At the October High Point Market, Mexican furniture manufacturers and suppliers got to meet some of their supply chain counterparts in and around North Carolina
HIGH POINT – For many years, the North Carolina Furniture Export Office played an important role in helping gain international visibility for case goods and upholstery manufacturers throughout the state.
A key goal was to help boost exports of finished furniture by introducing the companies and their products to retailers around the world. For years, export proponents such as former LADD executive Bill Fenn and Charlie Greene of Classic Gallery also touted the benefits of global trade missions, including participation in renowned trade shows such as Guadalajara, Shanghai, Cologne and Dubai.
At the October market, the export office, along with Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers Inc. and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture brought a different spin to the proceedings that could help supply Mexico in a way that speeds up production and gets the finished goods to retailers more quickly.
These discussions connected Mexican furniture suppliers and producers with wood suppliers in and around North Carolina, where much of the lumber is produced and shipped for use in furniture, cabinetry and decorative moldings.
Mexico has been in the headlines of late largely due to its proximity – and its ability to ship more quickly – to the U.S. It’s also been immune to the types of high transportation costs that have turned the value of many imports upside down, as container costs often outweigh the value of the goods being shipped.
The meetings at market included a reception in High Point to introduce the U.S. and Mexican companies, a dinner in Asheville and a tour of some area lumber yards, including Beard Hardwoods Inc. in Greensboro and Prime Lumber in Thomasville
“I was planning to do a reception at market where I was bringing in Mexican suppliers, buyers and manufacturers to meet with our North Carolina manufacturers,” said Liz Isley, international trade manager for the North Carolina Furniture Export Office. “It just kind of blossomed into this two-pronged initiative where we were engaging our Mexican friends and our North Carolina friends to make those connections.”
The conversations involved a few furniture manufacturers and wood components producers in Mexico who got to meet some key lumber suppliers in and around North Carolina.
“I do think that Mexico is in a luxurious spot,” Isley noted, adding that the high freight costs in particular make Mexico a good option not only for furniture importers and manufacturers, but also for suppliers looking for alternative markets to Asia.
Tom Inman, president of Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers Inc., said that Mexico represents an opportunity for companies looking to grow their export business.
“These manufacturers were interested in buying directly and we were interested in selling directly, so it worked out,” Inman said, noting that some of his member companies are already exporting to China and Vietnam as well as Mexico.
But for the most part, Mexico has remained an afterthought or at least a small part of the supply chain’s overall business. That could change, though, given its advantages as our southern neighbor.
Matt Upton, a sales representative at Granite Falls, N.C.-based Associated Hardwoods, attended some of the meetings involving the Mexican manufacturers in North Carolina during market.
He said while exports are not a big part of its business, the company has been looking to do more in Mexico in recent years.
“We are working towards it,” he said. “There is an opportunity down there.”
That said, he acknowledged that the country is much different than Asia, where there are larger manufacturers that can buy in much larger quantities. Mexico, by comparison, generally has smaller-to-medium-sized producers.
“There are not a lot of major hitters,” he said, adding that while Mexico would represent a growth market for the company, “It is growth because we don’t do much…I don’t think it is going to be a huge market.”
John Beard, president and CEO of Greensboro, N.C.-based Beard Hardwoods Inc., said that a representative of his company also attended the meetings. Beard’s company also was among the lumberyards the visitors from Mexico toured at market.
The company has been doing business in Mexico for about 20 years and also has had a lumberyard in Long Beach for the past 11 years that ships product to Mexico.
“We supply some of the distributors that supply the Tijuana market,” he said, noting that the company also has some customers in Mexico City and Guadalajara.
That said, Mexico still only represents about 5% of its exports, compared to more than half of the total amount of exports shipped to China and Vietnam.
“I think we have a long way to go,” he said of Mexico. “Their capacity from what I have seen is not there. At least with the customer base we have.”
Another example illustrating the type of capacity coming out of Mexico? One visitor told Beard his plant produced 25 truckloads of furniture per month. For some plants in Vietnam and China, Beard noted, that could be a single day’s worth of production.
That said, he believes Mexico has some potential. It just might require some time and patience.
“I think there is definitely a future in it,” he said. “I just think it is going to take a while to do it. I traveled to Tijuana in June. It was like going to China 20 years ago.”