HIGH POINT — The reason Robert Deese is optimistic about the future of American-made furniture lies in the innards of the sofas made at his Montgomery County plant.
A vice president at Lancer Furniture in Star, Deese stood in a High Point Market showroom full of his company’s products on Sunday and explained why customers are increasingly dissatisfied with imported furniture.
“That’s the thing with upholstered furniture — the value is on the inside,” he said. “You can’t see it unless you flip it over and start cutting it apart. You can’t show somebody. And the Chinese, some of the fabrics and foam they use can make it look really pretty, except three months from now, you couldn’t tell that the foam was bad, the (design) is going to come off the fabric and that the particle board or half-inch plywood could come apart.”
Lancer is one of 60 furniture exhibitors in the Made in America Pavilion in the Suites at Market Square at the fall market, which continues through Thursday.
The 25,000-square-foot exhibit space is devoted solely to domestically-produced goods, according to International Market Centers, which operates the showroom. Launched two years ago with 30 exhibitors, the pavilion has doubled in size following an aggressive sales and marketing effort and an increase in consumer demand for American-made furniture, according to IMC.
In addition to wooden furniture, exhibits at the pavilion include upholstery, rugs, wall art and decorative accessories.
“For many retailers and designers, offering domestically-produced merchandise has moved from a trend in the marketplace to an absolute expectation by their customers to present American-made options,” said Julie Messner, vice president of leasing for IMC.
While several factors related to overseas furniture production — such as an increase in offshore labor and shipping costs — have played into the hands of American manufacturers, Deese said consumer tastes are driving many of the trends.
“We’re getting a good response out of people wanting to buy ‘Made in America.’ They’ve had enough experience with buying some of the Chinese stuff,” he said.
Other Made in America pavilion exhibitors said having domestic furniture companies gathered in one spot should help them reach more buyers.
Wally Mitchum, president of Carolina Classic Furniture in Granite Falls, said people at the pavilion appreciate the stories of companies like his, which came up with a variety of new designs for its furniture after a 2006 fire destroyed his factory.
“That’s why I’m here, because I believe in ‘Made in America,’” said Mitchum. “For some other businesses, they’re about, ‘I want to make a dollar.’ They don’t care about how it’s done.”
Deese said he’s seen the market put more emphasis on American-made products.
“We think being here pulls us out from the crowd,” he said. “We can really make sure people understand we do American fabrics, we have our own foam facility. Pretty much the whole process is done right there.”
Andy McAlister is another Made in America pavilion exhibitor banking on the growth in consumer appetites for hand-crafted furniture.
Before he went to work for Wellborn Industries, Inc. — a Jacksons Gap, Ala. company that processes the wood inside old mills into custom-made furniture — McAlister said he worked for a large furniture company and was involved in extensive offshore production.
“I used to import 300 containers (of furniture) a year, and I’m not proud of that, but that’s just what we did back in the day,” said McAlister. “One reason things have changed is that, for people like me, they’re a little older and they see what it does to the country when you buy overseas.”
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