Manufacturer focuses on reducing lead times, hiring more workers to unveil new line by next April
SOPHIA, N.C. — When Classic Home announced its acquisition of Braxton Culler earlier this year, the hope was to launch a domestic line of upholstery as early as this fall.
Those hopes were dashed as supply chain disruptions — notably foam shortages — affected nearly all domestic upholstery producers, including Braxton Culler, for much of the first half due to strict foam allocations. This delayed the development of the Classic Home line by roughly six months.
While Braxton Culler kept its workforce on full time, the 410,000-square-foot plant in Sophia, N.C. was running only about 30 hours per week during the raw materials slowdown.
These and other supply chain disruptions ultimately drove Braxton Culler’s lead times up to about 27 weeks as the company competed with other producers for materials and components ranging from foam to plywood and mechanisms.
“If it’s not problematic from a supply chain perspective, it is from a pricing perspective,” said Chris Miller, senior vice president, business strategy. “It has made it a hell of a year.”
As the foam situation has improved, the plant is now operating at about 50 hours a week. It will soon be up to 60 hours a week with 10-hour shifts, Monday through Saturday, Miller told Home News Now. A key goal of the extended hours is to reduce the backlog and current lead times of roughly 20 weeks to six weeks or so by year end.
While the supply chain challenges have been daunting, they also have given the company a chance to refine the plan to develop Classic Home’s domestic upholstery line between now and next spring when the company plans the launch.
“We have spent a lot of time this year diversifying our supply chain,” Miller said. “Instead of taking the approach of things being driven towards a specific supplier of foam and a specific supplier for frame components and a specific supplier for fabrics, we have spread that out across multiple suppliers. We also have standardized multiple parts of our supply chain.”
One example of this is creating cushions that can be used on multiple styles, thus gaining efficiencies across the line.
As the upholstery line for Classic Home is still being developed, it is too early to say how large domestic upholstery can be compared to the import line of Classic Home upholstery sourced in Vietnam, India and China.
“It is a little early in the game to say what the volume is, the reason being that we thought we were going to spend the first few months of this acquisition acclimating the Braxton Culler product line into Classic Home,” Miller noted. “Instead, we spent it course correcting the supply chain and dealing with the hurdles, especially with foam.”
Other developments during the transition include:
+ A new joint venture with a factory in Mexico, which will produce both leather upholstery and some fabric for the import line.
+ Braxton Culler is looking to hire additional workers, perhaps as many as 40-50 over time. This is above and beyond its current workforce of 120 at its 410,000-square-foot plant in Sophia, N.C. “We are hiring upholsterers and sewers as fast as we can, in anticipation of ramping up this capacity,” Miller said
+ Braxton Culler will produce outdoor cushions with different fabric options in outdoor fabrics for the Classic Home outdoor line. “It’s a newer category for Classic Home, but each market we are layering on more and more,” Miller said, noting that some of the new cushions will be shown on outdoor product at the upcoming winter Las Vegas Market.
+ Braxton Culler as a division of Classic Home will continue to produce premium special-order upholstery. The Classic Home domestic upholstery meanwhile, will be shipped as shown in a particular fabric selection.
+ All frames for indoor product will remain domestic – with some sourced by domestic resources and others produced by Braxton Culler. “Frames are made in the U.S. – we build some frames and we source some,” Miller said of the fully upholstered frames. “It’s a combination of the two.” He noted that outdoor product has some ricker and rattan frames that will continue to be sourced from Indonesia, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia.
+ Some Braxton Culler accent chairs with wood trim will remain a mix of imported and domestic. “It really just depends on the value proposition we are trying to create,” Miller said.
One area of concern for the upholstery industry in general is potential disruption in the supply of China-produced fabrics due to government mandated power outages. However, here too, Miller said the company has a strategy in place to avoid any disruptions.
“We use a combination of both domestic and China fabrics, but we have worked really hard to focus our fabric purchasing on the mills we know can provide a consistent flow of product,” Miller said. “It really does come down to looking at your fabric assortment and really understanding where we want to place our bets and go heavy…And you have to look at your fabric and how well does it sell.
“Once we understand the sell-through, we then try to focus on the mills that we know can constantly supply,” he said noting that the company also works with companies that source from mills in India. “Fabric mills are something that we measure constantly, and we know that category of the business pretty well as we have a long track record of working with most of these mills. So we can shift our business to the ones that are performing well, and if one stops performing, we can course-correct it and move to another.”
He said that customers, including those shopping Classic Home at the October market, asked about the domestic upholstery line. At market it directed them to the Braxton Culler showroom while Braxton Culler customers who wanted to learn about Classic Home were directed there.
“There is a great opportunity that has been happening with the cross pollination of Classic Home and Braxton Culler,” Miller said. “They send customers here and many of their customers have never experienced Classic Home. And we do the same thing. If people are looking for a more robust upholstery assortment than we carry, we absolutely send them to Braxton Culler.”
And as Classic Home develops its own domestic upholstery to be shown next April, many customers are likely to find new reasons to shop that line as well.