Amish producers say they’ll hit the restart at a run

Melisa D. Galvin

HIGH POINT — Amish- and Mennonite-owned  furniture workshops and the domestic furniture producers that buy from them could be well-positioned to help fuel the retail rebound that many are craving following the lifting of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders since mid-March.

Indeed, none have large capacity compared with large Asian factories that ship hundreds, if not thousands, of containers a month of finished goods. Many are custom houses that only produced goods by the piece or in very short runs.

And, many of the Amish-produced goods are largely solid wood bedroom and dining sets that are higher priced than Asian imports, putting them out of reach for some consumers.

Yet a number of these domestic resources have a large audience among retailers and consumers alike.

They also have several weeks of backlogs that they are ready to fill should the stay-at-home orders be lifted in early May as anticipated.

This not only includes sold orders that are ready to be finished and shipped in the next couple of weeks, but also sold goods that are in cartons and ready to be shipped immediately once their customers are ready to accept the merchandise.

“I have some hopes that by May 1, we should have some guidelines and be able to get back at it,” said Country View Woodworking CEO Roy Miller, whose 60,000-square-foot Ohio plant has been shut down five weeks since mid-March. “Obviously the stores will have to open up to keep us going. And obviously, we will be a little careful to whom we ship; we have to get paid for it.”

This solid wood dining set, produced by Amish furniture resource Country View Woodworking, is ready to be finished and shipped in two weeks from the time of order.

As of April 20, he said, the company had some $80,000 worth of finished goods including dining and bedroom sets that are ready to ship and some $350,000 in similar product waiting to be finished and shipped.

“Our backlog is high, but we turn inventory very fast,” he said. “If the stores are open and we keep rolling, we will be good. If orders don’t come in June and July, we will be concerned about it, but we will take it as it comes. We have no choice.”

Good for business

If anything, a slow but steady reopening of retail business could be good for the Amish workshops and their domestic manufacturing partners. Once they get the sold orders out the door, they will then turn to new merchandise which could take another four to seven weeks to produce, depending on the demand and how quickly they ramp up production.

“Our lead times on I would say 65% of our goods is six to seven weeks. But the rest of it we turn in two weeks or less: 10 days out the door and that includes bedroom and dining room,” Miller said. “Some of it is not finished, but (is) assembled. We have close to 1,000 chairs in stock, 100 tables and a couple of styles of bedrooms. I can’t say we are in a bad position. If it opens up and it starts flowing, we will be OK.’’

Ohio-based Daniel’s Amish Collection also has been shut down since the week of March 22 but is looking to reopen May 1.

“All Amish builders are in the same boat,” said George Arbeiter, national sales manager. “As such, we have had our production disrupted, but the vast majority of our dealers have been shut down as well. We basically produce everything we sell, … but we had several weeks of product built that couldn’t ship because the stores were closed.”

He said right now the product is in the warehouse, including several weeks of production that is in boxes and ready to ship. Daniel’s also has some product waiting to be finished then packaged for shipping.

Regarding the finished goods, dealers will need the product to ship sooner vs. later, as stores have taken customer deposits on those goods.

“We are jammed with product, and we are anxious to ship,” Arbeiter said. “We build everything to order whether it be for dealer inventory or sold orders. We are looking forward to getting started and are fortunate we have a semi-reasonable backlog to deal with so when things reopen, we will have a bit of a running start.”

He added that the company also has a strong inventory of parts that it produces in house as well as domestically produced hardware and fabrics.

“We can’t use supply chain as an excuse for shipments not going out on time once we open up,” he said. “Because we have been shut down, we feel like we almost have too much inventory.”

He said, however, that it will be important to identify those dealers that will be open and ready to accept finished goods. Then the company will determine a production schedule for new goods, which ship in about six to eight weeks from the time of order.

“Obviously, with most of our dealers being shut down, they are not generating much business,” he said. “While we have a nice backlog, it is not as big a backlog as we are accustomed to.”

Sam Stoltzfus, sales manager at Amish furniture manufacturer Palettes by Winesburg, said the company has been closed since March 27, but it brought about 60 of 200 workers back to work the week of April 8 to produce face masks. As conditions improve, including the reopening of retail, it aims to begin producing furniture at much closer to full capacity.

“We are excited to get to our backlog,” he said, adding that people also are eager to get back to work. “When we come out of this, we will come out of this with some shortened lead times, and we are staying pretty aggressive with our growth plan.

