The Indiana-based furniture giant starts a new chapter with its foray into a new a new line of products, including the purchase of a plant in North Carolina.

Working in its new North Carolina location, Jasper built reading tables, study carrels, computer stations, shelving end panels and wood shelving for the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center at the University of Nevada, Reno. They are maple with a custom finish.

The Jasper Group of Jasper, IN, has been a force in the school furniture market for 80 years. But when the furniture giant decided to move strongly into the library market several years ago, it soon realized that specialized expertise was needed.

“It was necessary to acquire the manufacturing expertise required for library furniture,” recalls Vice President Brian Lish.

So two years ago, it purchased Blanton & Moore’s library furnishings facility in Troutman, NC, the first expansion outside Indiana for the privately-held manufacturer of wood furniture for the school, government, office and hospitality markets.

Jasper retained Blanton & Moore’s 48 employees, its equipment and plant management. There was no downtime between owners, recalls plant Manager Anthony Moore, who has worked at the site for 27 years. “It was just a transition.”

The furniture, a mix of KD (knock-down, to be assembled on-site) and custom, is the sort Blanton & Moore had been making previously — wood with some surfaces of laminate and Marmoleum, which is a kind of linoleum. The style of furniture includes: tables, desks, dictionary stands, atlas stands, book “trucks” or carts, study carrels and shelving for public and schools libraries.

Jasper also retained Blanton & Moore’s customer base, says library Director of Manufacturing Harold Kortman, and has since added others brought in by the sales staff representing Jasper’s schools and government division, Community.

Jasper’s goal is to grow its library business, all of it now manufactured in North Carolina, by 20 percent a year for the next three years, says Lish.

“It is realistic for the library brand to achieve this with the distribution strategies and customer base currently established,” he says.

Jasper’s edgebanding, all solid wood, is done with three machines: two Holz-Hers and one IMA. Here, Pedro Serrano runs a Holz-Her 1410.

Import-Proof Line

The three divisions of Jasper Group, known until last year as Jasper Seating, are: JSI, which makes office furniture, casegoods and seating; Community, which serves the library, schools and government market; and Klem Hospitality, which makes custom furniture for hotels and resorts.

Because of the complexity of the engineering required and the custom nature of the products, library furniture “is relatively import-proof,” Lish says. “No one can just up and start manufacturing library furniture. It just doesn’t work that way.

“It’s a huge engineering effort, from the drawing of the component to the connectivity of the components,” he adds.

A large percentage of Jasper’s library output is shelving. It is KD, with components finished in North Carolina and constructed on-site. On one recent workday, employee Robert Kennedy was using a color sample to check the non-grain-raising (NGR) stain he had just put on a toe-kick base. The base would be connected to shelving, Kortman pointed out, and since it would be put together on-site, all pieces had to match perfectly.

Yet every library wants something different, adds Kortman, and that is where the custom nature of the business comes in. Circulation desks, says Lish, are “the first thing you see when you walk in a library.” As such, they are the architect’s or designer’s showpiece and are often custom.

For example, employees at Troutman recently worked on a circulation desk they called “the question mark,” because that is what its curves resembled. On another project, black-painted reveals and a custom finish distinguish the maple solids that Jasper used for a 2008 project, the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Included in the machinery upgrade at Jasper’s Troutman plant was this Busellato 3006. Steve Purdy is shown cutting the back panel for a fixed-divider shelf.

Dedicated Plant Setting

The dual nature of library work — KD and custom — made it an awkward fit at Jasper’s office-furniture operation in Indiana, where it started five years ago, says Lish.

Office furniture was being assembled and finished in-house and shipped as complete units, says Lish. The KD aspect “didn’t flow with our manufacturing process.”

In Troutman, NC, Jasper found a KD setup and employees who were not only used to KD, “They knew what a study carrel was, what a reference carrel was,” says Kortman.

After purchasing the Troutman facility, Jasper upgraded some of the equipment, including a Busellato 3006 CNC machine and a Mayer PS 92 panel saw. An IMA edgebander was moved recently from the JSI office furniture plant in Jasper to join two Holz-Her edgebanders already in use in the 48,000-square-foot plant. A Celaschi double-edge tenoner also came from the other Jasper facility. In addition, the dust collection system was upgraded. On the horizon is the purchase of a roll coating machine for manufacturing laminate tabletops.

Graceful curves outline this circulation desk at the Dunedin Public Library in Dunedin, FL.

Focus on Finishing

In perhaps its most significant move, Jasper last year purchased a vacant factory located 30 miles from the plant, in Taylorsville, NC, to handle finishing. The former location of a Kincaid Furniture plant, it has 98,000 square feet and is big enough to handle future growth.

Inside the finishing facility, a Dubois UV flatline system is being installed this spring, its 120,000-foot length was disassembled in Jasper and brought to North Carolina in sections. Time savings with the line will be significant, Kortman says. Thirty panels, which used to take two days to finish, will now take only 30 minutes to an hour. There is no drying time involved, he says. Once a panel is off the line, “It’s ready to pack.”

The existing line, part conveyor-belt and part manual, is being retained for those items that can’t go down a flatline: tabletops and their frames, table legs, bookcases, dictionary stands, atlas stands and the like. They are hand-sprayed in a seven-step process, using Binks and DeVilbiss equipment.

In North Carolina, which has lost thousands of furniture jobs as plants laid off workers and closed, the Jasper Group has been warmly welcomed. Its total North Carolina workforce is about 60, and Kortman says he’ll probably hire two or three more people in finishing, an easy chore because of the job losses. “You can choose,” he says. “There’s a lot of good people here.”

In the recessionary climate, employees at the North Carolina plants are working from 40 to 32 hours a week, depending on orders. But the move to the state has put the library sector in a position to thrive when the economy bounces back, Lish says.

“We’ve got a sound infrastructure in place and are beginning to see activity in the library and education markets,” he says.

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