January 12, 2022 | Bill Esler
Morganton, NC—Vanguard Furniture, a privately held residential casegoods and upholstered furniture manufacturer, has purchased a 160,000-sq.-ft. dormant plant to manufacture furniture beginning in April.
The site in Morganton, NC, Drexel Plant No. 60, was formerly operated by Drexel Heritage Furniture. Some equipment and finishing lines can be returned to use, and the plant will be restored, refurbished, and equipped with state-of-the-art-equipment as well, according to Andy Bray, president of Vanguard Furniture.
“This plant has a rich history and a perfect footprint for making custom furniture. It was designed as a furniture factory, and as such has conveyor finishing lines, dust collection, and some existing machinery,” Bray says, noting it is all on one level with high ceilings suitable for efficient warehousing of components and materials.
“We specialize in custom furniture. We want to fully control the materials and the quality,” Bray says. “Our furniture is bench made one at a time by hand which requires artisans not factory workers. But equally importantly, manufacturing closer to our customers reduces transportation costs and delivery time.”
Bray believes the local community has hundreds of “generational craftsmen” with sawdust in their blood, which will provide a quality workforce. Vanguard is already advertising job openings at the Morganton location, with positions for casefitters, finishers, and upholstery trimmers listed.
“Many of our best artisans and craftsmen currently make the 30-mile trip to our Conover headquarters every day and are thrilled at the prospect of not having to commute as far.”
Vanguard Furniture states that revitalizing old factories is good for the community and the country. Area furniture plant closings and the elimination of jobs had been a recurring theme over the past two decades, the company says, as storied factories were shuttered, and hundreds of skilled artisans and craftsmen were furloughed with production moving to Asia.
“Rocketing demand in home furnishings, and complications with the supply chain will resurrect North Carolina furniture manufacturing. Vanguard has outgrown its ability to meet demand with its current manufacturing facilities. The fourth quarter of 2021 was the biggest shipping period in our 53-year history, and we still have a very large backlog. There is steady demand for high quality custom upholstery and casegoods.”
Bray believes the COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumer values about their homes. “They are no longer willing to settle for mass produced cookie cutter furniture,” he says. “They want furniture that has been customized to reflect their personal style and personality. This acquisition helps to restore Morganton to its vaunted heritage and meet the pent-up demand for truly special furniture.”
Despite the problems it has created, one good thing arising from supply chain issues is the reemergence of U.S. manufacturing, according to Bray.
“The Morganton facility has the potential to add as many as 150 jobs, representing a significant increase in our workforce,” Bray says.
Alan Wood, president and CEO of Burke Development Inc., said his county development organization is working with Vanguard to secure grant funding to assist with the expansion. In 2015, the same plant was to become the site of Atlanta-based American Hospitality Furniture, which was awarded $200,000 in grants. But the project didn’t pan out.
Vanguard Furniture, a family held company, employs over 600 and is currently operating out of six manufacturing buildings in Hickory, NC, a 40,000-square-foot showroom in High Point, NC, and a major manufacturing location in Hillsville, VA.
Vanguard has embraced the methodology of Lean Manufacturing—seeking continuous improvement in all departments (even eliminating waste that customers are unwilling to pay for). As a founding member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, Vanguard’s green initiatives include recycling 95 percent of all post manufacturing waste — recycling paper, fabric scraps, metal, wood scrap, plastic and corrugated products. Being sustainable is as a way of life at Vanguard.
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