Home Furniture Market Expects Continued Growth

With four companies achieving $1 billion in sales and others posting solid increases, Wood & Wood Products' 12th Annual Survey of the residential furniture industry shows companies are looking for new ways to grow business and profits.

by John Iwanski


1999 proved to be a record-breaking year for the residential furniture industry. For the first time ever, two companies surpassed the $2 billion mark in annual sales, and four companies -- Furniture Brands International, Life Style Furnishings International, La-Z-Boy Inc. and Klaussner Furniture Industries -- all surpassed $1 billion in sales.

And the industry also feels that the new millennium will continue to prove profitable, with nearly half of all respondents to Wood & Wood Products' 12th Annual residential furniture survey saying they expect 2000 sales to be greater than those of 1999. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed expect greater sales this year, and 49 percent expect sales to at least maintain their current pace. Only four percent of surveyed industry executives expect their sales to be lower in 2000.

"We believe that 2000 will be a good year," says Joe Logan, vice president of financial services for the American Furniture Manufacturers Assn. "Growth won't be as strong as it was in 1999, when it was around eight percent, but we still expect it to be at around 3.7 percent for the year."

Mergers and More

From mega-mergers and going-private offers to 50 percent profit increases, residential furniture companies underwent a variety of changes in 1999.

Perhaps the biggest news this past year was the acquisition of LADD Furniture (No. 7 in last year's Top 25) by La-Z-Boy Inc. (No. 3 in this year's survey). LADD, with sales in excess of $600 million, is now being operated by La-Z-Boy as a subsidiary, and has the company pushing toward the $2 billion sales mark.

Other companies also joined in the merger mayhem of 1999, including Dorel, Leggett & Platt and Winsloew Furniture (See News At The Top, pg. 93), and the industry may see more of the same in the next few years.

"The industry is very fragmented," says Logan. "For larger companies, they are looking at smaller organizations that will put them in niches or markets they haven't been in before, or are not very strong in yet. Others are looking to put furniture out on different price points, which also will help them in the long run."

Another company making waves in the residential pool during 1999 was The Rowe Companies. Known last year as Rowe Furniture, the company posted sales of $193 million in 1998. In 1999, the company changed its name, completed acquisition of a furniture retail chain, and raised sales to nearly $290 million, an increase of more than 49 percent.

"Rowe's strategy for dealing with the winds of change sweeping across the furniture industry is clearly paying off," says Gerald Birnbach, chairman and CEO of The Rowe Companies. "In the furniture industry today, you must broaden your focus to appeal to both the young, well-educated, relatively affluent customers and traditional buyers, who are each looking for style and comfort in a consumer-friendly buying environment."

In all, the Top 25 companies in Wood & Wood Products' 12th Annual Profile of the Residential Furniture Industry shipped more than $13.3 billion in furniture, eclipsing last year's total by better than $800 million. The Top 10 companies accounted for 76 percent of sales in this year's Top 25, with a total of $10.2 billion. And with the economy still moving ahead and other economic indicators also staying strong, it appears that 2000 will continue that trend.

"The strong housing market over the past few years will continue to help the industry," says Logan. "People tend to defer on furniture right after purchasing a home, generally waiting a year or two before they really start to acquire furniture for that house. That will certainly help us. And consumer confidence remains high, which also is a positive. People are feeling wealthier and looking for investments that will be with them over a period of years. That too, is great for the furniture industry."

Foreign Competition, Wood Supply Are Top's On Executives' List of Concerns

Despite the optimism, executives were still concerned with a variety of issues in the industry, especially foreign competition, the cost and supply of wood, workers' compensation and the recruitment and retention of employees.

Thirty-two percent of those responding to the survey are extremely concerned about both foreign competition and wood supply. An additional 40 percent are very concerned about wood supply issues, while 19 percent are very concerned about competition from foreign markets.

"Our biggest challenge is foreign competition," says Hershel Bowen, president of Oakwood Furniture Mfg. Inc. "We don't know how to address this challenge with the foreign labor rate being so low."

Concern over employees also highlighted this year's survey. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed are extremely concerned about workers compensation issues, while an additional 46 percent are very concerned with compensation questions. Twenty-eight percent of executives said they are extremely concerned about the recruitment and retention of employees. And more than half, 51 percent, said they are very concerned about hiring and keeping good people with their companies.

"We're working with the State of Michigan for employees," says Leon Dodd, vice president of Ameriwood Industries.

Other companies are also finding ways to reward employees and attract new ones. "We're increasing wages, increasing the training budget, offering more benefits," says Bruce Masterton, vice-president and chief operating officer for Blackhawk Furniture. "The list just goes on and on."


