How Century Furniture is managing high upholstery demand (Part 2)

Like other domestic upholstery producers, Hickory, North-Carolina-based Century Furniture has seen double-digit increases in demand for its product line during the pandemic, which has been a blessing and a challenge all at once.

A blessing because it keeps the company’s factories running, which in turn creates job security for its 800 workers including roughly 600 on the upholstery manufacturing side of the business.

The Ainsley sofa features a curved back and flared shelter arm.

The challenge lies in order backlogs, which have risen from 8-12 weeks pre-pandemic to about 30 weeks earlier this spring.

Back then and even now, the talk of a slowdown wasn’t that much of a concern for the business, particularly in that consumers of its luxury products are perhaps not as affected by higher gas and food prices.

In fact if orders came to a complete halt — unlikely even in a slowdown for a company like Century — there would still be enough work to carry the company through most of this year if not longer.

A worker using the eight-way, hand-tied construction on an upholstery frame.

Still, high backlogs are always a strain because they mean you’re not getting the product to the customer as quickly as the company would like. That’s a particularly sensitive issue on the luxury side of the business, where many customers are used to getting what they want much more quickly.


This is part of the reason why the company is using its website and other forms of communication to let customers know their order is on the way — even if it means months versus weeks for the final delivery.“We’ve tried to accurately predict what our lead times are going to be as much as humanly possible,” Jeanna Anderson, director of upholstery, told Home News Now. “And sometimes you don’t want to tell someone 30 weeks, but as a designer — and coming from that background —I would rather you tell me it’s going to be 30 weeks than tell me it’s going to be 12 and then it’s not. And I think Century has really done a good job of owning the reality of where we are and what those expectations are going to be.”

Kasia Sweeny, product designer and product development coordinator, agreed, saying that communication between the company and its customers has been instrumental during this period of high demand.

“One thing I admire about the company is that even if the news isn’t good, you still always keep the customer up to speed on everything and at all times,” she said. “It’s not just silence on our end.”

“It’s about having transparency and always about keeping the line of communication open and also just making sure that everything that goes out is top quality,” she added. “Because if somebody is waiting like six months and they receive something that has a quality issue, that’s even worse. If they are waiting that long, you want to at least get it right.”

A worker adds padding to a chair frame.

Of course backlogs will fall on their own to a degree should business take a turn in the near term, including the typically slower summer months. But that hasn’t been a major issue for the company yet.“Our business is going to remain strong,”  Anderson said, adding, “I don’t think it will be as strong as it was, which will allow us to chip away at our backlog. And we want to do that because people want their furniture and we want to deliver it. So I think we will have less of a backlog at the end of the year, but it probably won’t be significant until the following year.”

“Or at least it will be back to a healthy level,” Sweeny added.

Sewers seen on the floor of Century Furniture’s upholstery production facilities in Hickory, North Carolina.

Of course the company continues to face challenges recruiting talent as it’s competed for the same pool of workers in the Hickory region. Thus as people leave jobs for even small pay increases or better benefits, hiring and retaining quality workers remains an issue for Century and other area employers, observers say.

Century said it has been competitive with pay and benefits, while also offering incentives such as hiring bonuses. But it is also relying on its history of being a good place to work, something officials believe gets talked about in the community via word of mouth.

“The best thing is that we have just kind of stayed the course and tried to head off any potential labor issues,” Anderson said.  “We are always looking for good people — like everyone we have to fight for labor in the area because there are so many furniture companies here. But I think the fact that we are a family-owned business and we have the reputation of being an honest and hardworking group of people, we tend to attract people — that’s what attracted me to Century when I came here.”

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