Demand from designers, clients fuels demand for domestic offerings in motion, stationary upholstery line
HICKORY, N.C. — Domestic upholstery resource Bradington-Young saw its share of challenges during the pandemic, ranging from the flow of raw materials to high competition for workers to fill jobs necessary to make its line in a timely manner for customers.
But the company has not only prevailed during those tough times. It has been a shining star in the portfolio of company parent Hooker Furnishings, which acquired the manufacturer 20 years ago this past February.
Bradington-Young is among a group of domestic upholstery producers in its fold — also including H Custom (formerly Sam Moore), Shenandoah and Sunset West — that have contributed to sales increases in the domestic upholstery segment for the past 10 consecutive quarters. That winning streak was only broken this past quarter when the domestic upholstery segment saw sales decline by 14.8%, or $6.1 million, compared to last year’s first quarter.
The exception? Bradington-Young, which was credited with a net increase that offset the overall decrease in the segment.
The secret to its success, company officials note, is a talented work force of some 160 employees working it is 150,000-square-foot plant in Hickory, North Carolina — and their ability to create a custom product that differentiates it in the marketplace.
That combination has allowed Bradington-Young to fulfill demand among consumers for a domestically made mid- to upper-midpriced line — ranging from sofas and sectionals to loveseats, swivel chairs and home office seating — available in its core leather offerings, plus fabric.
Today the company offers some 225 fabrics and 170 leathers, up from about 100-125 fabrics and 100-120 leathers some 25 years ago, noted Cheryl Sigmon, vice president of merchandising, who has been with the company since 1998. Some 70% of the fabrics are produced domestically, but the company also sources from Turkey and Belgium. Leathers primarily come from Italy and other parts of Europe, as well as Argentina, Brazil, India and New Zealand.
This varied sourcing across leathers and fabrics creates a broader mix that includes more colorful palettes that update the styling across the line. Thus, more frames can take on a more transitional or even contemporary appeal. Or transitional frames can become more traditional or rustic depending on the selection.
“If they can dream it, we can make it,” Sigmon told Home News Now. “People can really get creative with Bradington-Young, and I think a lot of other companies would rather do more quantity of the same thing instead of letting people put their own personality and spin on their furniture. And I think that is where we have been very successful.”
This appeals largely to designers, a growing part of the business and some of whom got to see the line for the first time in years when Hooker moved to its 120,000-square-foot showroom in Showplace this past spring.
“We had a lot more traffic this time due to us being at Showplace,” Sigmon said, noting that traffic was up 93%. “Which was pretty impressive. We knew it would be more, but we had no idea it would be that much more. I heard several designers walking through Bradington-Young saying, ‘Oh my gosh, this doesn’t look like the Bradington-Young I remember from 15 years ago.’ And I was like ‘Yes! We have done our job because we don’t want to be remembered as your grandpa’s Bradington-Young.’ Now we still have your grandpa’s Bradington-Young if that’s what you want, but we also have today’s Bradington-Young and we have transitional and we have today’s traditional.”
Anne Smith, chief administrative officer and president of domestic upholstery for Hooker Furnishings, also noted that the design trade has become more important to the business.
“An important part of our overall whole home offering, we’re very pleased with the momentum of our Bradington-Young division, which is trending slightly up for us,” Smith said. “This is due in large part to the growth of our interior design business during a somewhat sluggish retail environment this summer. As retail conditions improve, Bradington-Young’s custom upholstery capabilities offer our partners a variety of styles available in a four- to five-week lead time. We’re excited to launch many more on-trend looks at October market this fall.”
Sigmon noted that in the past, some designers may have been somewhat reluctant to shop leather, but also motion furniture, the biggest growth area in the line. The company began offering motion nearly 10 years ago, and it today represents about 75% of the line, with power motion representing as much as 45% of this mix.
Part of that growing acceptance of leather among the design trade, she noted, had to do with their learning more about how to care for leather. And their growing acceptance of motion came as the styles evolved into a more luxurious aesthetic.
“In the past, designers were opposed to motion furniture because it looked like motion furniture,” she said, noting that its motion segment tends to look more like a solid piece of stationary furniture “that just happens to be very comfortable. I think those factors make designers more apt to shop Bradington-Young now.”
“Leather is our mainstream, but we also use fabrics to support and create the eye candy and the jewelry pieces to add on to and soften up the leather,” she added. “And we want designers to look to us and we want to be a fabric resource too if that is what that consumer is looking for, so you will definitely see more fabric in Bradington-Young. And I think by moving to Showplace this market was a move in the right direction to let designers know that we want to work with you.”
But the company also has taken a different approach to the way it shows product that lets customers see its diverse capabilities, ranging not only from fabric and leather applications, but also in the use of decorative elements such as nailhead trim and contrasting or inverted welts, for example. Thus, instead of just showing a single frame in one fabric or leather, it will show it another way to showcase how different a single SKU can appear in a different application.
Or a transitional form can become more rustic in nature with a fabric and leather combination that takes a sofa into that type of popular lodge or mountain modern look.
“The cool thing about a lot of the frames we are bringing out now is that they can be read both ways, depending on how you cover it,” Sigmon noted of transitional to transitional styling. “It allows our customers to put their own personality on it and make it what they want it to be. … And that is why when you come through the showroom all the new products will be shown at least twice. And the reason we do that is that we totally cover them differently.”
She said the desire to show products at least twice in different fabric/and or leather combinations has pared down the number of frame styles the company introduces at a market.
“Some people don’t even realize it’s the same frame, because it looks so different,” she said. “That is where we feel like we can make a difference. We don’t just want one chance to make a first impression.”
Satisfying customer demand was not always easy during the pandemic, particularly when lead times for custom orders stretched out to about 30 weeks as recently as the spring of 2022. To accomplish that challenging task, it decided to temporarily forego a quick-ship program that shipped within 72 hours of credit approval, instead focusing on building the custom orders as they came in.
To handle the backlog it also increased its work force by about 10% to 15% roughly 18 months ago and ran more overtime. It also increased its number of production lines from four to seven. One of those lines is dedicated to producing leather upholstery for Hooker Furnishings’ new M line, and the other two will be for overflow product.
Prior to the pandemic, it also cross-trained workers to be able to make different products as the demand required.
“Right before Covid hit during the slower time … we had people that were on the recliner side training on the stationary side and those who were on the stationary side training on the recliner side,” Sigmon said. “So when we came back from Covid, we were already better prepared to pull people where we needed them to help.”
This also allowed workers to receive a full 40 hours as opposed to getting sent home at 32 in case the orders weren’t there.
“So it was a godsend that we were preparing for that, and we didn’t even know we were preparing for that,” Sigmon said of the influx of demand.
Through these combined efforts, the company pared down its lead times to 12-14 weeks by the October 2022 market then lowered them again to eight to 10 weeks by early this year. It also has brought back its quick-ship program. Currently shipping product in about two weeks, the goal is to reduce that back to as little as 72 hours, Sigmon noted.
It’s part of the responsiveness and versatility that the company believes are important to its success producing a quality line of domestically made product — now and in the future.
“I do think that we came out of Covid stronger because of the quality product we produce and the price point we are at,” Sigmon said of the company’s mid- to upper-mid presence. “I don’t know of another company — and I might be a little biased — that sits better than we do. We are honestly the best seat in the house. If you don’t have it, you need to get it.”