American Furniture section of Compass Diversified Holdings 2011 Annual Report
American Furniture, headquartered in Ecru, Mississippi, is a manufacturer of upholstered furniture sold to large-scale furniture distributors and retailers. American Furniture operates almost exclusively in the promotional upholstered segment of the furniture industry which is characterized by affordable prices, standard designs and immediate availability to retail consumers. American Furniture was founded in 1998. The current management team has been in place since 2004. American Furniture’s products are adapted from established designs in the following categories: (i) stationary, (ii) motion, (iii) recliner and (iv) other related products including accent tables and rugs. American Furniture’s products are manufactured from common components and offer proven select fabric options, providing manufacturing efficiency and resulting in limited design risk.
For the full fiscal years ended December 31, 2011, 2010 and 2009, American Furniture had net sales of approximately $105.3 million, $136.9 million and $142.0 million and operating income (loss) of ($35.2 million), ($37.1 million) and $6.5 million, respectively. American Furniture had total assets of $30.0 million, $78.3 million and $115.8 million at December 31, 2011, 2010 and 2009, respectively. Net sales from American Furniture represented 13.5%, 20.6% and 28.2% of our consolidated net sales for the years ended December 31, 2011, 2010 and 2009, respectively.
History of American Furniture
American Furniture was founded in 1998 with an exclusive focus on promotional upholstered furniture, offering a unique value proposition combining consistent high-quality, attractively priced products and 48-hour quick-ship service. AFM began operations with four assembly lines housed in a 60,000 sq. ft. facility. By 2002, American Furniture had achieved revenues in excess of $120 million and grew operations into a 600,000 sq. ft. facility in Houlka, MS. In 2004, American Furniture was sold by its founder to a group of private investors who installed a new management structure and hired a new executive team and grew American Furniture’s administrative infrastructure in order to build a solid foundation to support future growth. In 2005, American Furniture aggressively pursued Asian sourcing for fabrics and other assorted materials. Today American Furniture is a leading manufacturer of promotional upholstered furniture operating from an approximately 1.1 million sq. ft. manufacturing and warehouse facility.
For the year ended December 31, 2011 net sales at American Furniture declined $31.6 million, which represents a 23% decline over 2010 sales. In addition, write downs to goodwill, other intangible assets and property, and equipment totaled $27.8 million and $38.8 million in the years 2011 and 2010, respectively. In all cases, the write downs were triggered by a significant deterioration in American Furniture’s operations and profitability caused by the unprecedented drop in the promotional furniture market and demand for its product. The combination of increased unemployment, together with significant decreases in home purchases, availability of consumer credit and rising fuel costs has created the worst market for promotional furniture sales over the last two years than has been experienced over the last two decades.
During 2011, American Furniture implemented a revised standard costing system which required American Furniture to reclassify certain costs between cost of sales and selling, general and administrative expenses. The change in format consists of reclassifying the trucking fleet expenses from selling, general and administrative expenses into cost of sales, as well as re-classifying certain manufacturing related expenses included in rent, insurance, utilities and workers comp from selling, general and administrative costs to cost of sales.
Management believes that the format of reporting cost of sales together with the revised standard costing system and the revaluation of standard costs will allow management to react timely to changes in supply costs, product demand and overall price structure going forward, which in turn should eliminate the accumulation of lower margin product and allow for more advantageous product procurement and the proper utilization of available assets. In addition, American Furniture enlisted the assistance of an outside consulting firm in 2011 to assist them in right-sizing its operations in order to operate more efficiently and respond to the significantly changed promotional furniture marketplace. To that end, American Furniture has begun the process of outsourcing delivery and is eliminating its Trucking operations as well as sub-contracting its frame cutting process.
We believe that with the impairment charges behind them, the elimination of the trucking division and frame cutting shop and the activation and optics supplied by the new standard costing system and associated reporting, American Furniture is in a better position operate more efficiently than it has been over the last two years. American Furniture is poised to improve its product margin that has declined over the past two years and is better situated to absorb available market share, where it makes economic sense in a troubled market, with the backing of Compass as their creditor and majority owner.
We acquired a controlling interest in American Furniture on August 31, 2007.
