LINCOLNTON, N.C. -- Bruce Cochrane’s family has been in the furniture business since 1905. Most recently, Cochrane Furniture occupied a 311,000 square foot building on Cochrane Road in Lincolnton.
“We moved into this factory here and we were manufacturing solid wood bedroom and dining room furniture up until 1996,” Cochrane said. “We sold the company to Chromcraft-Revington, who continued to manufacture here until mid 2000’s and then started moving production over to Asia.”
At the time, the reason why was evident.
“Typically you could buy products in China 30 to 50 percent cheaper than we could manufacture them here, so the stampede was on and subsequently we lost a $50 billion industry to Asia,” he said.
But the past couple of years, while traveling as a consultant in the furniture industry, Cochrane began noticing a shift. First, labor costs in China were rising.
“When you have rising costs of labor and difficulty getting people, then you have problems with delivery and quality suffers. It is at that point that I saw the gap would narrow and was narrowing between what we could make domestically and what the Chinese could make,” he said.
That, plus an increased demand for American-made products here at home led him back to his roots. Cochrane just started a new company he’s calling Lincolnton Furniture, and is now leasing his old building in Lincolnton with plans to buy it back down the road.
“I’ve been traveling for the last few weeks around the country and visiting retailers that I know. The narrative from all of them is we’re ready for this. People are asking for American Made,” he said.
Cochrane will start production in December and will debut the new company’s line at a pre-market show in High Point later this month.
“We’ll go to market with solid wood bedroom and dining room furniture,” he said.
At first, there’ll be 200 items from chairs to upholstered headboards.
He is especially proud to be putting people back to work in a facility that’ll be outfitted with state of the art and environmentally friendly equipment and supplies.
“We’ll be using Appalachian hardwoods, a very sustainable resource,” he added. “There’ll be no volatile organic compounds that’ll be spewed into the air.”
Recently, Cochrane received a reminder of how important this venture is to his hometown. It came when a former employee of his old company stopped by to ask for his job back. When Cochrane said yes, the man started crying. After all, it’s been a tough few years if you work in furniture.
“It’s been very frustrating because as you get out there and you start trying to find another opportunity, what you find is either you’re overqualified or you don’t have any experience in a different area because that’s all you’ve ever done,” said Alice Stegall, a 28-year veteran of the industry and one of Lincolnton Furniture’s first employees.
An interior designer by trade, she’s working as merchandiser, picking out fabrics and setting up displays.
Bruce Cochrane expects to have a staff of 131 people by the end of next year. But if reactions so far are any indication, he may have to hire more.
“The response from retail has been very enthusiastic,” he said.
Stegall is hearing the same.
“I was telling Bruce that the fabric reps who are sort of my group of peers that I’ve talked to are so excited to have something come back not just to this area, but to this country and be produced,” she said.
To apply for the first round of hiring, about 75 jobs, you need to go to the Lincolnton office of the Employment Security Commission. It’s located at 529 North Aspen Street.