State grant received by custom upholstery manufacturer will result in 10-15 new jobs created
TAYLORSVILLE, N.C. – Custom upholstery producer Paul Robert Inc. is looking to expand its work force by 10-15% to help lower its backlog, which has reached historic highs in recent months.
The effort is part of its commitment to the state of North Carolina in exchange for a grant the company received in late 2021 for an existing building renovation project. The $60,000 it received from the N.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority is part of an overall $64,396 investment the company is making to replace its HVAC system.
The company in turn will add between 10-15 jobs at its manufacturing operations, which include a 50,000-square foot upholstering operation in Taylorsville. It also has a 42,000-square-foot frame shop about 10 miles away in Hiddenite.
The new jobs, which the company is looking to add over an 18-month period from the receipt of the grant this past fall, would represent roughly 10% of its overall work force of just under 100.
While perhaps ironic that a grant being used to fix its air conditioning is helping create jobs, the additional workers will ultimately help reduce order backlogs and lead times.
“We wish we had that many right now,” said Dan Dickinson, president, noting that the company is looking to add cutters, sewers and upholsterers for its custom upholstery line, which includes sofas that retail roughly from $2,200 to $2,500. “We would take on 15 new employees today if they were skilled employees.”
Dickinson said the company has been looking to add workers since the middle of last year. Doing so would help lower its backlog and lead times of roughly five to six months, which prepandemic were between six and 10 weeks.
“Our backlog is huge,” Dickinson added, noting that based on strong demand in its segment, overall production was up 20% in 2021. “We are not gaining any ground.”
Competition for workers is also a challenge in the region, particularly with traditionally lower paying jobs in businesses such as fast food in some cases approaching the starting wages of some upholsterers. Upper middle end upholstery manufacturers such as Paul Robert often have to at least match and often exceed these rates particularly for those with experience.
Finding skilled workers is key to the success of companies like Paul Robert where as much as 70% of the company’s mix is custom work. The balance of the business is in items featuring covers married to a specific frame or as shown.
Of the new jobs being created, he noted, “It would lessen our backlog. We have been in this situation at least a year where incoming orders have been greater than what we can ship. We would like to see a little balance with that.”
Dickinson also said he would like to bring back a quick-ship program that started in late 2019 that had items going out the door in 15 days from the time of order. Disruptions early on in the pandemic that ultimately increased order backlogs in a short period of time, put that on hold for the time being.
“That is a long term goal for us,” he said of plans to rejuvenate the quick-ship program.