AFM is a manufacturer of upholstered furniture serving the promotional segment of the U.S. furniture industry. Overall conditions for the furniture industry have been difficult over the past two years. New housing starts are down significantly and consumers continue to be faced with general economic uncertainty fueled by deteriorating consumer credit markets, rising fuel costs and lagging consumer confidence as a result of erratic financial markets. All of this has significantly impacted big ticket consumer purchases such as furniture over the last several years.
AFM participates largely in the promotional upholstered furniture industry. Within the U.S. residential retail furniture marketplace, products are typically positioned in the “promotional”, “good”, “better”, or “best” category. The scale of the categories is intended to reflect an increasing level of quality, appearance and corresponding price. At the wholesale level,
the promotional segment of the upholstered furniture industry we believe accounts for $3.4 billion in sales. Promotional upholstered furniture manufacturers typically offer a limited range of products in a discrete number of styles and/or designs, allowing immediate delivery to retail customers at well-established retail price points. Specifically, promotional upholstered furniture is generally priced by product at the retail level from $99 for recliners and up to $1,500 for motion sectionals.
The popularity of promotional furniture is attributable to (i) the segment’s consistent product quality (based on focused manufacturing on a few key furniture pieces), and (ii) its value pricing, which appeals to the broadest cross-section of the furniture consumers.
AFM competes exclusively in the promotional segment, selling upholstered furniture in both the stationary and motion categories. In the retail furniture landscape, promotional furniture can be a growing catalyst of floor traffic and sales volumes for mass market furniture retailers. Recurring promotional programs have often become core to retailer strategies given its immediate availability to customers and just-in-time strategies employed within the industry which limit retailer inventory requirements.
Within the wholesale market, wholesale shipments from Asian suppliers, we believe, have grown steadily as a percent of total wholesale shipments. Asian upholstered imports have grown significantly in the past ten years. We believe their impact on AFM has been far less than the industry as a whole within the promotional upholstered furniture, due to the low price points and resulting shipping costs as a percent of a piece’s total value.
Furniture manufactured in Asia emerged as an important driver of the U.S. residential furniture market beginning in the mid-1990s. While off-shore manufacturers, particularly Chinese and Vietnamese manufacturers, have affected the entire industry, the import trend, has impacted different segments of the industry at varying levels.
Case-goods and metal furniture have proven to be more susceptible to Asian competition than upholstered furniture, due to the stack ability and assembly characteristics, resulting in efficient freight consolidation. Upholstered furniture cannot be broken down and shipped efficiently to the U.S. such that the resulting freight costs tend to outweigh the labor and material savings achieved through offshore manufacturing. As a result, domestic upholstered manufacturers have largely managed to compete effectively against Asian competitors when compared to other segments of the furniture industry. In addition, manufacturers in the promotional segment of the upholstered industry are even further insulated from offshore competition due not only to overall freight costs but also freight costs when compared to wholesale price of the product together with the prolonged lead-times to retailers and end customers in a market segment characterized by very short lead-times and immediate delivery to the end consumer.
Retail price points in the promotional segment of the upholstered industry range from $99 - $1,500, whereas shipping costs from Asia on a per piece basis are generally in excess of $100 per piece ($3,000 - $4,000) per standard 40 foot container not including domestic shipping and insurance costs.
In addition to the increased cost, lead times also hinder Asian manufacturers’ ability to effectively compete in the promotional upholstered industry. As mentioned previously, retailers use promotional furniture to drive store traffic and provide immediate delivery to the end-user of value-priced, quality upholstered furniture products. AFM aims to ship customer orders 48 hours following receipt of an order with delivery occurring 1 – 3 days later depending on the customers’ location within the U.S. Asian manufacturers typically require at least 50 days (or 7 – 8 weeks depending on business days) from order receipt to customer delivery, resulting in a significant amount of increased inventory management and advertising planning in order to effectively source upholstered product from overseas manufacturers.
In spite of these drawbacks, recently we have experienced more competition over the past several years from upholstered Asian imports in the more expensive motion product category. Asian manufacturers have demonstrated an ability to create a high quality motion product at a cost that maintains a competitive price point even with the added shipping costs.
