American upholstery scene remains vibrant
Cindy W. Hodnett -- Furniture Today, August 12, 2013
HIGH POINT - When it comes to the domestic upholstery category, part of the Made in America story includes a tale of two extremes.
On one hand, new companies launch, banking on the desire for American furniture. On the other, an 85-year-old family business closes, unable to continue operating with a downsized footprint and skeleton crew.
So what's behind the disparity? Some say it comes down to who you know and how you listen.
J Henry is a Mississippi based upholstered furniture company that launched in June. Started by industry veterans Virgil Henry, Lee Caldwell and David Pike, J Henry will introduce the product line at the Tupelo Furniture Market Aug. 15-18 and will offer special-order value packs, an idea fostered in response to customer feedback.
"We have chosen several upholstery fabric options as well as other variations on our product line that will be offered," Caldwell said. "These value packs, which were developed based on input from our existing client base, as well as market research, should provide the necessary range of selection for our customers."
"There are a number of variables that must be taken into consideration when determining the type of product to bring to market," Henry said. "We have taken care to listen to furniture retailers' needs and closely track market and economic trends. We believe we can meet those needs under current market conditions and be successful in the process. And we plan to focus on quality rather than volume to assure our customers get what they pay for."
All J Henry employees and operations, including cut and sew, will be in Mississippi.
"More units of upholstered furniture are produced and shipped from Mississippi than any other state in the country," Pike said. "Choosing Mississippi as a base of operations was an easy choice. Our employees are local and are seasoned veterans. We handpicked the best and they will have no problem meeting expectations. Our overhead in this part of the country is very manageable and distribution from this location is optimal."
O'Grady Furniture is based in Ramseur, N.C., and manufactures promotional sofas, loveseats, chairs, sectionals, recliners and ottomans. Jo Anne O'Grady, president, said the company recently partnered with Imperial International to begin manufacturing adult sports team furniture in addition to the current 300 SKUs.
"O'Grady currently employees approximately 50 employees and we expect to increase that number once the sports products begin to be introduced to more of our existing customer base," she said.
"We think Made in America is extremely important, to this line and to this area," she added. "When many of the manufacturers in this area moved operations overseas, the economy in this area was devastated. With manufacturing slowly beginning to come back to the U.S., we are doing our part to help strengthen the economy in this part of North Carolina .... O'Grady is a true low-cost producer with emphasis on quality at a very reasonable price achieved through manufacturing efficiencies that translate to value for the dealer and the consumer."
United Furniture Inds. has nine U.S. factories, and has been expanding.
"This summer, we just added production to our Nettleton, Miss., facility and added 100 jobs to the community," Director of Merchandising Greg Morgan said. "Currently, we employ over 1,800 in Mississippi alone. With some manufacturers struggling to keep their doors open, our employees count on us to provide jobs and stability for them and their families. It's the heartbeat of small communities."
Morgan adds that one of the biggest difficulties for Made in America companies is sourcing materials.
"With the furniture industry, you are still challenged to purchase raw materials from other countries in order to be competitive and the flow of those raw materials is the largest challenge," said Morgan. "It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. In order to make production work and manufacturing run smoothly, all things must fall into place in order to deliver product to the retailers."
Upholstery manufacturer Craftmaster Furniture is based in Taylorsville, N.C. President and CEO Roy Calcagne said the Made in America story resounds with consumers, but that manufacturers must manage their message.
"Dealers are pushing the story, but they are cautious because virtually all their case goods are not made in America," Calcagne said. "Made in America product offers shorter lead times, custom order capability, easy service on repair parts and they don't have to buy containers."
Craftmaster has expanded over the past seven years, and Calcagne said the company supports other local businesses.
"When I started at Craftmaster seven years ago, we had 400 employees," he said. "Today we have 520 and are growing. We just purchased the old Broyhill Taylorsville factory, which is over 200,000 square feet. This purchase was to expand our production and warehousing. We also buy our wood frames from four local Alexander County suppliers that employ another 100-plus people.
"Our foam seats are made by Hickory Springs, right behind our factory, employing about 75 people. We buy a lot of fabric from local fabric mills as well. We really make an effort to buy from domestic suppliers whenever possible."
Calcagne added that the company has applied for a state grant to renovate the former Broyhill plant and added, "The local government here in Alexander County has been terrific in supporting Craftmaster." The company is working the local schools system and community college to help train workers for the plant.
Chris Podschun, president of Wisconsin-based La- Crosse Furniture, said Made in America companies have a delivery advantage story to tell.
"Raw materials are close and this makes the ‘speed' part of beating imports easy," Podschun said. "The other big factor is service. If the customer has a problem, it can be resolved quickly. If they just need a few pieces of product, we can ship it in about 25 days, and help them keep their inventory costs low by shipping fewer pieces more often. The consumer must continue to adopt the Made in the USA products and suppliers must continue to ship a large selection of quality goods fast."
J Henry's Virgil Henry agrees that a key factor in the future viability of Made in America upholstery is making sure that the message about the benefits continues to reach the public.
"It's important to make a statement to the industry and consumers alike that a company can manufacture in the United States with a U.S. work force and produce a quality product at an affordable price point," Henry said. "Companies such as ours can do so and be profitable. In addition, our clients can be assured that the look and quality they see in our exhibit space is what they will receive upon delivery. And the delivery will be on time!
"Our mission is to deliver value to our clients and subsequently, to their customers," said Henry. "If we do so, we not only help ourselves, but we help all U.S. furniture manufacturers as well."