants, talk directly with our artisans and quality inspectors and make any adjustments that might be needed instantaneously," Cooper said. "If we identify something that might need an improvement, our task is to quickly fix the area of concern - not fix blame or make excuses to our dealers because it was made halfway around the world and there is no way to easily remedy the problem."
Dealers visiting Norwalk showrooms regularly inquire about the product's origin, according to Reyna Moore, vice president of marketing and merchandising at the Ohio-based manufacturer.
"Almost unanimously, every prospect that visits our High Point and Las Vegas showrooms always asks where the product is made," Moore said. "It always comes up in conversation, and I am also finding that international buyers are asking the same question.
"We strongly believe in supporting U.S. workers and partnering with suppliers that also support American jobs," she added. "The challenge is finding U.S. suppliers for the various components we need to make upholstered furniture. Although in some cases we might pay more for certain raw materials (made in the U.S.), we believe the quality is far superior and our returns are less than one tenth of a percent."
"We are not going to be cost-competitive with China," said Tom Jordan, chairman of MT Company, the umbrella company for Michael Thomas and Miles Talbott, custom upholstered furniture manufacturers in North Carolina. "Where we might pay $60 an hour per employee when you consider benefits, etc., China is paying $5 or $6 an hour. The retailers of better goods choose made-in- America a lot, but if you're looking at mass goods, it's not there."
"What we've found is that if customers are made aware that our product is made in America, then it has an impact on buying decisions," said Virgil Henry, vice president at Southern Seating, a Mississippi based upholstery manufacturer. "Of course, price is a factor and we must be competitive. Also, the workmanship and quality of the materials must be comparable. In most every instance, if we meet these criteria, customers, and consequently buyers, prefer our product."
Henry said that one of the biggest challenges for U.S. manufacturers is educating retailers and consumers about the quality of made in America products.
"Given a chance, we can be competitive and offer a better-made product, at the best price that sells and that can be in a showroom when you need it," he said. "We have short production times and quick shipments, and that's a great advantage."
The domestic fabric category, meanwhile, is also strengthening. As the expense of importing textiles has risen, American fabrics have become a cost-effective solution for many upholstered furniture manufacturers, and several U.S. mills are investing in technology and equipment to produce fabrics that meet the consumer demand for fashionable design and increased durability.
There has been a steady return to domestic production, particularly with midto upper-end manufacturers, according to officials at North Carolina's Valdese Weavers, who say many manufacturers "are now realizing the value of low inventory carrying costs and consistent quality that go along with domestic sourcing."
Valdese officials said U.S.- sourced fabrics provide a variety of constructions and the ability to customize color and pattern, adding that "reliable service often outweighs any price gains one might make with overseas product." Valdese recently introduced a quilting program that provides new options for jacquard fabrics and the company continues to update its fabric color palettes.
Bella-Dura performance fabrics are produced in New Jersey and officials say the company sources all of its yarns, dyers and finishers domestically. The company, whose name references the dual roles of beauty and durability now expected in performance fabrics, said its sales were up 52% in 2012.
"Our company responds to the market's need for innovative design and unique fiber choices, and we're equally cognizant of the ongoing responsibility to create environmentally preferable products," said Irwin Gasner, CEO of Wearbest, parent company of Bella-Dura. "Bella-Dura is derived entirely from post-industrial waste, and it is 100% recyclable at the end of its useful life cycle. Because it is solution-dyed, it requires substantially less energy to manufacture and uses only a small amount of water during that process. Our fibers are derived from the byproduct of petroleum refinement, thus reducing the need for virgin materials in our production process."
Domestically produced foam for upholstered furniture also offers advantages, according to representatives from Klaussner Home Furnishings, a full-line manufacturer in Asheboro, N.C. The company manufactures and fabricates polyurethane foam, sleeper sofa mattresses, polyester fiber products, feather-down products and synthetic fiber products for residential upholstered furniture.
"Since we not only fabricate, but also pour our own foam, we have the flexibility to develop special products for our special business orders," said Len Burke, vice president of marketing. "One hundred percent of Klaussner's foam is produced in Asheboro, and that gives us better quality control on our products."