Products and Services
AFM manufactures two basic categories of promotional upholstered products, stationary and motion. Stationary products include sofas, loveseats and sectionals, these products accounted for approximately 75%, 70% and 70% of sales in fiscal 2011, 2010 and 2009, respectively. Motion products include single rocking recliner chairs, sofas with reclining end seats, loveseats with seats that rock together or separately and reclining sectionals with storage compartments. Motion and reclining products contributed approximately 23%, 25% and 28% of fiscal 2011, 2010 and 2009 gross sales, respectively. Beginning in 2005, AFM added a line of imported rugs and accent tables to its product mix to provide customers with complimentary accessory offering to AFM’s core furniture lines. For 2011, 2010 and 2009, accent tables and other miscellaneous revenue accounted for approximately 2%-5% of gross sales. AFM’s core product offerings with average retail prices are summarized below:
28 styles of stationary sofas, loveseats and chairs - $299 - $499
15 styles of recliners - $99 - $399
5 styles of motion sofas - $499 - $599
5 styles of stationary sectionals - Up to $799
1 style of motion sectional - $999 - $1,399
AFM’s products utilize common components and frames with limited fabric options, allowing AFM to reproduce established styles at value prices. Since its inception, AFM has continuously introduced new styles which typically replace older designs and are primarily slight variations to existing products. AFM builds its products to stock and maintains adequate inventory levels to facilitate shipment to customers within 48 hours of an order. AFM’s quick-ship strategy allows customers to better manage inventory and product promotions, yet maintain the ability to provide immediate availability to retail customers, a key attribute within the promotional furniture segment of the furniture industry.
AFM can re-engineer a new design, create a prototype and begin to solicit customer feedback within two weeks. AFM carefully controls its product line such that new styles typically replace older designs. As a result, AFM requires approximately 60 days to 90 days to wind-down a discontinued line and begin shipping truckload quantities of new designs to customers.
AFM utilizes an assembly-line manufacturing process with a four day production cycle divided into four functions, cutting, sewing, backfill and upholstery. Employees are specialized by function and are compensated on a piece-rate basis. The limited number of styles and designs minimizes scheduling and line changes and each function is simplified by the use of common components. AFM uses one standard seat spring, one standard back spring and one standard cushion in each category of upholstery. AFM’s piece-rate compensation plan and streamlined manufacturing process combine to give AFM a low cost structure. Prior to 2009, American Furniture utilized pre-assembled cut and sewn fabric kits for approximately 20% of its upholstered furniture. Theses fabric kits replace the cutting and sewing function in the manufacturing process. Over the last two years AFM has increased the use of these fabric kits and as of December 31, 2011. Management estimates that over 90% of the upholstered furniture that it manufactures uses the imported cut and sewn fabric kit. The use of these fabric kits reduces the labor component related to the cutting and sewing process in-house. Theses fabric kits are imported from Asia. American Furniture will eliminate its in-house frame cutting operations in 2012. The company is currently implementing this strategy and we expect that almost 100% of the frames for upholstered furniture will be cut by third parties by early to mid March 2012.
AFM currently delivers the majority of its products through a combination of its in-house trucking fleet and third-party freight service providers. Freight costs are generally paid by the customer, including fuel surcharges. AFM utilized third-party freight providers for approximately 70% of its customer shipments in 2011 and 2010 compared to approximately 50% or lower in prior years. We estimate that this saved approximately $1.0 million in 2010 and 2011 in overall freight costs when this strategy was first instituted. American Furniture will eliminate its in-house trucking operations in 2012. The company is currently implementing this strategy and we expect that almost 100% of deliveries will be sub-contracted by March 31, 2012.
We believe that AFM is among the lowest-cost domestic manufacturers of promotional upholstered furniture. AFM maintains a competitive cost basis through an assembly-line production model and build-to-stock strategy. Specifically, AFM generates economies of scale through:
• Long runs of a limited number of standardized frames;
• The application of common components throughout the entire production line; and
• A standard offering of only two to four fabric options per frame.
In addition, management has aligned AFM’s high-volume manufacturing strategy with a piece-rate incentive structure for its direct labor force. This structure drives workforce productivity. The incentive system also provides floor personnel with the opportunity to earn annual compensation at or above local standards, thereby facilitating AFM’s recruiting and retention efforts.
AFM’s efficient build-to-stock manufacturing operation facilitates AFM’s strategy of offering its customers shipment of product within 48 hours of order receipt. In turn, AFM’s customers are able to offer their retail customers quality, value-priced, upholstered furniture for immediate delivery upon the day of sale, while only maintaining limited quantities of product inventory.
