As Indiana’s stay-at-home orders begin to ease, Fusion Designs announces that it has resumed manufacturing of its solid wood furniture styles with a one-month backlog due to the shutdown. Yet, while the corporate office was run remotely in the past few weeks, the company has been anything but idle.
“This was the first time our office was operated remotely, but it worked,” relates Marcus Bontrager, president. “The COVID-19 crisis forced us to look hard at the future and develop a formal strategy for handling common disaster scenarios should the need arise.”
Additionally, according to Bontrager, Fusion Designs also used the time to complete the final stages of its lean manufacturing initiative. “We moved 100 percent to a one-piece flow system in our Plant One facility, which means production time has been reduced by as much as two to three days,” he relates. “This means that lead times will be significantly shortened on new product once we are caught back up later this month.”
In fact, Fusion Designs had already implemented the system in its finishing and packaging facility when its second plant was built three years ago. “At that time, we installed an automated finishing line to more efficiently finish products and also installed our own box-making machines that allow us to build custom boxes on demand and ensure damage-free delivery of our goods. Now, thanks to the break the shut-down afforded, we have moved completely away from batch manufacturing and greatly improved operations.”
His goal is to be able to offer dealers shorter lead times, while expanding product offerings in all categories. “The problem with a batch manufacturing approach with a wide, custom offering like ours is that ‘batching’ necessarily slows down production,” Bontrager explains. “We’re very excited about the new functionality and speed we will now be able to maintain.”
The Way Forward
For now, Bontrager and his team are working closer than ever with dealers, who can expect to add about three weeks to the acknowledgement dates of all orders that were in house prior to the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, Fusion Designs, which also owns and operates the better-end Borkholder Furniture division, is doing everything possible to support dealers during, what is for many, a difficult time. “Business is tough for many of our retailers and we’re doing everything we can to be true partners, working with them on finances, terms and adjusting shipping schedules or staggering shipping of products if need be,” the executive notes. “We’re constantly on the phones working with our dealers to make sure they are covered. We’re not interested in just being a supplier or a quick-fix; we’re here for them for the long-term.”
Many of the company’s retailers are located in some of the country’s hardest-hit areas, with West Coast states in particular grappling with quarantine measures. Though many stores are temporarily shuttered, Bontrager is optimistic about the future. “I believe it’s going to be a few months before business will be back to normal, but I’ve been encouraged by the amount of orders that we’re getting, a number that continues to increase every week. We’re certainly not where we were before the crisis, but we had very few cancellations even during the first week of the shutdown, a time when many in our industry were panicking as they tried to prepare for the coming financial burden. Then, the cancellations stopped completely which has pleasantly surprised me. It tells me that consumers are very aware of the need for everyone to pull together and to support local stores in their area. While I am sure many of them considered cancelling their orders, they chose not to, and that tells me that we can all grow stronger during this crisis in ways we never have experienced before.”
Investments in Technology/Branding
Indeed, Bontrager posits that dealers who are able to financially weather the storm will come out the other side stronger, with improved digital platforms and a renewed sense of who they are. “Investments in technology and branding are often overlooked when brick-and-mortar stores are busy,” he says. “The focus on both of these areas now will only benefit them when business gets back to normal.”
Bontrager too is hard at work exploring digital strategies, both for Fusion Designs and its higher-end Borkholder Furniture division acquired late last Fall. “Whether or not we will be able to meet face-to-face with dealers at summer markets this year remains an uncertainty, but we’re ready to present dealers with exciting product nevertheless, from new tables and chairs (the latter of which the company began manufacturing in its own plants last year), to new occasional pieces and a new bedroom collection on the Fusion Designs side, as well as a new living room and home office collection at Borkholder.”
Finally, he says, “The pandemic and resulting disruptions to our lives and our industry’s pipeline have many re-evaluating the promise and benefits of American-made goods. When the stores open again and consumers are in the marketplace, I have no doubt they will gravitate toward quality American-made products like ours. And, when that time comes, we and our partners will be ready.”
About Fusion Designs: Dedicated to honoring its Amish heritage while building furniture that appeals to today’s modern lifestyles, Fusion Designs builds quality solid wood products supported by exceptional customer service. All products are handcrafted in Northern Indiana and are available for customization with a choice of seven wood species and more than 30 durable finishes.