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Picture This, March 2013 — Turnabout
Expectant mothers are tough customers. That’s one reason Stanley Furniture Co. defied the conventional wisdom that furniture manufacturing is lost overseas by moving production of its Young America line from Asia to its plant in Robbinsville. “Safety comes first, so we make sure products go above and beyond all regulations and guidelines for protecting children and infants,” Chief Operating Officer Micah Goldstein says. “The best way to do that is to completely own and control the process.”
Stanley doesn’t altogether buck offshoring — it still makes high-end furniture for adults in Southeast Asia — but it reshored Young America, which includes youth beds and cribs, in 2010 because such products are subject to more recalls and consumer scrutiny, particularly from pregnant women, its primary sales target. But other reasons for the brand’s return create hope for the state’s beleaguered furniture industry, which the N.C. Department of Commerce says has shed more than half its workers since 2000 and now employs fewer than 30,000, including 375 at the Robbinsville plant.
Stanley, which will finish moving its headquarters from Stanleytown, Va., to High Point this spring to be close to the city’s biannual furniture market, bought the 562,000-square-foot Robbinsville plant in 1985 and had been making case goods there. It’s now exclusively Young America. Though in remote, mountainous Graham County, the plant is much closer to its customers than Indonesia or Vietnam. That means it can personalize furniture — customers can choose from 30 colors and various configurations — and offer quicker delivery. “When your supply chain is 120 days long, like when buying from Asia, it doesn’t work when somebody’s getting ready to have a baby,” Goldstein says. On a recent day, 12% of orders received the previous day had shipped, though a more typical turnaround time is 30 to 40 days. “An orderer might want a desk in one color, a chair in another and a nightstand in another.” Stanley also promotes its Young America furniture as made in the U.S., for which many are willing to pay a premium of 10% or more.
Stanley offsets higher labor costs with automation as well as careful use and sourcing of raw materials. Computers — part of Stanley’s $9 million investment in new equipment since the move — scan incoming lumber and calculate the maximum usable cuts with minimal trimmings more efficiently than workers. Wood and particle-board scraps are burned to heat water and produce steam for curing ovens and other systems. The maple and poplar hardwoods it uses are sourced from within 200 miles of the plant. “We’re a better company with our new business models,” Goldstein says.
The company’s most recent annual report backs him up. Though Young America’s market share fell during the move to Robbinsville because of a dip in production — contributing to Stanley losing a total of $25 million in 2010 and 2011 — the investments that made production more efficient at the plant helped the company earn $30.4 million last year on net sales of $98.6 million. “We’re moving in the right direction,” Goldstein says. Maybe mother does know best. — Edward Martin
— Edward Martin