Challenges faced by furniture industry in ‘local for local’ manufacturing

In the interview below Erin Berg from leading US furniture publication, Furniture Today, speaks to us about this growing phenomenon.

A bunch of flowers on a table near a couch.

What does ‘local for local’ mean for the furniture industry?

While the term ‘local for local’ has not been used in the furniture industry, the concept of keeping manufacturing and sources for materials and labor as close as possible to the market for shorter lead times and better quality and service is certainly important.

And it is becoming more so as we see changes in China’s economy and manufacturing, increased costs and risks associated with off-shoring - such as rising labor costs. Consumer demand for customization and faster delivery are also putting pressure on retailers and suppliers to figure out how to shorten lead times with their made-to-order capabilities.

Certain furniture leaders, like the Bassett family, have resisted the move to China. Vaughn-Bassett, for example, has two plants within walking distance of each other in Galax, North Carolina that offer quick delivery in one week or less thanks to the location of their warehouse and distribution facilities.

How is the phenomenon developing in the industry?

The reshoring effort, bringing manufacturing back to the US, is gaining traction. There is a real shortage of skilled labor in upholstery due to an aging workforce and the lack of younger, trained workers to replenish it.

Changes in vocational training in the US over the last generation have negatively impacted furniture-building and how these skills and jobs are perceived today. Upholstery work is quite labor intensive, however today’s young people have a high technology mindset that arguably makes the idea of performing physical labor all day for a job undesirable. Sewing skills take years to develop and master, and it is seen as repetitive and unstimulating.

Despite investment by the industry and partnerships with government, business and educational groups at state and local levels, significant work and time is required to improve the perception of furniture-building.

One solution to this problematic are the technical and digital skills now available for furniture production.

Where do you envisage ‘local for local’ may take the industry?

I think the question is more about where the industry will take ‘local for local’ because it is up to industry leaders to decide and act on how much, how little, how fast or how slow we can sustainably shift the major production centers back to US shores, or near shore, which is a more realistic goal for now.

My opinion is that just as it was the decision of individual businesses to off-shore some two decades ago, it is now up to those same businesses, and their current leadership, to balance their corporate profitability and commitments to stakeholders with the overall economic health of the country in terms of bringing jobs back to the US and rebuild the furniture industry.

It will never be what it once was, but revitalization at any level is brighter. There must be movement to have momentum.

Who are the leading players in the furniture industry in North America?

These are some of the top key furniture sources according to Furniture Today for 2015: Ashley Furniture Industries; La-Z-Boy; Dorel Industries; Klaussner; Man Wah; Flexsteel Industries; Lacquer Craft; Coaster Company; Ethan Allen Interiors; Home Meridian International; Standard Furniture; L&P Fashion Bed Group; Bassett Furniture; Best Home Furnishings; Hooker Furniture; Natuzzi; American Furniture Manufacturing; and Mstar International.