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Adaptation is part of company’s future

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The evolution of Bassett Furniture Industries’ Factory 11 shows how the company has adapted to changes in the industry, according to Bassett’s president and chief executive officer.

Robert H. “Rob” Spilman described that evolution during Wednesday’s announcement that the plant at the Patriot Centre industrial park will undergo a $1.5 million expansion and the company will add 25 jobs over a three-year period.

Factory 11 has been in business for 14 years, and its changing uses show how it has been adapted to a changing industry, Spilman said. It was built to do specialized finishes, but that market disappeared between the time when the plant was only a blueprint and the time when it was under roof, he said.

Also, people stopped using formal dining rooms except on special occasions and instead began eating in their kitchens or breakfast nooks. With that, the casual dining market grew, and Bassett shifted gears to serve that market, Spilman said, adding that the company’s “program of upholstered dining room chairs has just exploded.”

Bassett moved that production from its plant in Newton, N.C., to the Patriot Centre factory to increase its business and because it can be expanded, he said.

Because it still is possible to get a dining table and four chairs from Asia cheaper than one made in this country, Spilman said Bassett offered customized tables and chairs, made specifically for each order. About 30 finishes are possible, he said.

But that was not an easy transition for a company accustomed to long production runs, Spilman said. Computer systems had to be changed and employees had to be retrained, he said, crediting several employees with helping the company through that process.

Spilman noted that the period from 2006 through last year probably was the toughest since the Great Depression.

The company survived what he called “dire” times by learning how to run retail furniture stores, he said. There are 90 company- and licensee-owned Bassett Furniture stores, six additional ones under construction and plans to open 10 more next year, he said.

“We are an outward-looking company,” he said. “Our fortunes have improved because of our store” system.

Now, “to come out on the other side (of the economic recession) and expand is extremely gratifying for myself and our associates,” he added.

Spilman also said he hoped Wednesday’s announcement would help young people realize that there are jobs and futures in industry. Referring to downsizings and industry moves offshore, he said, “It’s happened. It’s done.”

Companies need to stop lamenting over what has happened and determine how they can compete, he said.

For instance, he said at Factory 11, some parts come from Vietnam and Chatham, Va., while assembly and finishing is done on Italian machines.

“You have to figure it out,” he added.


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