Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Furniture plant closings...

As I mentioned in this post,  DL has been having some fun buying industrial junk.


This junk eventually needs to be picked up at its point of origin, which lately have been defunct furniture factories.

Once upon a time (right after WWII, to be exact), more than 60% of all the furniture made in the USA was made in North Carolina.  Names like Baker, Broyhill, Drexel-Heritage, Henredon, Hickory-White, Lexington, Marsh Cabinets, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Thomasville, and U.S. Furniture Industries are all NC-based. 

Or perhaps we should say "were."  Because many of these venerable old firms are no longer NC companies...and many of them are gone.  Let's use Lexington as an example.
Lexington, NC is synonymous with many things: Barbeque, NASCAR, Bob Timberlake, and furniture.
It's the kind of small town that you would see in a black-and-white television show (for those of you old enough to remember black-and-white television) where the folks know their neighbors, the men sit in the coffee shop talking sports, and the women bake pies for the church supper.  Back in the day, many of the men worked for Lexington Furniture Industries.


It was a good living--enough to provide a cozy home and put a decent meal on the table while still leaving a $10 bill to put into the church collection plate each Sunday. But that was then, and this is now.

In the early 2000s  (or 'the zeroes, ' as I like to call them), Lexington began to shift its manufacturing to off-shore facilities.  They closed three plants after being acquired by Sun Capital Partners, a holding company out of Boca Raton.

(Now...I have nothing against Boca, but what the heck do they know about American-made furniture?  It's a bunch of old people, sitting around playing canasta.)

Anyway, Bob Timberlake partnered with Lexington Furniture to create The World of Bob Timberlake, the most successful line of furniture in history.  But Mr. Timberlake wasn't happy to see his line leave the capable hands of craftsmen and women in Lexington to be made overseas.  He wanted his furniture to be American-made.  He and Lexington parted ways, and his furniture continued to be made in Lexington, by Linwood Furniture.




Unfortunately, Linwood was already struggling when it began building components of the Timberlake collection, and they couldn't keep up with the demand alone...Timberlake had to license Century Furniture, also made in NC, to pick up the slack.  And Linwood, despite a $2M infusion of capital, closed its doors. 



It's eerie to walk into a manufacturing facility that is still set up for the working day.  I am used to the hustle and bustle and hum and noise of a plant--DL works next to his--and to see a plant abandoned with things still on the line was a real disconnect for me.





The folks running the auction told us that one day, halfway through a shift, the manager came out onto the floor and told everyone to shut down and go home.


Some personal effects were left behind.
Workstations were abandoned, still with orders and schedules attached.


And beautifully crafted furniture, made right here in NC, was ready to go to retailers.





I own one of these hutches--it's beautifully made and will last much longer than I do!  I bought it at a local retailer about five years ago, hoping to add a server when I was ready for one.  It won't be happening, now.

Here's where I may offend some people: 
Please understand that every choice you make as a consumer has an impact;   an impact on the environment and on the economy.  I am not here to tell you how to spend your money, but I would ask that you do some research.  How will your purchases impact others?
You may not think it's a problem to go to Wal-Mart and spend $100 on whatever, but please understand that the bulk of that money is going to line the pockets of the Walton family, who has, combined, .14% of all US wealthYet, the bulk of their employees do not receive health or retirement benefits. 

Then again, you can save a buck.

You may not think that all the cute holiday decorations you purchase at Target (because they're so darn CUTE!) have any kind of impact on your local economy, but because they're made in Asia, mostly, they are problematic for both the US economy AND the environment, because most Asian countries don't have the same type of environmental protection at factories that North American countries do.  And, if we made them here, they would be too costly for us to be an impulse buy, because we want our folks to make a living wage...

And while I LOVE IKEA as much as the next person...I must admit that I find the fact that (a) a good portion of their items are made in China, and (b) their items have a distinct "disposability" to them--meaning you don't expect the items to last more than a few years--a bit disconcerting.  Give me grandma's tea cart from 1947 and I will make that sucker into a great side table, 2013-style.  Or, better yet--embrace the past and give the furniture of your childhood a great home in your space.

I may make fun of my "old lady" living room, but I know where nearly every piece came from, and where it was made.  I am proud to say that the bulk of it is stamped "MADE IN AMERICA," if it's young enough to have a stamp.  Many of my pieces are too old--my mother's or grandmother's pieces that I have adopted.  While my house may not look like a photograph from a Pottery Barn catalog (and Pottery Barn does offer a few American-made products), it is conscientiously reflective of who and what I am...



