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Panel Of Furniture Manufacturers Optimistic About Business Conditions

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While the past two years have been challenging for the majority of companies in the home furnishings industry, manufacturing executives speaking at the Opening Day Press Breakfast for the recent High Point Market were optimistic that business conditions may finally be ready to shift.

“I think everyone here would agree that the economy can’t improve fast enough,” said Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of public relations and marketing for the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA), which sponsored the press event in partnership with the High Point Market Authority. “But it’s happening every day, one small step at a time.”

To illustrate the point, a panel of three home furnishings manufacturers offered their strategies for not only weathering the conditions now, but for gaining a foothold on the future. All three panelists represented small companies committed to producing domestically.  

“I know it’s coming back,” said North Carolina artist Bob Timberlake, an internationally acclaimed realist painter whose new licensed collection for Century Furniture debuted this week. “I talk to people all over the country, and I can tell you that the public is rapidly coming back to ‘made in America’.”

Timberlake entered the residential furniture industry in 1990 with a collection he designed for Lexington Furniture. About 10 years later, much of the wood furniture production began moving offshore. “I saw all the jobs leaving and the effect of that on the people I knew,” he recalled. When the opportunity came around to form a new partnership with Century Furniture, Timberlake says he was committed to producing the product in the United States. He noted that more than 90 percent of the new Bob Timberlake Home by Century collection is made domestically. 

“Fun and imagination and creativity is back in the furniture business!” he told the audience of journalists.

Harvey Hollingsworth, president of The Natural Light, a Panama-City, Fla-based manufacturer of lamps, said he also is committed to making products in the United States.

“We actually make product here,” he pointed out. “I know that’s quite unusual today.” Although his company is not able to source some components, like sockets, from the United States, they do all assembly and finishing of the company’s lighting products in Florida. The company offers lamps in a dozen different styles of ceramics in 35 colors delivered in about three weeks, and a level of customization that importers cannot provide and that the design trade especially appreciates.

“The interior design trade has kept us going through the recession, but now we’re getting orders from stores for stock, and that hasn’t happened to a great extent in the past two years.”

He added: “I think this market will actually be that turnaround market we’ve all been waiting for.”

Woody Williams, chief executive of Precedent, a division of Sherrill Furniture, talked about the lifestyle collection of upholstery and occasional furniture his company is unveiling this market in collaboration with DwellStudio. With the exception of a few chairs, the licensed collection is being produced domestically.  Many of the fabrics also are sourced domestically for consistent quality and quick delivery.

The upholstered furniture maker, which had long catered to better-end furniture stores, felt that it “needed to reach a new generation of customers – customers who are shunning retail furniture stores.” To accomplish this, Williams said the company “began looking for the next big thing.”

Partnering with DwellStudio required the company to take a crash course in marketing to younger consumers, including using social media. Founded by Christiane Lemieux in 1999, DwellStudio is known as the design house for modern home and family furnishings.

“We want to help our traditional retail stores reach this new generation of consumers,” Williams said.

The High Point Market, the largest furnishings industry trade show in the world, continues in High Point through April 7. The event draws more than 2,000 exhibitors unveiling new home furnishings and home décor items, and nearly 80,000 attendees.

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