Forty-four years ago Charles Massoud, a young Dallas, Texas, producer of upholstered seating for automobiles, decided to switch to the commercial furniture market. Several friends who were also customers put up the capital for the manufacturing plant, which included the fabrics and frame stock to start building fully upholstered seating products.

That company became Massoud Furniture, which today produces a full range of high-end upholstered seating, from chairs and love seats to sofas and benches.

Charles focused on high-quality products and delivering a recognized value to all customers, predominantly in the South. He built his business and moved into a more productive plant. His son Chuck, who worked in investment banking after graduating from college, realized the value of his father's company and joined him in 1987. Chuck, now the chief executive officer, owns the business, while Charles, chairman of the board, acts as a valuable sounding board for key decisions.

The Massouds surrounded themselves with other experienced managers. Clint Barber served in all positions in the plant prior to being named plant manager. Sharon Hodges, corporate operations, worked as a sales representative for Sherrill Furniture and brings a wealth of industry knowledge to the company. Kelley Massoud, marketing director, brought experience in professional marketing from other industries to the company, which has added a strong outside perspective to its marketing focus. Gayle Prude assists in the selection of fabrics and trims for the company.

Upscale customers

Massoud Furniture focuses on upscale buyers who respect and understand quality. This focus is two-pronged. First, it targets the retail consumer who is looking for a superior product. "We will do it any way the customer wants 900 fabrics, 120 trims, 30 leathers and more than 150 frames," Chuck Massoud says.

The company makes sure the fabric is in stock for at least 90 percent of special orders. "Massoud's average special order delivery is 37 calendar days," Chuck says. "This includes fabric delays." Many competitors say they deliver in six to eight weeks, but fail to mention that this is only if the fabric is in stock.

For the retail buyer and consumer, Massoud strives to provide a "real value." Chuck is troubled by the industry expression, "perceived value." "The industry's obsession with trying to create a perceived value is one of the main reasons for consumers' lack of interest and trust in furniture products," he says.

The second focus is to provide real value to retail partners. The continued devaluation of the price structure has hurt retailers. Prices have fallen, but overhead costs continue to rise. "Most retailers don't realize that they must increase their sales 25 percent for every 10 percent markdown in price, which is almost impossible," Chuck says.

Selling quality

For the retailer, there's no decline in utilities, taxes, wages or advertising costs. This squeeze had pushed many out of business and crippled others. Chuck and Sharon Hodges concentrate on getting traditional retailers to understand the value and ease of selling quality products covered with extraordinary fabrics, not available from cheap manufacturers trying to sell on price.

Once the end user has the opportunity so see and experience the range of fabrics, which cost from $9 to $40 per yard, along with the other features, and know they can honestly receive this product in 37 days, the sale is easy. Most people can be shown that they can afford a superior product over a two-year throwaway product.

The high-dollar product can turn better on the floor, more so than a cheap "me, too" product in most cases. This higher turn of a higher dollar product increases the revenue for retailers and helps them return higher profitability.

In addition, to assist its retail partners, Massoud provides "full repeat" swatches along with an Internet presence that uses ePreVue software. This allows a potential customer to use the computer to apply fabrics to frames in order to get a fairly accurate picture of how the final product will look.

As 60 percent to 70 percent retail sales above $1,500 are special orders, Massoud focuses most of its resources in this area. "Most retail buyers need to focus on manufacturers that emphasize special orders and have the necessary sales aids, price lists, unique fabrics and quick delivery to execute once the order is placed," Chuck says.

Manufacturing improvements

Manufacturing technology drives the ability to perform at this level. All fabrics and frames are cut by computer-driven cutters. Komo routers for frames and Gerber "bow and skew" fabric cutters yield frames and fabrics that fit and are easy to assemble. This technology has been added in the past eight to 10 years.

Prior to that, the traditional fabric hand-cutting and stick-built frames were made in the plant. The engineering detail and the methods used in assembly have improved product quality. "Our QC report averages well under 1/4 of 1 percent of products shipped," Chuck says. "This low rate helps our dealers in that they don't have to spend their limited resources repairing our problems. They only have to make one delivery to a satisfied customer, without the normal repeat repair calls."

The Massoud frames are cut from one-inch hardwood plywood, as opposed to the 3/4-inch plywood normally used in the industry. Qualux cushions from ER Carpenter wrapped with a polyester batting and sewn into a non-woven bag are standard throughout the line. Luxurious spring down seats are available for a nominal upcharge. One hundred percent goose down is standard in all throw pillows.

Charles Massoud and Clint Barber developed the springing system. It consists of wire-tied coils positioned on a metal base. The front of the base is hinged on the front rail and the rear is suspended with heavy-duty coil springs. This gives the same or better seat than a hand-tied product, without the problems of the ties being uneven or coming untied under constant use. With the exception of fabrics, the other materials are supplied JIT by local vendors.

Product engineering

The skills required of upholstery and sewing personnel are handled through Massoud's product engineering. All jobs are broken into subtasks, which allow a person with good hand-eye coordination to be hired and rapidly trained on a specific task. This engineering effort removes the need for the antiquated "inside-outside" method of manufacturing that requires very high skill sets that are rapidly disappearing.

Massoud has also developed its operations software in house. This allows the company to use special formulas to track sales and keep fabrics in stock better than most software packages. The software keeps the fabric inventory under control while providing excellent service to customers. It also gives retail partners rapid access to fabric availability, shipments and other information.

"Fabrics continue to be a problem," Chuck says. "The imports from China all look alike; create a generic, non-differentiating retail floor; and many not all are of very poor quality. We make every attempt to buy fabrics from suppliers in the Americas and (those) outside of China who understand the necessity of design, consistent quality and reasonable delivery.

Many retailers are struggling, he says. "They continue to do the same things year after year. They continue to get the same poor results. Many are trying to buy cheaper products and digging themselves into deeper holes. It's very hard to increase revenues, especially profits, by selling cheaper products." These retailers have a difficult time understanding that they can sell $1,000-plus sofas as easily as they can sell $500 sofas.

"They have a hard time believing there's a supplier that is honestly interested in being a true partner, really interested in their remaining in business and becoming more profitable," Chuck says. "We're teaching our reps to help our retailers in all areas of their company. The days of reps being only order takers are over. Our team understands this fact."

The future

"We are going to continue to deliver true value; to develop, educate and do what we can to make our dealers more profitable," Chuck says. "And we are going to focus on our continuing efforts to move from a strong regional manufacturer to strengthening our national and international presence. We believe we have the right products and the right formula for success."

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