...made in America.


29 comments:

Suzan Sweatman said...

Great post Kirby - I've done a couple on this issue too -
I don't shop at Walmart or Sears because of their practices - but at this point you'd be hard pressed to find anything made in North America anymore from anywhere -
That's what's so great about redoing older furniture - almost everything in my home was either made in Canada or the U.S. ( sadly I don't think that means very much to the younger generation )
That hutch is just gorgeous................
XOXO

Cassie @ Primitive & Proper said...

AMEN! I don't shop at walmart either- i can't stand the place. it gives me hives. i do have a couple of ikea pieces, but they are pieces i couldn't have gotten anywhere else (massive storage pieces). most of our furniture is vintage, or used and i plan to keep it going that way. bravo, kirby!

Deneen@dreaming-n-color said...

I agree Kirby and I hate going to Walmart!!!Ikea uses 1 percent of the world's wood. http://inhabitat.com/one-percent-of-all-the-worlds-commercial-wood-is-used-to-make-ikea-products/ I love vintage and not only is it made better and sturdier than today's furniture it has more character. Thanks for a great post!

Allison@FabRehab said...

Bravo!!! So well said and true!

The Painted Drawer said...

Great post and thanks for sharing. Couldn't agree more!

Jean @ www.thebackyardbungalow.com said...

Agreed. The only new piece of furniture that I own is my couch, which is made in America. hooah! I am hoping to keep my business 'made in America'. My biggest competition is a new chain called Real Deals. Everything is made in China and super cheap. I really hope my little shop can compete with that!

karen@somewhatquirky said...

Touche Kirby! Well said. I'm like you. I know where all my stuff comes from. I do buy new mattresses and would dearly love to have a new couch.

LittleMyoo said...

Beautiful!! I can't tell you how saddened we were when we discovered how few (new) pieces of furniture were made in the U.S.A. Everything comes from China! We shopped high and low for our new kitchen cabinets. We want high-quality, RTA (ready-to-assemble)--(so we can afford high-quality) and made in the U.S.A. I'm happy to report our cabinets will be Conestoga. They're manufactured in PA using domestic wood. I can't promise everything in our house will be made in the U.S.A., but we're doing our research and trying to make the best choices. Thanks for this great reminder.

-andi

Bliss said...

Shopping at WalMart or Ikea isn't all that different than the government sending billions of American dollars to crooked foreign countries.

Bliss

Linda at French Hollow said...

Very thought provoking Kirby. I hate the fact that nothing is made in the US anymore, but I always look at the hundreds of employees at places like WalMart and wonder where they would find work if their store closed. It can be a real conundrum. One of my nephews paid for his first two years of college working at Target. Nobody mentions them, but just try to find one item not made in China at Target! We can only do our best as individuals and hope others will follow our lead, but it sure isn't easy is it?

NanaDiana said...

I hear you, Kirby. I try to buy local when I can but it is not always feasible. It is just a shame what this people of this country has let happen- xo Diana

Mel@Mellywood's Mansion said...

I try to buy Australian when I can afford it and when it is possible, everything here is going or has gone offshore. We live in a food bowl, so why are we exporting our awesome food and getting crap from other countries without the strict controls in place here. On the subject of furniture i bought my boys expensive for us, bunk beds made in an Asian country which were 3 times the price for an Aussie made equivalent http://www.mellywoodsmansion.com/2013/03/bunk-bed-horrors.html there are the results of that, had it not ended as well as it did that extra money would have seemed a small price to pay!

Art and Sand said...

IN 1989 when my husband took a management position with the largest maker of aquariums in the world, Walmart was their largest customer. Sam Walton was alive and he required that all the products sold at Walmart be made in America. When Sam died, the family wanted to be richer so they forced vendors to go to China to make everything cheaper. By the end of my husband's working years, Walmart basically gave Aquaria the right to sell to Walmart and lose money on nearly every product.

Aquaria eventually closed its doors and do all of their manufacturing in China now. At that time, Steve chose to become a full time artist instead of continue in the business world. And, we refuse to ever shop at Walmart.

Collar City Brownstone said...

Kirby you are on the money with this post. You inspired me to work on a post on the same subject and I am going to link it up to this one.

BRAVO!!!

Andrea said...

What a great post. You have definitely given me something to think about. I prefer a family owned antique over particle board from Ikea any day!

Danni Baird @ Silo Hill Farm said...

