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Harden Furniture invests in new equipment to transform business

MCCONNELLSVILLE — New woodworking equipment and engineering software arriving later this month will alter the way Harden Furniture Co. does business. It’ll transform the 168-year-old company from an inventory-laden business to a “batch one” company that can complete orders on the fly.

In the first phase, Harden Furniture is spending just under $500,000 to install a new Holz-Her CNC machining center and completely replace its current rough mill with a Weinig optimizing system. From working at different angles to providing horizontal boring, the new equipment offers “all sorts of phenomenal woodworking capabilities,” says Gregory Harden, president and CEO of the company. The new equipment will work hand-in-hand with the new engineering software to streamline the manufacturing process. It won’t eliminate Harden Furniture’s skilled employees, he says, but simply make things more efficient.

Currently, Harden Furniture employs a batch process for much of its woodworking operations, Harden explains. That means the sales force forecasts how many of a given piece the company expects to sell in the coming year, and the woodworkers use that figure to produce batches of the component pieces required for that item. So, for a bookcase, Harden says his employees might produce a batch of 25 tops, 25 bases, and 50 shelves in anticipation of selling 25 of those units during the year.

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The problem, Harden says, is that the company now has to store those component pieces until workers pull them out and assemble a bookcase after receiving an order.

The result is a company that’s heavily laden with inventory and the resulting materials-handling costs that come with it, Harden says. It also means slow inventory turns when the manufacturing firm has to sell all the units in order to turn the inventory for a specific furniture piece. For some Harden Furniture pieces, the company currently only turns the inventory two or three times per year, Harden says.

All that will change when the company gets the Holz-Her online. With delivery expected on Oct. 26, Harden expects to have the machine online in early November and up and running with a full team of six to seven employees by January.

Once it’s online, Harden’s Cabinetmaker’s Cherry furniture line will move to the new equipment, Harden says. The line is one of the company’s newer ones and is growing in sales, making it the perfect product line to move to the new equipment.

And then, rather than make batches of furniture components, the new line will produce full pieces as they are ordered, Harden says. The “just-in-time” process will result in shorter production lead times, reduced operating costs, and the ability to customize existing designs.

The customization option is a game changer for the company, Harden says. Previously, any type of customization was a time-consuming and costly process. Often, the company had to say no to customization requests or offer pieces at a price that was prohibitive enough to lose the sale, he says. Now, with the touch of some buttons, the manufacturer will be able to recalibrate the Holz-Her to offer customized products, Harden says.

Harden declined to share sales figures or projections for how the new equipment might impact sales at the company. “We’re certainly looking for a reasonable return on our investment,” he says. 

Ultimately, Harden says, the new equipment is vital for Harden Furniture’s survival in a tough market that took a large hit during the recession. More than 400 furniture factories closed in the U.S.during the recession, Harden notes, and today, more than 70 percent of furnishings are imported from overseas, where manufacturers offer lower costs.

Harden Furniture is among a dwindling group of high-end domestic furniture manufacturers, he says, and this new equipment will not only help the company survive, but will also hopefully help it thrive.

Orders have been slowly picking up, Harden says, and the increased activity in the housing market is also promising. New houses typically mean new furniture, he notes.

But still, Harden Furniture’s employee count, at just under 300 workers, is the lowest it’s been in Harden’s 30 years with the company.

He hopes the new equipment, with its faster production times and ability to customize offerings, will help drive both sales and employment at Harden Furniture.

This is not the first time the company successfully streamlined operations. In 2004, the company introduced lean-manufacturing principles into its upholstery frame department. Previously, the company operated a frame plant in Oneida, where it kept about $800,000 worth of frame parts, ready for assembly, on two floors of the facility.

Then Harden Furniture converted its frame department to a batch-one system, reducing the inventory value to around $50,000 and cutting the cost of frame production by 50 percent, Harden says. Now, the Oneida building is for sale because Harden Furniture no longer needs the space, he says.

He hopes to see some similar results with batch one production at Harden’s 450,000-square-foot facility in McConnellsville.

The plan is for this to be the first of several phases to convert the production facility in a project that could cost as much as $3 million, Harden says. The company used its own money to purchase the first Holz-Her unit, but already has an application in with the state for grant money for more equipment. Harden expects to hear news in the coming weeks on the company’s grant application.

Eventually, as much as 80 percent of the company’s production could switch over to batch one, Harden says.

Founded in 1844, Harden (www.harden.com) is a privately held manufacturer of high-end residential and commercial furnishings. The company is in its fifth generation of family ownership.       

 

Contact DeLore at tdelore@tmvbj.com

 

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