4/8/2018 – Caldwell furniture industry bounces back from Great Recession

Posted on: April 9th, 2018 by admin

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April 8, 2018

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By Virginia Annable
(Lenoir) News-Topic

 

The furniture industry, both nationally and in Caldwell County, has rebounded since the recession, industry leaders say.

 

Since 2010 local furniture companies had been recovering from the Great Recession, but in the last five years growth has kicked up a notch, said Bernhardt president and CEO Alex Bernhardt Jr., whose company had its highest sales numbers ever last year.

 

“We’re not the only ones who’ve done well in this. The other Caldwell County manufacturers have done very well in the last five years as well,” he said.

 

McCreary Modern has had record years the past few year as well, president Rick Coffey said.

 

Over the past five years, Bernhardt Furniture’s employment has gone up 32 percent.

 

“Other people try to have the lowest headcount they can have, we’re trying to have the highest,” he said.

 

Other area companies have been adding workers as well, and that demand has shown in Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute’s furniture training program, said Ben Willis, the program coordinator.

 

“We’ve seen a large number of people wanting to come in to the training program,” Willis said. “We’ve seen our enrollment numbers increase in the last five years.”

 

The program helps furniture companies with a problem faced by many other industries — difficulty filling jobs, Bernhardt said.

 

“The biggest challenge we have now is to get young people to move here,” he said. “It’s hard to find folks to come work, and that’s a good problem to have.”

 

The types of jobs in the furniture business have changed, requiring more training for new and current employees.

 

“While we probably have less manufacturing jobs than we did 20 years ago, we have many more design, computer jobs, programming jobs, just a lot more high-tech jobs,” Bernhardt said.

 

Coffey said the technology is always changing.

 

“We’ve invested heavily in technology, automation and cross-training our employees,” he said.

 

But some parts of the industry have not changed much, such as upholstery and sewing, Willis said.

 

“That’s a craft where those skills are never going to change,” he said. “You can get faster sewing machines, but it’s essentially the same.”

 

Bernhardt feels that’s what will keep furniture in Lenoir.

 

“I think one reason we stay here is the tradition of craftsmanship,” he said. “There’s certain crafts that go along with furniture that are not easily learned, and many of these crafts are handed down from generation to generation. The labor base, the knowledge of how to finish a piece of furniture.”

 

Richard Bennington, a High Point University instructor in home furnishings, said the custom side of furniture is another aspect that keeps companies around.

 

“What is here in our area and will continue to be here is the custom part of the industry,” Bennington said. “That’s what you can’t import, … specific fabrics, finishes and more.”

 

Going forward, both Coffey and Bernhardt say online sales are the key to success in the future, and the next big challenge.

 

“That’s really where the market has shifted,” Coffey said. “You’ve got to have a combination of online and in-store.”

 

Coffey said finding a way people can see, feel and test the furniture, then buy it online is at the forefront of furniture companies’ mission.

 

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