Custom capabilities, quality drive Craftmaster’s business

Upholstery manufacturer sees business come back after drop in demand for special-order goods during the pandemic

TAYLORSVILLE, N.C. — With the challenges of the pandemic behind it, Craftmaster Furniture is back to what it does best — producing mid-to-upper-midpriced custom upholstery for retailers and their customers around the country.

It’s a mission that the company has had for the past 52 years, in good and challenging times alike. That includes the pandemic, when lead times rose to as high as 40-50 weeks resulting not only from record-high demand, but supply chain disruptions that affected the entire industry.

Craftmaster President Alex Reeves looks out over the sewing area during a tour of the facility late last year.

During the pandemic, the company’s special-order business actually dropped significantly as customers wanted anything they could get their hands on right away. As that demand began to stabilize and incoming order rates were hitting extremely low levels, lead times began to fall between the summer and late 2022, eventually reaching historically normal levels of four to six weeks for custom upholstery and six to eight for custom leather, a growing part of the business.

So the past year has been one of rebuilding the business with both existing and new accounts to support the company’s 625 workers and estimated 1 million square feet of manufacturing in five plants in and around Hiddenite, Lenoir and Wilkesboro, North Carolina, where it has a cut-and-sew facility.  

During a recent visit with Home News Now, President Alex Reeves explained what he believes has helped the company remain relevant during a challenging economy, with overall industry retail sales down most months of 2023 and not looking much better so far in 2024.  

“We’re just a great domestic upholstery company and we have a lot of value,” he said, noting that the company was working overtime to get those 2023 orders produced. “I mean it runs in our lineup. We’ve got a myriad of products that we sell and we have been trying to retrench back with our old customers and we have picked up some new customers along the way. We have a great account base and they are the ones that we have really taken care of.”

Robert Sherrod, a 30-plus-year employee is seen filling cushions at the company’s Hiddenite, North Carolina, plant.

 He said that this also has been a time of rebuilding margins that were hit hard with increased costs.

“All the product that we shipped throughout 2022 was at a certain price point but we had price increases on all those materials costs, labor costs and everything else,” Reeves said. “But we stuck with our original pricing and shipped it out and now we’re regaining on that and trying to get back to healthy margins.”

Rolls of fabric are seen in a holding area waiting to be used in custom orders.

Helping drive orders in today’s fragile economy is the company’s custom-order segment, which represents more than 60% of the business, with the balance being from both inventory and a quick-ship program that includes more than 20 groups in leather and fabric that are built and ready to ship.

The custom program includes 800 fabric options, 50 leathers, 17 different finishes as well as various stitching, welting and nailhead trim options, plus five different arm styles.

Reeves said the simplicity of the program helps drive the business as special-order products are at moderate price points with average sofa prices around $1,299 in fabric and leather sofas around $2,599 and no upcharges based on materials, other than COM fabrics, or types of materials in the cushions.

Quality also remains a core tenet of the company’s mission. It’s seen not only in the way the company makes the product, but also how it’s rated after it’s made. For example, the company began weekly quality audits in early 2022 that check individual items for manufacturing flaws or construction details that can be improved upon. These audits span every department and every facility, thus allowing everyone in quality control to be involved in a process that helps identify and avoid mistakes in the future.  

“We are always a continuous improvement operation. We try to get better and better in everything we do, all the time,” said Reeves, scrolling through dozens of product photos on his computer that have gone through the weekly audits. “It helps us find things that we didn’t know we were missing. Does it sit right? Is it tailored right? Did we miss something here, did we miss something there? That’s how you find it. And that is what makes us different.”

While some of these quality issues might be things the average consumer may not notice, Reeves said, “It doesn’t matter. We want it right.”

Matteo Tallez is seen sanding the frame of a sofa at the Hiddenite plant.

The approach is helping the company navigate challenging times, as many consumers have pulled back some spending on large durable goods like furniture.

While Craftmaster’s 2023 shipments were down more than 20% from 2022 — the biggest shipping year in the company’s history — incoming orders were up nearly 60% for the year, meaning that the business was coming back with a flourish with many hours of overtime logged.

For the first two months this year, incoming orders were strong, running 46% above the same time last year, while shipments were also up, Reeves noted, thus shaping a sales turnaround that is supporting everything from special orders to quick ship.  

Manuel Renteria is seen putting fabric on a chair frame.

The focus on quality, followed by speed to market and having a good and productive workforce are key aspects of the business that Reeves has learned to value and emphasize throughout his 40 years in the business.

He got involved in the industry at a young age, working in the plant — everything from sweeping floors to filling drink machines and mowing the grass — at Taylorsville Upholstering Co. during his high school and college years. A student of economics who originally planned to study law, he decided to stay with the furniture industry following a death in the family. This ultimately led him to sales and marketing positions at companies such as Taylorsville Upholstering Co., Leathercraft and Hickory Hill, to name a few.  

He worked at Craftmaster for nearly 11 years as senior vice president of sales and merchandising, before joining Sam Moore as president in May 2019. He returned to Craftmaster as president in September 2022, succeeding long-time executive Roy Calcagne.

It’s a natural fit for an executive who has spent so much time in upholstery manufacturing. Walking the floor of the Hiddenite plant, he greets employees by name and with a smile, thus making a connection that’s important in any manufacturing environment.

Alex Reeves in his office at the Hiddenite plant.

Still, the company, like others, faces challenges in recruiting talent, particularly as some workers with many decades of experience are approaching retirement.

To attract new talent, the company relies on the training programs of local high schools and community colleges that are helping prepare students for a career in manufacturing.

And along with offering competitive pay and benefits, the company aims to be a place where people not only want to come to work each day, but where they get good training that helps them learn and grow. It’s a process that includes mentoring in various departments from production and purchasing to product development.

But for Reeves, it’s also about creating a team spirit where everyone feels valued for their respective role.

“I try to get out and walk the floor every day, and I will talk to everybody and try to get to know who they are,” he said. “We’re all in this together. We’re a team and that’s really what the difference is.”

“Happy people are productive people,” he added. “If people are happy working, then everything else falls into place.”

Thomas Russell

Home News Now Editor-in-Chief Thomas Russell has covered the furniture industry for 25 years at various daily and weekly consumer and trade publications. He can be reached at and at 336-508-4616.

View all posts by Thomas Russell →

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