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US Furniture Makers Streamline Domestic Operations
2002.11.21


US Furniture Makers Streamline Domestic Operations

Although imports have established a major presence in the U.S. furniture industry, a number of manufacturers showing at the fall International Home Furnishings Market here are taking steps to strengthen their domestic production and combat the wave of imported products.
Imports are currently estimated at 30% to 35% of the overall US$24 billion furniture industry.

Among the new strategies to strengthen U.S. production are reduced prices on domestic goods, quick-ship programs that allow consumers to get their new furniture faster than ever before, a focus on popular American wood species not readily available offshore, and expanded offerings of unique pieces with a variety of options.

"The result for American consumers is that they are being offered some of the best values in home furnishings in many years, and in many cases service and delivery also have been improved," said Jackie Hirschhaut, Vice President at the American Furniture Manufacturers Association.

"The influx of imports on the U.S. furniture scene over the past few years, coupled with a weakened economy, has forced U.S. manufacturers to streamline their domestic operations and focus on new competitive strategies," Hirschhaut added. "It has become a matter of survival for many of them."

"There is no room for excess in today's environment," said Dan Masters, president of Richardson Bros. in Sheboygan Falls, Wis. "We are more efficient today in our domestic production than we have ever been."

As a result of its improved manufacturing efficiencies, Richardson Bros. has reduced prices on its domestic goods twice in the past 18 months. Ethan Allen also recently announced a price cut on domestically produced goods, up to 20% on several of its most popular collections such as British Classics, Country French, Horizons and Country Crossings.

Manufacturers such as Richardson Bros., Pennsylvania House in Lewisburg, Pa., Madison Square in Hanover, Pa., and Cresent Furniture in Gallatin, Tenn., are focusing on solid American hardwoods such as cherry and maple as a method of distinguishing themselves in today's climate of rising imports.

"Over the past few years, Pennsylvania House has made a conscious decision to focus on our core products and what we do best C solid cherry," said Thomas Tilley, president.

Pennsylvania House sources about 90% of its lumber from within 100 miles of its headquarters and production facility in eastern Pennsylvania.

The company's most recent case goods introductions C American Traditions, Louis Philippe and this market's European Traditions C are all crafted of solid American black cherry and have been designed and engineered to be built in Lewisburg. "It's a win-win situation for our employees, our lumber vendors and the American consumer," said Tilley.

Consumers also will find that many furniture manufacturers have reduced delivery times. Hickory Chair, an upper-end producer of case goods and upholstery, is now offering custom upholstery in less than three weeks, with 850 fabric choices. Case goods are often delivered within the same week.

"If we miss a delivery date, we consider it a broken promise," said Jay Reardon, Hickory Chair president. "We actually started working on our continuous improvement program five years ago. We realized that consumers want things faster today. We also have focused on offering the best quality, value and service possible."

Other manufacturers unveiling new quick-ship programs this market are Richardson Bros. and Hooker Furniture in Martinsville, Va. Hooker's goal is to offer immediate delivery on all its modular home office selections. It is now at 85%. Hooker also is introducing four new bedroom groups that are all domestically produced.

The company noted a recent national poll by Internet firm FurnitureFan showing that 61% of Americans surveyed prefer to buy furniture made in the United States.

In addition to lower prices and faster delivery, manufacturers also are offering unique finishes and additional options for domestically produced goods.

"Imported products tend to look much the same because they compete on price and volume," said Masters at Richardson Bros. "On our domestic goods, we are able to offer a choice of different finishes and a multitude of different pieces and looks within a collection. We feel that sets these collections apart from the imports."

Consumers shopping for new furniture in the coming months will notice they are being offered more choices than ever, at prices to suit every budget, and that they can have it delivered in time for their next big celebration at home.

Source:International Home Furnishings

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