“We are just working in conjunction with advice from the health department and staying in the guidelines for the State of Ohio and Holmes County,” he added.

Gat Caperton, CEO of solid wood resource Gat Creek, said that he is hoping to restart production May 4 after being closed since March 23. He noted that the company also has some finished goods inventory and an estimated seven-and-a-half-week order backlog.

“We have seven weeks of production scheduled,” Caperton said. “We are planning on coming back up to full capacity and running at full capacity for two months.”

Today, the company builds about half its furniture and has the rest built by about 15 workshops, most of which are in Ohio, the rest in Pennsylvania. Ten of those are Mennonite-owned and the rest are Amish.

While these workshops build roughly half its product mix, Gat Creek does all the finishing in house, using high-grade catalyzed lacquer finishes.

Caperton said that as the company resumes operations, the Amish workshops will be about a week behind in getting their facilities back up and running.

“They are idle until we restart,” Caperton said. “They worked an extra week after we shut down.”

He added that Gat Creek plans to begin shipping immediately the week of May 4.

“We did a hard and fast stop, and it will be a hard and fast start up as well,” he said, adding that raw materials such as lumber and finishing materials also are expected to be on hand as its product mix is made with domestically produced materials.

“The U.S. hardwood lumber supply is resilient,” he said. “That industry has plenty of capacity, and there is plenty of wood there.”

Amish-owned Fusion Furniture produces its own line of wood furniture and last year purchased the assets of Amish wood furniture resource Borkholder Furniture. While Fusion ceased production in mid-March, it is planning to fill the void for inline and new product once the orders are lifted as early as the end of April.

“Fusion should survive this pretty well,” said Bill Cubberley, who continues to serve the company in a consulting role, having previously overseen sales at Borkholder. “It has two factories: one for finishing and one for manufacturing. They continue to make more products themselves, and that cuts out the middle man and gives you more control over your quality and delivery.”

The company has finished goods inventory in both lines and offers a quick-ship program that can get goods to retailers in a week or so, Cubberley said.  Lead times for new product are about six weeks or less.

He said the company also has ample parts inventory to begin assembling and finishing product immediately.

“The problem is getting distribution,” he noted. “What is happening is that the retail stores are still closed, and those stores have to open. That is the key to it all.”

But, he said, once that happens, “All hell is going to break loose because no one is going to have any product. By controlling the building of your own product, you have a lot more control over your own timeline. We can ship it out immediately as long as we know the retailer is open.”

Working from home

Some continue to see advantages in working with small sub shops that haven’t been hit as hard by stay-at-home mandates because their workshops are an extension of their homes.

That includes Arcola, Ill.,-based solid wood manufacturer Simply Amish, which produces its own goods but also has some goods made by Amish workshops.

Company co-owner and founder Kevin Kauffman said that there are still many unknowns in this environment. But he believes the company is well-positioned to take care of its customers.

“We might have one small advantage in that a number of the craftsmen that Simply Amish works with are smaller shops that are located on their homesteads. In some of those cases, it has been safe for them to continue working and building special-ordered product throughout this crisis; they were working from home long before it was cool.

“Although we do a significant amount of express/quick-ship product, most of our sales are special order, sold to a consumer,” Kauffman said. “We look forward to working with the retailers to make sure we get that product to consumers as quickly as possible after we all reopen.”

Pigeon, Mich.-based wood furniture manufacturer Gascho Furniture also has its own manufacturing facilities, but in addition receives product from a network of Amish workshops throughout Indiana and Ohio. Company CEO and owner Brandon Yowler said these shops are well-positioned with inventory and are able to begin production immediately.

The company ceased its production on March 17 but began with a “skeleton crew” of essential staff on April 20. Full production, he said, was expected to resume May 1 pending quarantines and retailer restrictions.

With several hundred thousand dollars of product in cartons and nearly $2 million of goods in the pipeline, he added that Gascho, too, is “positioned to move quickly and confidently to address both current and potential retailers.

“We have inventory on hand to begin production immediately, and we have been working with our retailers to prioritize shipments,” Yowler said. “Most retailers are having us produce sold orders immediately and fill stock behind these shipments. We have the capacity to grow rapidly even in the midst of this crisis due to a well-balanced and responsive supply chain.”

Based on information it is hearing from retailers, he said, the company expects to operate at 40% to 50% capacity in May, up to 60% for June and 80% for July.

“Regardless of how much of the faucet gets turned on, Gascho is in a position to respond effectively, quickly and with the same level of quality we have provided the industry for 30 years,” he said.

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