Who would have thought that furniture making would be coming back to the U.S.? But it is – there are now more good reasons to produce U.S.-made furniture than at any time since the 2009 financial crisis.
Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma are expanding manufacturing in the U.S. and the factories of long-time furniture makers are currently humming (ref WSJ). The current downside, however, is that there’s a shortage of skilled workers in this area. Furniture makers have been shrinking in recent years due to competition from China and the sewers and upholsterers that are available have avoided the industry. Thus, furniture company delivery times have been stretching to nearly 9 weeks, causing them to lose orders in some instances. Regrettably, about 90% of all dining tables, bookcases and other wooden furniture are now made abroad. But, U.S. factories still produce about half of all upholstered furniture sold in the country. Custom upholstery requires skilled labor and isn’t suited to long production runs of the same items common in overseas factories. As well, upholstered items are more difficult and costly to ship than wooden furniture – for which we can all be thankful as it has kept much of upholstered furniture making in the U.S. The CEO at Vanguard Furniture says that, “Pretty much all the companies that survived the last crisis are now in growth mode.” Which is definitely good news – now all we need to do is to get the word around among potential employees. One such 28-year-old was building swimming pools and trimming trees when he decided to move to Hickory and take an entry-level job at Century. He now spends 4 evenings a week at the local community college studying the fine art of upholstery which has the potential of boosting his annual pay to $45,000, and if he masters the craft, to upwards of $75,000. Furniture makers used to dominate the economies of places like Hickory but regrettably shed about 250,000 jobs from its peak in 2000. Here’s to success in making that comeback.