Lean Manufacturing Assembly
Furniture Manufacturing

Is the Furniture Industry Preparing to Get up off the Couch?

July 8, 2013
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Finally, U.S. furniture manufacturers are slowly, but surely, gaining ground lost during the Great Recession.

In April, Ashley Furniture Industries announced that it would significantly expand its assembly plant and distribution center in Advance, NC. The company will be adding more than 1 million square feet to its current 1.7-million-square-foot complex. When completed, the facility will be the largest furniture manufacturing and distribution center in the United States. In addition to North Carolina, the company operates assembly plants in Wisconsin, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and California and a warehouse and distribution facility in Florida.

A hundred miles southwest of Advance, in Shelby, NC, furniture manufacturer Bernhardt Inc. announced that it will reopen an assembly plant that had closed four years ago.

And in Nettleton, MS, United Furniture Industries announced that it will be boosting the workforce at its assembly plant by 25 percent. United, which makes sofas, loveseats and other upholstered furniture, already employs some 400 people.

According to consulting firm Smith Leonard, U.S. furniture factory orders in April were up 11 percent compared with the same month last year. The April results brought the year-to-date order increase to 3 percent. Just over 71 percent of the furniture makers have now reported year-to-date increased orders, up from about two-thirds last month.

“The economic news continues to be favorable for the most part,” says Ken Smith, managing partner of Smith Leonard. “Consumer confidence showed another nice gain in June reaching the highest level since January 2008, which is certainly good news. Housing continues to show improvements and that good news seems to be fairly widespread throughout the country.”

This year is expected to be the furniture industry’s fourth year of growth in a row. One forecast predicts that consumer spending on furniture and bedding, a broad measure of retail activity, is projected to increase 4.3 percent this year to $87.8 billion.

There’s more good news. A growing number of U.S. furniture manufacturers are reshoring production from China due to rising shipping costs. For example, last year, restaurant furniture maker Selected Furniture announced that it was moving production from China to a new assembly plant in Knox, IN. The company is investing $1.2 million in the endeavor.

(Of course, some furniture makers have never left. If you need a reminder on the importance of getting lean, check out senior editor’s Austin Weber’s outstanding profile this month of the La-Z-Boy assembly plant in Dayton, TN.)

What are your thoughts on the U.S. furniture manufacturing industry? Should more furniture makers reshore production? What companies are doing a great job at manufacturing? What are some tips on handling high-mix production?

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