HIGH POINT, NC -- A great deal changed during the first hundred years of Hickory Chair Furniture Co. But, like the company’s passion for handcrafted quality and timeless style, Hickory’s commitment to responsible business practices has not wavered throughout its storied history. In fact, the industry leader continues to develop new ways to empower consumers and employees, while minimizing its long-term impact on the environment.
“For us, the idea of responsibility is simple,” noted President Jay Reardon. “It means doing what’s right for our consumers, for our planet and for our family of employees. That doesn’t necessarily mean the easiest decision now. It means the right decision for the future.”
Reardon’s perspective is shared by his colleagues in the North Carolina-based organization. His perspective is also reflected throughout the company’s lean business practices. The same passion Hickory has for responding to requests for custom applications and unique finishes – which continues to differentiate the brand from others in the industry – is at the heart of these operational and environmental advances. Just as customers are invited to personalize Hickory’s furniture, employees are encouraged to customize processes to ensure maximum value, efficiency and quality. The model and culture, which is rooted in the collaborative spirit of a classic furniture workroom, was formalized in 1996 as a ground-breaking program called Employees Dedicated to Growth and Excellence (EDGE).
In the last 10 years alone, hundreds of EDGE teams have suggested and implemented thousands of improvements. The result is a best-in-class capacity for quick response to everything from customer requests to manufacturing challenges.
A few of the many success stories of the employee empowerment efforts include:
• Cross-functional teams reducing lead times to a few weeks instead of months – the fastest in the category
• Resourceful, responsive artisans developing a scalable strategy for adding on-demand customization options
• Company wide commitment to safety, quality and profitability, with results that set pace for the industry
EDGE efforts are also credited with the company’s ongoing environmental advances. A key component of the brand’s “made to order, made to last” philosophy, Hickory’s sustainability initiatives not only focus on waste reduction and resource management, but also on product development that ensures style and quality will last. This integrated approach earned the company the first-ever Sage Award from the American Home Furniture Alliance, which recognizes sustainable business practices, social responsibility and profitable growth.
Other environmental initiatives and accomplishments include:
• Implementation of the American Home Furniture Alliance’s Enhancing Furniture’s Environmental Culture Program, registered since 2008
• Implementation of the American Home Furniture Alliance’s Sustainable By Design program, registered since 2010
• Member of the Catawba County Recycling & Waste Reduction Partnership since 2008
• 2010 Duke Power Partner Award Winner; award recognizes Duke Energy customers who go above and beyond to reduce their energy usage or implement innovative energy solutions to power their business [Case Study available at Duke-Energy.com/pdfs/hickory-chaircase. pdf]
• Development of and compliance with an environmental stewardship policy; endorsed by senior management and managed by employees at all levels of the organization
• Decreased total water usage by 65 percent since 2007; reduced the amount of water used per employee by 62 percent
• Reduction of landfill waste by more than 70 percent and increased waste recycling by 398 percent since 2006; reduced total waste produced by 14 percent from 2006 to 2010
• Generated 39% less liquid finishing waste in 2011 than in 2007 and made further reductions in 2012
• Catalog and price list printing on FSC-certified paper sourced from well-managed forests and recycled fiber
• Programs that continue making recycling and re-use a priority. Since 2006, the number of waste streams being recycled has more than doubled. In 2011, the tons recycled exceeded the tons sent to the landfill
• Introduction of fabrics made from 100 percent organic fibers such as cotton, linen, silk, flax, wool, mohair and leather
• Efforts such as optimized natural lighting decreased electrical consumption more than 20 percent since 2007; currently working to retrofit facility with more efficient lighting fixtures
• As a result of energy conservation measures and participation in the Duke Energy Power ShareProgram to curtail energy usage during peak demand periods, energy costs have been contained despite annual utility rate increases
• The annual reductions in electrical usage from 2007 through 2011 saved enough electricity to power about 629 average homes in the United States
• Sourcing a majority of lumber (80 percent) domestically from reliable, certified sources like Forest Stewardship Council
• Pioneering commitment to education and improvements that eliminates waste at the source
• More than 500,000 safe work hours without a lost time injury and an OSHA DART incident rate that is 90% below the industry average
Reardon points out that none of the environmental strides or continuous improvement would have happened without dedicated employees and none of it would last without their shared commitment to current and future customers.
“We take the long view when it comes to things like product quality and the environment,” said Reardon. “Our processes are responsible and personal. And our furniture is timeless instead of disposable. That’s what our company’s first hundred years has taught us. Basically that the essence of true sustainability is style and quality that lasts.”
Source: Hickory Chair Furniture Co.
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