News At The Top


Furniture Brands International (No. 1) and London-based Harrod's Department Store signed an agreement for FBI's Thomasville Furniture Industries to produce an exclusive line of furniture for Harrod's, Harrod's of Knightsbridge Fine Furniture. FBI also has a contract with Home Depot to license a line of kitchen cabinets under the Thomasville brand name in Home Depot's national chain of home improvement warehouses.

LifeStyle Furnishings International Ltd. (No. 2) completed its move from its former headquarters in Thomasville, NC, to the Masco Corporate Park in High Point, NC. The company's Berkline Division also agreed to begin using Synapse Manufacturing software to automate shop floor control and warehouse management at all of the company's locations.

La-Z-Boy Inc. (No. 3) entered into a merger agreement, in which LADD Furniture Inc. (No. 7 in W&WP's 1999 survey) will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of the company. The merger was worth $299.3 million in a share swap, as well as the assumption of $101.5 million in debt. The company, in conjunction with WebTV, has also introduced a recliner which provides modem access, a 120v electrical outlet and a swivel keyboard tray for laptop computer support.

Klaussner Furniture Industries (No. 4) surpassed the $1 billion mark in sales for the first time in the company's history. The company also closed its Greensboro, NC, plant in March. The work performed at the upholstery plant, which employed 162 workers, has been consolidated to the company's facilities in Randolph County, NC, and Montgomery County, NC.

Ethan Allen (No. 5) revamped its Web site and now allows Internet consumers to purchase product directly from the company. The company also expanded its line of E.A. Kids and is continuing the work on its Boonville, NY, expansion. The $7.5 million project is expected to be completed in 2001 and double the plant's current production.

Dorel Industries (No. 6) acquired Safety 1st, a juvenile furniture and product manufacturer with recorded sales of $230 million in 1999. Final details of the purchases should be completed by the end of this month. The company completed the administrative merger of subsidiaries Ameriwood, Charleswood and Ridgewood, now headquartered in Wright City, MO, under Ameriwwod Industries. Dorel also doubled its ready-to-assemble operations in Cornwall, ON, with an investment of $6.8 million. RTA sales rose 17.2 percent, to $345.7 million, and earnings from operations jumped 47.7 percent.

Sauder Woodworking (No. 7) was awarded Home Depot's vendor of the year award in February, the first time a furniture manufacturer was selected for the honor. The company also recalled nearly two million television carts in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission when it was learned that the carts could tip over and injure when the cart and T.V. fall.

Leggett & Platt (No. 8) purchased seven firms, including three companies that supply the bedding and furniture industries. L&P purchased Easley, SC-based Falcon Industries, Cumulus Fibers of Charlotte, NC, and Miller Mfg. of Springfield, MO, with combined 1999 sales of nearly $75 million.

Bush Industries (No. 9) announced plans to purchase the remaining 49 percent of the Rohr family's interest in Rohr-Bush GmbH & Co. Rohr-Bush is a German furniture manufacturer, and completion of the transaction is expected on or before October 31, 2000.

O'Sullivan Industries (No. 10) approved an amended merger agreement with OSI Acquisition Inc., an affiliate of Bruckmann, Rosser, Sherrill & Co. L.L.C. The merger is worth up to $372 million, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The company also announced record third quarter sales in 2000, up 7.6 percent from the 1999 fiscal third quarter. The company's sales reached $116.7 million for the quarter ending March 31.

Bassett Furniture Industries Inc. (No. 11) earned two safety awards from Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., the Gold Award and the Silver Award. The Gold Award represents two million safe work hours without a lost time accident at the Bassett Superior Lines facility, and the Silver Award honors employees at the Bassett Chair plant for one million safe work hours. Bassett settled its Clean Air Act violations with the EPA by paying $575,000 in damages and spending $1.6 million on pollution control programs. The company also announced plans to shut down its upholstery facility in Dumas, AR. Production at that plant will be consolidated into the company's facilities in North Carolina.

The Rowe Companies (No. 12) is the new name for the former Rowe Furniture. The name change was approved by shareholders at the company's annual meeting in 1999. The company was ranked number 65 on Forbes "Top 200 Best Small Companies of 1999,"and also completed the acquisition of Storehouse Inc., a retail furniture chain.

Stanley Furniture (No. 13) expanded three plants in 1999, upgraded one plant with a rough mill and added a finishing room to another location. The company reported record sales and earnings for the first quarter of 2000, marking the 19th consecutive quarter the company has compiled record earnings. Stanley also opened a 300,000 sq. ft. home office production plant in Martinsville, VA.


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