So very well said! The only New Years resolution I made this year was to never go to Wal-mart again. I don't even miss it. Most of my furniture is old and well made. (Hence the need to learn to paint furniture.) I'm with you...my stuff is old, but it's mostly made in America and I love it and long after I'm gone, someone else will love it too.

1914house said...

Oh Kirby. I am guilty of buying cheaply made furniture, though I try never to think of it as disposable. We also have a variety of antique furniture in our home. I imagine only a couple of pieces were made in the USA. While you have me feeling guilty, I may as well go ahead and admit that most of my clothing was manufactured somewhere in Asia.

Debbie Borthwick said...

Great post, Kirby, and so true in Canada, too. I never buy furniture at Ikea, I don't really like their style, I love the old vintage, antique look, too.
Our town has lost large manufacturers to Mexico where they can pay a little over $2.00 an hour with no unions to deal with. So many people lost jobs, the town was dying for such a long time. Now, other manufacturing companies have moved here, but for the most part, they use temp agencies. Which is another sore spot with me. They get away with paying minimum wage and no benefits. How are people suppose to survive and raise a family? (sorry, got off topic lol)
Debbie :)

Heidi @ Decor & More said...

Oh, I just love this post, Kirbs! Well said, my friend! and God Bless America!
xo Heidi

Mason Jar Love said...

What a fabulous post ... and reminder.

But (hangs head in shame) can I admit that when you mentioned IKEA it triggered a reminder that I needed to search their site for pillow forms ...

... and now need to make a trip there. Sigh. I'm sorry. I'm a terrible American ...

:) Linda

Little Miss Maggie said...

You hit the nail on the head with this post, and people wonder why we have such a high unemployment rate. Whenever I find a piece to re-sell that says made in America, I proudly point it out on the tag. As for my home, it may be old lady too, but it was ALL made in America and it too will out last me.

Cheryl in Wisconsin said...

This expands to consumers of all industries. All of my automobiles are made in the US (or Canada) and are US brands, so that the profit is absorbed in this country, and not Asia. (Plus I prefer the higher quality of my American car.) I have my reading glasses on while grocery shopping so I can make sure nothing I buy (even for my pets) is manufactured in China. It's too risky, there have been far too many concerns regarding toxins, etc. And doing a quick inventory in my head - besides the beds & couch, all the furniture in my house is vintage/antique. That in itself makes a statement.

Kim said...

Hear! Hear!
Too many of our local (historic) industries have collapsed as a direct result of cheap foreign made (disposable) products. It IS time to speak with our wallets and support local small businesses.

Suzy Handgraaf said...

Amen and Amen! I spent 30+ years working at the corporate HQ for a major clothing manufacturer and sadly watched them shut down one USA plant after another as more and more production moved off shore. In most cases, those plants were located in one-traffic-light towns and were the main source of income for most every family that lived there. I always wondered what in the world these people were going to do. There was no where else for them to go to earn a decent living. Also, I frequently visit High Point, NC where it seems the whole town is filled with one abandoned furniture plant after another. I don't see how the town sustains itself. Sad, sad and more sad.

Andrea said...

Wow. The pictures of the furniture just sitting there. Thank you for pointing out that we should pause to consider those impulse buys as well.

Marianne said...

Wonderful post. My husband reminds of the points made here every day because I am in charge of most of the shopping. What we choose to buy has such a ripple effect on so many Americans. Thank you for the reminder, Kirb.

Jaybird said...

AMEN!!! I just found your blog today and I am reading from front to back :^)
I had to comment on this post because every word is the absolute truth!!! Hubster and I read every package that we put into our cart....every store, and if it wasn't Made in America it goes back on the shelf. Yep, It takes a bit of time, but manufacturers are getting better about putting an American Flag on their packaging, and we love it!!
You GO girl!!!
Made in America, by Americans...God bless 'em ALL!!
J

Jaybird said...

AMEN!!! I just found your blog today and I am reading from front to back :^)
I had to comment on this post because every word is the absolute truth!!! Hubster and I read every package that we put into our cart....every store, and if it wasn't Made in America it goes back on the shelf. Yep, It takes a bit of time, but manufacturers are getting better about putting an American Flag on their packaging, and we love it!!
You GO girl!!!
Made in America, by Americans...God bless 'em ALL!!
J

Wendy Johnson said...

I agree with everything you said in theory, but for some people the choice is not to buy cheap or expensive , it is can I buy it at all. My cheap christmas(or whatever) buy may have to last me years, we do not all have the luxury of where we shop.

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