Post Pandemic Supplier Blues

November 03, 2023

Post Pandemic Supplier Blues

 A North Carolina upholstered furniture maker named DRNC (Designer's Resource North Carolina) with which I have worked since 2006 informed  me that they sold the family business because her parents were retiring and she didn't want the week to week stress of the financials. This was in Fall 2021. She advised that she would now become an employee and the new owner wanted to make only his line of furniture. They agreed to finish the pieces on order and they did. I offered to pay more to continue the relationship, but the new owner had another vision. Not only was I disappointed, but I was tasked with trying to find another East Coast maker during the pandemic when demand for furniture higher than ever due to sheltering at home and the skilled labor force that  makes these pieces diminished due to retirement, burn-out and people not going into trades such as these.

I  then contacted many upholstered furniture makers  in The Carolinas for over 18 months and seldom received return calls or emails because they were all in the same position. Too many orders and a shortage of highly skilled labor, so lead times continued to grow to up to eight months. To retain the burned out staff members that they had, they increased wages and increased their prices.  Many furniture frame makers retired and the few that remained had trouble getting kiln-dried hardwood (which is all that we use). 

One Sunday morning I was searching the internet for custom upholstered furniture makers in The Carolinas and came across one with a website and images of pieces that were not easy to make and required precision pattern matching. I sent my perfunctory email about all of my requirements and my sending in all of my own ingredients which require dedicated storage away from conventional components and hit send. I had crafted numerous emails to makers like these  with no replies. On Monday morning, I received a return email that despite a current lead time of 30 wks that they felt that they could accommodate me. So, we had phone conversation and a visit and I gave them a couple pieces to make for the showroom and waited seven months for them to arrive. I was pleased with them and their attention to detail.

 

 

Another maker in L.A. with whom I had worked since 2011 began to become less responsive to my texts and phone calls in late 2021 and order processing lead times started to increase. The owner lost his father and had to make many bicoastal trips to settle the estate. Understood. However, he continued to be more elusive and make more excuses for not meeting deadlines and quoted ship dates. He started to return my texts and phone calls once every three weeks and there was dead silence in between. His quality had always been excellent, but a few customers began to have minor issues with the pieces coming from his shop. He would try to blame the shippers and refuse to take responsibility for the issues. I ended up paying out of pocket to hire furniture repair technicians to correct the problems. In January 2023, he advised me that he was moving to Las Vegas in March 2023 to focus on hospitality, that he would complete my open orders by  and then would no longer make pieces for me. He promised to complete all pieces by end February when his lease in L.A. was up. Winter turned to Spring and Spring to Summer and my pieces were still not completed. He had to move all of my raw materials to a temporary space in L.A. and expected me to pay the rent after he didn't get my orders out and had already taken a 75% deposit on all orders I placed with him. I had to be as diplomatic as possible when he started asking if he could collect balances due in advance of completion dates.  I had to get the orders completed and to my customers some how. 

The last sofa that shipped from his temporary workroom was a custom sofa with measurements completely different from the CAD drawing I submitted. The seat height was 28". The customer was very nice and expressed her love of the sofa . All 4'10" of her didn't realize that the seat height was 8" higher than specified and her daughter visited, sat on sofa and knew something was wrong when her legs were dangling in the air. He never QC'd the piece before it was picked up and never submitted the typical eight photos that I get upon completion of each piece. He just rushed it out of the door and closed up shop. I paid to have the sofa removed from her home and have repurchased  all raw materials and fabric for the sofa to be remade by the other workroom with which I work. 

I have since found a new maker just outside of L.A. and their pieces have been beautiful.  I look forward to working with the person who ran the L.A. shop and left five years ago to oversee the furniture  division of a prestigious firm. That person is opening her own facility in the middle of the country. So, although I've had serious production output challenges since 2021 and have hemorrhaged money  to fulfill my obligations to customers to the point that I have been trying to not take orders, I feel confident that that the teams that I have now will execute flawlessly due to their attention to detail and dedication to the craft. The maker who is setting up the factory in the middle of the country wants to work towards becoming a certified B corp and that resonates with my values.

I look forward to growing the brand to its intended capacity, with exquisite quality and lead times of 10 weeks or fewer with no in transit damages due to our packaging.  It isn't hard to do when you work with reliable makers.

 

 




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