Last month I flew down to visit the Hickory Chair factory over two days and had an incredible deep dive into how fine furniture is made in this country and how Hickory Chair (founded 1911) has managed to adapt and succeed in the currently VERY challenging economic environment. Come along for a tour.
"Yes, we're in Hickory, NC!"
Hickory Chair is the high end part of Furniture Brands, a big conglomerate that has bought up a bunch of furniture companies over the years, including Broyhill, Thomasville and Lane.
Queen Charlotte - Charlotte Airport, Charlotte, NC
Hickory is run relatively independently by a remarkable CEO named Jay Reardon. He has totally refocused and transformed the company over the past 10 years drawing inspiration from the Japanese business models at companies like Toyota (Jay recommended an amazing book, Zapp!, which is about this as well and which I'm currently reading).
With this approach, every employee is treated like an owner and called on to constantly help find new efficiencies and better ways of doing things. The esprit de corps on the factory floor and the number of shifts and improvements that they had made as a group was staggering.
And then there's furniture building.
From cutting wood into "sticks" to the final upholstered sofa or dining table getting wrapped for shipping, everything is done in one large building at Hickory Chair and it is a remarkable process. It took us two full days to see everything. It takes an average of eight total work hours to make a piece of furniture, and what you will see below are many of the steps along the way.
Oh, and one other thing. Despite the rigor of these jobs, the factory workplace is run by men and women, young and old, and it was great to see older women with tool belts on as well as big men with tattoos carefully cutting fabric.
Inside Hickory Chair factory - cutting sticks
Barbara - Hickory Chair
Shadow Box created by factory workers to customized their tool station needs - Hickory Chair - invented by Julia Child!
A button machine!
Laying in leg veneer - 15 min per leg x 4 legs = 1 hour per sideboard - Hickory Chair, NC
Side tables before finishing
In the lacquer polishing room
Cutting upholstery fabric
Carving chair legs with a massive multiple router
One floor up and we're in the fabric section and about to see upholstering
On the line right before set up springs
Lining a curvy sofa frame
Great green sofa almost done at upholstery station
All done! I'm at the end of the upholstery line and this sofa is moving out to packing
Final frame - they call this "cocooning" instead of packing and this is just the first two of three layers.