Prefab seating supplier evolves
December 21, 2009 | 6:00 pm CST

To be competitive, upholstery manufacturers need to expedite production while managing costs. One way to do both is to outsource parts of the process to specialized suppliers that can tailor their product to customers' needs.

Tiger Sales Inc., Sharon, Pa., is one of those specialized suppliers and has been manufacturing customized seating components since it opened for business in 1998. In the past decade it also added services that increased options for manufacturers.

In addition, the company has managed to bounce back from a difficult period that started in March 2005, when chief executive officer and chairman Mark Cabraja took ill and spent the better part of a year in recovery.

"My period away obviously had an adverse effect on business at Tiger Sales, and a lot of the goals that were set forth kind of came to a standstill," Cabraja says. "I am very happy to say that I have a clean bill of health and things are looking real well for us here.

"We spent a lot of time since I came back full time about a year ago regaining our composure and focusing on serving the customers who stood loyal to us while I was gone," Cabraja says.

The other good news for Tiger Sales was that, after several years of patent-pending limbo, in January 2008 it was awarded a patent for its seat manufacturing process.

Proprietary manufacturing

Tiger Sales employs 28 at its 25,000-square-foot Sharon location. It currently serves customers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, and is expanding into North Carolina and Canada.

The process for ordering pre-fabricated seats and backs is straightforward. Customers request design assistance from Tiger Sales or supply a CAD file, blueprint or template of the seat and back. Programmers feed the information into Thermwood or Accu-Router CNC routers, which create a master template for cutting the foam and the wood substrate.

After the substrate is cut, elastomeric fabric is applied for suspension and customized foam is added. A data sheet accompanying each completed order confirms that the foam density matches the customer's specifications.

At that point the proprietary method for manufacturing the pre-formed seat is initiated; samples go out to the customer within 72 hours. The company is capable of producing 4,000 to 4,500 seats in two shifts daily.

Tiger Sales also is able to do the upholstering. "If (customers) provide us with their fabric, we would certainly have the professional capability of upholstering it, including the cambric and the law label, placing the seat in a plastic bag to accompany the frame. It would be delivered as a full unit," Cabraja says.

New products, warehousing

The company has taken these three key steps to improve its services:

  1. In addition to prefabricated seating and backs for the residential (dinette chairs) and contract (stack chairs and barstools) markets, it expanded into ergonomic office seating. "We have the capability to apply this method of production to any bent plywood and plastic office seat," Cabraja says. "Our method of adhering this foam would assume the contour of the frame that's provided. We do not bend any wood here and we do not injection mould any plastic frames."
  2. The company is making frame sourcing in China an option for customers. "I've also formed an alliance with a very reputable team in China that has eight people on the ground two of which concentrate on logistics, insurance, customs and shipping," Cabraja says. "Six are travelling throughout China and are able to outsource frames, as well as all glass associated with manufacturing the various applications in dinette furniture."

    Outsourcing in China "allows for smaller companies to take advantage of the reduced cost associated with imports without having to buy container-load product," he says. Tiger Sales receives and warehouses the frames, and sends them, along with the seat, to its customers. "We would be shipping the unfinished product to them to run through their manufacturing," Cabraja says. "We wouldn't do the assembly. We would just provide them with the frame and seat like we're currently doing.

    "For customers who are interested in investigating Chinese sourcing for their line," Cabraja says, "obviously there's a little more entailed in that." Initial turnaround time from start to finish on those orders is probably about three months, he says. n Cabraja says he was reluctant to go the import route, but understands the economic reality of the marketplace. "If we didn't join the crusade, we would have been, sooner or later, on the outside looking in," he says.
  3. In addition to its Sharon warehouse, the company is adding two warehouses in strategic locations. "We're currently in negotiations with two other warehouses, one in Eden, N.C., and one in Louiseville, Quebec, Canada, that would distribute the product on a 24- to 48-hour notice," Cabraja says.  For larger customers, warehouse costs are reduced because they can receive, at their plant, container-load quantities of a replica of the seat style they're currently running, Cabraja says. For smaller customers, Tiger Sales can warehouse the frames and deliver them directly, accompanied by the pre-fabricated seat, as needed.

In the works

Tiger Sales is planning to expand its Sharon facility and become more vertically integrated. "Customer service is what we have hung our hat upon since day one," Cabraja adds. "Open communication and customer service is priority one with us."

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About the author

George Lausch was a staff writer and editor for FDM and CabinetMaker magazines. He wrote feature and news stories for the magazines.