Photos By Gary Miller Story By Tom Inman
Hot Springs, VA–The two-year run for furniture makers and retailers is slowing with inflation on the rise, reports a veteran domestic manufacturer. Doug Bassett, president of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture (VB) in Galax, VA, spoke at the 2022 Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers, Inc. (AHMI)
Summer Conference. He said 2020 and 2021 were “black swan” years for the domestic furniture industry.
COVID-19 had many people at home and evaluating their home furnishings. These consumers purchased new living room, dining room and bedroom furnishings to upgrade their homes.
“There was unprecedented government spending to prop up the economy — $4.6 trillion in government outlays over three years,” Bassett said. “Many people spent this on their homes.”
VB sales grew from $62 million in 2019 to $99 million in 2021. The company reduced the number of offerings and focused on popular and profitable items.
He said imported furniture was at a disadvantage during the same time period. Freight costs for shipments from China or Vietnam increased from $4,000 per container to $20,000 (or more).
There were also supply chain disruptions with missing components, factory slowdowns, and shipping delays. COVID outbreaks in Vietnam and Malaysia halted production.
“We are here in Virginia, making bedroom furniture that we could deliver in days and selling it like crazy,” Bassett said. Just one year later, however, the boom has slowed considerably. Fuel and freight prices and inflation have reduced demand.
Bassett said the company has 100 new accounts that were formerly dependent on imports. He was cautious that lower shipping costs and higher production have imports back.
“We will see but many tell us they will not be as dependent on international supply chains moving forward,” he said.
Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers members will be able to send workers to specific training courses this month.
The Appalachian Hardwood Training Institute (AHTI) is preparing classes at three campuses in the region for the fall semester. AHTI Project Coordinator Brooke Shehan offered details at the AHMI Summer Conference.
The program is funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission to improve the skills of existing workers and attract new employees to the Hardwood industry. It is a partnership between AHMI, Mountain Gateway Community College, Glenville State University and Big Sandy Community College.
Workforce coaches have been hired at each campus and are working with administrators to develop courses. Shehan said there will be workshops and training sessions on industry needs.
Conference attendees were asked to complete a survey of course offerings to guide the program. The top five results were:
1) Lumber Grading & Scaling
2) Edging Lumber & Resaw Operations
3) Class A CDL License
4) Log Grading & Scaling
5) Lumber Drying Techniques
There were 28 other subjects that are being considered. AHTI will develop short-term training sessions (1-2 days) focused on these identified needs of industry and employer partners in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
The overall goals are:
•Create a model beyond the three states.
•Continue training sessions at each of the college sites.
•Develop pathways for trainees into certificate/degree programs.
•Develop a whitepaper to outline a training model for the remaining 10 states in Appalachia.
•Expand within the ARC region with assistance from Community Colleges of Appalachia.
Speyside Hosts AHMI Attendees
AHMI members and guests attending the 2022 Summer Conference were treated to a tour of the Speyside Bourbon Stave Mill in Millboro, VA.
Speyside Bourbon Cooperage, Inc. is a division of Speyside Cooperage Ltd. which was founded in Scotland in 1947. Speyside currently operates two cooperages in Scotland and two in the U.S. – in Kentucky and Ohio.
The stave mill in Millboro is one of three operated by Speyside. The facility produces staves from Appalachian White Oak that are cut, inspected, sorted by size, air-dried and then shipped to cooperage plants in Atkins, VA, and Jackson, OH.
The plant produces 30,000 plus pieces per day with 80 percent for staves (sides) and 20 percent for headers. The mill employs approximately 50 people.
Officials said the facility uses about 7 million board feet of White Oak a year. It opened in May 2018 and Speyside has other stave mills in Waverly, OH; Glade Spring, VA; Bolivar, TN; and Manchester, KY.
Sporting Event Winners
Golf: Low Gross (tie) 1st – Justin Tanner (card playoff winner) and Joe Pryor; 3rd-Peter McCarty
Low Net: 1st-Ryan Harman; 2nd-Bruce Horner
Closest to the Pin: Max Kutz
Long Drive: Joe Pryor
Sporting clays: 1st-Emory Honeycutt; 2nd- Steve Hamer; 3rd-John Crites II
Attendees were mostly upbeat at this meeting. A Virginia attendee particularly noted how very active the railroad crosstie market has been. He deals in considerable amount of softwoods, but also in Red and White Oak, Basswood and Cottonwood in Hardwoods. Learn more about AHMI by visiting www.appalachianhardwood.org.