Woodhaven Furniture Industries does a number of things well – and on a large scale.

“We’re good at providing a product that is not typically retail, at large volumes, and on short lead times,” says Tommy Harper, general manager for Woodhaven in Cairo, Ga.

The manufacturer of upholstered furniture and bedding for Aaron’s Inc. also recycles in a big way.

“If you combine all the materials that we recycled last year, it was about 12 million pounds -- everything from wood, foam, cardboard, to plastic and fabric,” Harper says.

“Our company decided to go towards green manufacturing but also green operations. We got heavily into recycling, and have changed buildings to T5 lighting with skylights.” The company has also purchased remanufactured CNC routers for its upholstery frame manufacturing.

Woodhaven makes products for the lease-to-own market, not retail, and even though they are a division of Aaron’s Inc., they have to compete with outside manufacturers for Aaron’s own business.

“We try to do everything we can to be environmentally friendly but also to cut costs to keep us competitive,” Harper says. “We want to do what is best for our local environment, and to remain competitive.”

Woodhaven has taken its commitment to green to include its own equipment by purchasing remanufactured CNC routers from Accu-Router. The Accu-Router Green CNC machines use the existing base metal structure with new controls and features, all at a 15 percent cost savings.

“If you set a Green CNC next to a completely new machine, they’re identical,” Harper says. “They have a lot of the newer functions such as the servo lateral adjust on the spindles and HSK quick change spindles. Those two features are probably the biggest upgrades we’ve seen.

Heavy duty cutting 

Woodhaven gains yield and cycle time by using dual-head cutting on the routers, and by cutting two sheets at one time with a spoilboard, which is pulled out after one use. The Accu-Router machines are designed for heavy-duty operation in furniture and boat manufacturing.

“We’re building upholstered products and you don’t see the wood inside of the product,” Harper explains. “It doesn’t matter if there is a spoil line in it. On our stack cutting with three sheets, when our cut parts are offloaded off of the spoilboard, the other two sheets are preloaded to go back on the machine and our spoilboard goes back on top of those. We don’t have a dedicated spoilboard.

“When you’re dealing with dual-head cutting, both tools are set to the same depth so you’re not damaging the spoilboard. In our operation that’s important because it’s going back on top.”

Five upholstery plants 

Woodhaven operates five upholstery plants in southwestern Georgia. Two are in Cairo, with 250 employees and 450,000 square feet of space, and three are in nearby Coolidge, with 200 employees and another 150,000 square feet. The company also has seven bedding plants and produces about 1,500 pieces of upholstery and 1,000 sets of bedding daily.

Earlier, Woodhaven identified what the company did best, and what it didn’t. “The company made office furniture at one time, and had two lamp factories, but determined that these areas were not areas they could be profitable in,” Harper says. “We’ve whittled it down to what we do best, which is upholstery and bedding.”

There are about 2,000 Aaron’s stores that represent Woodhaven’s customer base. Much of the rent-to-own business is related to people receiving tax refunds and spending that money on furniture. So Woodhaven is busiest in January through April, with 12-hour days possible, and slower in the late summer and fall, when people are spending money on other things such as vacations.

Catalog competitors 

Even though Woodhaven is a division of Aaron’s, they have to compete for that business with outside furniture manufacturers.

All suppliers, including Woodhaven, show their furniture at a large store managers’ meeting. If the product is picked up, they have to produce 2,000 sets, one for each store. That’s only getting them into the store, not building inventory in Aaron’s 18 distribution centers. Companies are also competing to get their product to show up in the company’s monthly advertisement. If another manufacturer lands the position in the ad, they get the business and not Woodhaven. So they must get materials and everything ready to meet that monthly catalog date.

“We’re pitching our product alongside all of our competition,” Harper says. “Aaron’s buys from about six other upholstery suppliers. So everyone is trying to get into that advertisement.

“But there is nothing wrong with having pressure on you. We understand that even though we’re a division of Aaron’s we have to compete for the business,” Harper says. “You have to always expect Brand X to have a better mousetrap at a lower cost.”

Aaron’s also offers a lifetime warranty on frames made here, with a 24-month warranty on the cushions, pillows, and mechanisms for motion upholstery.

“We’re always looking for ways to bring that product to market with the same integrity and quality, but do it for less,” Harper says. “It’s a package price, and furniture might be packaged with lamps and a rug for $99 or $129 a month. We develop our product around that package price.

“If you set our product next to a traditional furniture manufacturer, most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” he says. “We keep a close eye on other manufacturers to see how they evolve in order to stay competitive.

“One thing we noticed in the past year and a half is that hardly anyone glues their frames in our price point. We spent $50,000 on wood glue last year. We could cut $50,000 and add it right to our bottom line, but we realized it’s an integral part of our frames, so we still do that. We make sure all of our clips are beaten down, and screwed down if they need to be screwed down. We make sure pillows are blown, filled and individually weighed with virgin fiber. While a lot of companies have changed to 1.5 density seat foam, we still use 1.8.”

Foam, framing and upholstery 

Generally workflow goes from foam to frame to upholstery. In the shop, the wood frame operation will be organized into cell manufacturing. Now, it’s a framing operation first and upholstery.

“Cell manufacturing will eliminate downtime from excessive inventory and handling of frames,” Harper says. “Even though we build our own frames, we have to have someone load and move the frames to upholstery. With cell manufacturing, it will come off the framing table to the upholstery table without excessive handling.”

Frames used were all hardwood, but the company is moving toward mostly panel frames to provide a more consistent supply, more consistent quality, and a sustainable product. Panel products are CDX grade plywood or OSB.

Basically Cairo only produces truckload quantities, but they can run one style three different times in a day. A typical quantity would be a truckload, but they may run four trailerloads at a time. The wood mill, cut and sew and foam processing try to keep three days before shipment. They do not operate on a backlog, but typically schedule work five to 10 days, but can run work very quickly, if they need to.

Large blocks of foam are cut into smaller pieces on CNC equipment in Cairo. A picking machine is used to fluff up the fiber. Blowing pillows is the process of filling them with fiber. As far as fabric for covers, about 50 percent of production is cut and sewn by Woodhaven, with the remainder imported. Maintaining an operation in house helps them maintain lead times.

Woodhaven has two Green Accu-Router III-C CNC machines in Cairo, with a third Green machine on order. An additional Accu-Router 5x10 router here was purchased new in 1998. (Two other Accu-Routers are in Coolidge.)

In the same production area there is a Tyler MBD CNC bandsaw, two Giben panel saws for straight parts, and a Biesse point-to-point used for boring and processing hardwood parts.

Harper says the company plans to move all the Accu-Routers in line, and integrate them with the clip and T-nut department. One operator will handle a left-hand and right-hand machine, so they’ll have four machines and two operators, and less handing and moving parts from point A to point B.

Programming of machines is done in the R&D department in Coolidge. “We first lay out for yield, then we go back and analyze those programs for cycle time,” Harper says. “We may get into a layout where that program takes eight minutes, and we can change that layout around while still maintaining our yield. By changing the layout a little we’re able to cut with two heads instead of one, and shave several minutes off our cycle time.”

Woodhaven is using MasterCam to do the layouts. They’ve looked at nesting software for their operation several times, but haven’t been able to improve yield and output.

“That’s what we do best. I’d put us up against any other manufacturer in the world to be able to get orders for thousands of sets or the quality we build for our price point, and ship them in the lead time that we do.

“We have a bright, big future ahead of us. We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of our capabilities. We are very excited about our future.” 

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