AFM serves a diverse base of approximately 650 customers. Within its broader customer base, AFM specifically targets independent furniture retailers at the national, multi-regional and regional levels. AFM’s value proposition and the ability to ship any product within 48 hours, is highly valued by this segment of the marketplace that focuses broadly on demographic segments that demand immediate delivery of popular styles at competitive prices.
Barriers to Significant Asian Competition
The availability of low-cost Asian products has had a far-reaching impact on the broader home furnishings market in the United States over the past ten years, contrasted to manufacturers serving other segments. Until recently, AFM has had minimal exposure to off-shore competition due to the following:
• AFM’s efficient, low-cost production model;
• Mass retailers’ short lead-time demands and unwillingness to accept excess inventory risk; and
• High costs (e.g., freight, damage, shrink) of shipping upholstered furniture direct from Asia.
Recently, we have begun to see more competition in the motion product category from imported Asian product. These products typically offer customers better value in terms of construction and price when compared to our motion product. Our margin for motion product has typically been less than stationary.
• Increase profit with new and existing customers - While AFM currently supplies many of the top furniture retailers, AFM believes it can further augment its customer base and is pursuing new business opportunities with selected national and regional furniture retailers, as well as in other channels, including Rent-To-Own (“RTO”) and mass merchandisers. In addition, many existing customers currently purchase only a portion of AFM’s product line, representing an opportunity for AFM to increase sales to existing customers by augmenting customers’ entire promotional product line. In order to focus additional attention to major customers and expand product–line sell-through to these customers, AFM added significant infrastructure to its sales and marketing organization since 2005, increasing its sales representative network while also subdividing sales territories to allow representatives to focus more closely on the expansion of existing relationships and the addition of new customers.
• Product development - AFM’s merchandising strategy focuses on satisfying the changing needs of retailers and consumers in a manner that meets AFM’s production strategy. AFM’s management and sales staff monitor the furniture market to identify new trends and popular styles at higher price points. AFM subsequently ensures that it can cost effectively replicate a new style with standardized components and limited cover options, after which AFM will build a prototype to determine if the product can be reproduced at acceptable margin levels.
• Pursue cost savings initiatives - Aggressively pursue expense reduction, cost cutting programs and cash preservation initiatives throughout all parts of its business. The 2012 goal is to reduce overhead by over $5.0 million.
• Outsource trucking operations - During 2011 American Furniture utilized its in house trucking operations for approximately 50% of its deliveries. The 2012 goal is to outsource 100% of deliveries. This will reduce the fixed portion of the labor and equipment expense and will allow American Furniture the flexibility it needs in a changing marketplace and ultimately reduce costs.
• Sub-contract frame shop - American Furniture is currently sub-contracting or sourcing 100% of its frame cutting. As of January 2, 2012, AFM sub-contracted the cutting of all hardwood frame parts which it had previously done in-house. All other wood frame components have been sourced from outside vendors since the company originated. This change in operation should produce substantial savings in reduced labor, workers compensation insurance and employee benefits as well as provide better quality frame parts at competitive prices.
• Reduce the number of SKUs - American Furniture manufactures a limited number of SKUs in three categories: stationary, recliners and motion. The strategy has been to reduce the number of groups or styles in each category so that the combined active style SKU count does not exceed 500. This has been accomplished and further reductions will take place in 2012.
• Revise kit purchasing - American Furniture, with the help of an outside consultant, has revised the manner in which it orders fabric kits to provide a more efficient flow of kits and reduce the possibility of obsolescence. A process has been developed taking into account rate of sale, sales order rate, customer projections, current inventory levels, delivery lead times and safety stock for each individual SKU. A review is completed no less than weekly by SKU and orders are placed accordingly. This process ties kit acquisition more closely to actual production needs and either increases or decreases the quantity of kits based on demand for the particular SKU.
• Monetize excess stock - Over the last six months, American Furniture has aggressively moved to reduce any excess levels of finished goods and raw materials. This has been done through a series of product promotions that have been successful while not impairing the sales of the current product line. The company developed a new system to monitor each category on an ongoing basis to more quickly identify potential slow-down in specific SKU activity. This process has been integrated with the kit purchasing procedure mentioned above.
