INDUSTRY LEADER

BY JAMES SPENCER

Just because Hickory Chair, the esteemed manufacturer of American-made wood and upholstered products, has been around since 1911, don’t think for a minute that it’s become oversized and stodgy. Quite the contrary. Customers today give the company high marks for innovation and responsiveness. In an era when many U.S. factories have closed their doors because of foreign competition, Hickory Chair has remained competitive and an industry leader.

Marketing vice president Laura Holland says: “Customers are pleased with our ability to innovate and deliver customized products. We’re proud of the fact that over 90 percent of our products are domestically made, up from 78 percent in 1997.”

DesignHickorChairVer2-Image-1Hickory Chair’s product lines include furniture for every room of a home, ranging from collections licensed with top designers to those customized by clients. The company actually encourages customers to personalize furniture, whether by adding custom hardware, combining multiple finishes or altering overall dimensions.

An Artist Studio program takes customization a step further by enabling hand-painted custom decorations that are as easy to specify as other customization options. From motifs inspired by textiles or the visual arts to trompe l’oeil fantasies, designs can be scaled and modified to suit anyone’s taste and applied to just about any piece of furniture. While various motifs have been created as starting points for one-of-a-kind pieces, artists will work with individuals to interpret their inspirations from the start of the creative process.

Hickory Chair also makes online tools available to help customers personalize products. An Online Design Studio allows them to experiment and explore how hundreds of colors and styles will look. A Virtual Room Planner provides a convenient tool for placing furniture and evaluating various room layouts.

Hickory Chair collaborates with some of America’s most talented interior designers, including Alexa Hampton, Suzanne Kasler, David Phoenix, Mariette Himes Gomez and furniture designer Susan Hable, among others. Collections licensed from them result in an even greater range of product choices. Susan Hable’s furniture collection, for example, is inspired by mid-century modern and Scandinavian design. The separate relationship with Atlanta designer Suzanne Kasler offers customers French-inspired furniture. And so forth.

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What explains Hickory Chair’s success? Much has to do with motivating employees. Last year marked the 20th anniversary of EDGE—Employees Dedicated to Growth and Excellence—a Hickory Chair program that has empowered employees to problem solve with cross-functional teams, innovate new products, eliminate waste and make operations more efficient. Not only did Hickory Chair employees streamline processes and operate a leaner, more profitable factory, their skills grew as they became crosstrained in multiple positions.

Hickory Chair’s management, to its credit, believes that a deeper understanding of customers’ needs will contribute to the development of furniture, finishes, hardware and fabrics. Consequently, in 2001, Hickory Chair University was launched to invite interior designers and retail sales associates to learn more about how furniture is made, meet the craftspeople and express their wishes in terms of new products. In the 16 years since the launch of the program, over 4,500 designers and sales associates have attended. The resulting experience and insight has proven valuable to everyone.

Hickory Chair has enjoyed other successes over the years. In 2008, it received the prestigious SAGE Award, given by the home furnishings industry to companies that demonstrate a commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility. In 2016, more waste materials were recycled or repurposed than disposed. And, in 2017, employees exceeded three million man-hours without a lost-time injury.

Such milestones and awards are testaments to employee engagement and motivation. Holland concludes: “Employees consider Hickory Chair their company. It’s this mindset and passion that sustains our leadership position.”