Lincolnton Furniture Company hosted an open-house celebration Wednesday morning, more than a year after owner and CEO Bruce Cochrane announced his intent to reopen and start producing furniture again in the plant that once housed his family’s business.
The facility, located on Cochrane Road, is now up and running, with roughly 70 employees — about 60 percent of whom once worked for Cochrane Furniture before it closed in 2008 — and a list of 240 retail customers from all over the country. And, Cochrane said, there are plans to increase that worker count to 130 total by the first quarter of next year.
While only a portion of the plant is being used at this time, Cochrane hopes to beef up his production line with additional workers on the machines and in finishing and packing to help correct bottlenecks in the assembly.
At this point, most of the production, which began in January, is for customer orders that have been placed, rather than for batches of inventory.
Though Cochrane said he would love to expand on his product lines if he had the money, his focus for the time being is on getting the business fully established as is.
He’s a bit wary of calling Lincolnton Furniture Company a success just yet, despite the heavy attention from both the White House and media outlets from all over the world during the last year.
When talking about Cochrane Furniture, he emphasized its contrasts with his current business, saying it was “nothing like this.” That fact is certainly made clear when examining the numbers. The former was an $86 million company with 1,300 employees in two different counties that could produce 1,500 chairs a day in its prime.
The price of up-fitting the building and starting production has also been no small thing. Cochrane, who said he ran into a few surprises along the way, called it a “costly endeavor.” One such surprise was the need to rewire the facility, a process which ended up costing $370,000.
Nonetheless, he is hoping to raise an additional $1.2 million, noting that he tries to be modest in his estimates. The regulatory climate, which he said has resulted in a “general paralysis,” has been difficult, though he anticipates that could change depending on the outcome of November’s presidential election.
Cochrane doesn’t hesitate, however, when it comes to touting the quality of his product, calling it the “best-constructed furniture in the world.”
He emphasized its durability and pointed to features such as the traditional dovetail drawers and hand-rubbed finishes as evidence. The stains used are also waterborne and contain no formaldehyde. Another popular feature is the self-closing nature of the drawers.
“We guarantee this product for life,” he said.
State-of-the-art machinery that is both specialized and multipurpose has helped reduce the amount of labor needed. Some of the machines actually cost less than they did 15 years ago, but, Cochrane said, the technology is “one hundred times better.”
It is also a sustainable product in that the number of hardwood trees that supply the maple, oak and cherry wood used in production has actually increased over the years, Cochrane noted.
Those attending Wednesday’s event, including many public officials and some investors, were treated to a presentation outlining many of these points by Cochrane and product engineer Steven Cobb, prior to a tour of the plant that, Cochrane said, was to help showcase the “identity of Lincolnton Furniture.” That identity includes three important descriptions: “solid wood,” “made in America” and “guaranteed for life.”
Tacked onto that list is also the company’s “green story,” with Cochrane noting that it has a negative carbon footprint.
Cochrane, who spent years in Asia for his furniture-related consulting business before deciding it was time to return to his roots, is optimistic about the future of American manufacturing as a whole. He cited China’s labor shortage and increased consumerism as reasons for his decision to get back in the business on United States soil.
“We’ve chased cheap labor to China, and look where it got us,” he said.
States are now, therefore, becoming exceptionally competitive when it comes to attracting industries, with Cochrane noting that he had six people from South Carolina come and try to convince him to open his business there.
Luckily for Lincoln County, he didn’t. And while he considers it premature to call his story, one that is still developing, a success, there’s no denying that Bruce Cochrane and Lincolnton Furniture Company are offering hope across the country for a return to “made in America.”