AFM serves a base of approximately 650 customers comprised of retailers and distributors at the regional, multi-regional and national levels. In 2011, 2010 and 2009, AFM’s top 20 customers accounted for approximately 66%, 67% and 62%, respectively, of AFM’s total sales, with the top customer, Value City, accounting for approximately 11%, 23% and 24% of total sales in 2011, 2010 and 2009, respectively. Other than this customer, no single customer accounted for more than 8.0% of total sales in 2011, 2010 or 2009. JC Penney accounted for 10% of total sales in 2011. Sales to Value City, American Furniture’s largest customer, decreased approximately $20 million in 2011 as Value City restructured their core retail product offering and began sourcing product from a small lower cost manufacturer.
Sales and Marketing
AFM has a sales force consisting of independent, outside representatives that exclusively sell AFM’s products in an assigned geographic territory of up to six states. Sales representatives are compensated on a 100% commission basis. AFM maintains two permanent showrooms in High Point, NC and Tupelo, MS, host cities for furniture industry trade shows (High Point in April and October and Tupelo in January and August).
American Furniture’s business is seasonal. Net sales have historically been higher in the period of January through April of each fiscal year. We believe this seasonality is due in part to consumer demand increasing resulting from income tax refunds. Substantially all revenue is derived from sales within the United States.
Marketing at the retail level is typically handled by AFM’s customers. AFM does not advertise specific products on its own, but provides product information and pictures for retailers to include in newspaper and various insert advertisements. AFM’s products are typically included in retailers’ recurring promotional programs as the products drive floor traffic and sales volume due to low price points. AFM had approximately $8.4 million and $6.1 million in firm backlog orders at December 31, 2011 and 2010, respectively.
AFM competes with selected large national manufacturers that produce and sell promotional products. However, promotional upholstered furniture often represents only a small percentage of revenue for these participants. Also, large diversified manufacturers tend not to place specific emphasis on developing quick-ship capabilities specifically for their promotional offerings. Therefore, AFM competes primarily with several smaller manufacturers that are typically thinly-capitalized, family owned businesses that we believe do not have the capacity, manufacturing capabilities, sourcing expertise or access to capital in order to build critical production volumes. Competition within the segment is largely based on value and delivery lead times, as opposed to product differentiation, providing AFM and its quick-ship capabilities with a key competitive advantage within the industry. AFM’s primary competitors include United Furniture Industries, Albany Industries and Hughes Furniture, Ashley Furniture and Affordable Furniture.
AFM’s top supplier, Independent Furniture Supply (“Independent”), is 50% owned by Mr. Thomas, AFM’s CEO. AFM purchases polyfoam from Independent on an arms-length basis and AFM performs regular audits to verify market pricing. AFM does not have long-term supply contracts with Independent or any other supplier.
A majority of AFM’s domestic suppliers are located near AFM due to a concentration of furniture manufacturers in northeastern Mississippi. Several of AFM’s key raw materials, including lumber, plywood and polyfoam, are sourced locally with alternative suppliers available at competitive prices, if necessary. In order to continually manage material costs, AFM actively sources products from Asia. AFM imports legs, show wood, chaises, ottomans, correlate chairs, accent tables and the majority of its fabric from China-based suppliers. The prices charged by manufacturers of products such as petro-chemicals and wire rod, which are the primary materials purchased by our suppliers of foam and drawn wire effect the ongoing cost of our raw materials. Raw material cost as a percentage of sales was approximately 69%, 62% and 59% in 2011, 2010 and 2009, respectively.
AFM’s manufacturing operations, facilities and operations are subject to evolving federal, state and local environmental and occupational health and safety laws and regulations. Such laws and regulations govern air emissions, wastewater discharge and the storage and handling of chemicals and hazardous substances. AFM believes that it is in compliance, in all material respects, with applicable environmental and occupational health and safety laws and regulations. New requirements, more stringent application of existing requirements, or discovery of previously unknown environmental conditions could result in material environmental expenditures in the future.
As of December 31, 2011, American Furniture employed 527 persons. Of these employees, 464 were in production, shipping and purchasing with the remainder serving in executive, administrative office and other capacities. None of AFM’s employees are subject to collective bargaining agreements. We believe that AFM’s relationship with its employees is good.
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