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Cinde W. Ingram

Century Furniture builds on its ability to adapt

Since its start 60 years ago, Century Furniture has evolved to meet the changing needs of designers and high-end customers. But all through those changes, the Hickory, N.C.-based manufacturer stayed true to what it does best: innovation and adaptation.

The Shuford family started in business around the time of the Civil War by making twine and textiles. When family members recognized a need for adhesive tape, production of tape was added. Alex Shuford's branch of the family adapted from textiles to upholstered furniture with multi-step frame finishes, which were unusual at the time.

Century's ability to adapt was called on when it embraced the luxury leisure living niche earlier this decade by introducing outdoor furniture by renowned designer Oscar de la Renta. Soon afterward, Richard Frinier added his own classic and sophisticated furniture designs to Century Leisure offerings. In October, Frinier's Kyoto collection for Century Furniture won the American Society of Furniture Designers' Pinnacle Award for the Summer/Casual category during the High Point Market.

"We're growing, and we've not really stopped growing since we entered the leisure business," said Eric Graham, senior director, Century Leisure. "Really, the key to our business is innovative design, materials, finishing processes and all the custom embellishments, which is another DNA thing we bring to the table."

The options include five different wood finishes plus many combinations of fabrics, trims, cords and nailhead details traditionally offered in indoor styles now translated for outdoor, porch and patio use. Or as Frinier says, it's furniture for use "inside or outside ... you decide." Frinier won the Lillian P. Winchester Best of Show Award for his Andalusia Lounge from Century in 2003. Judges mistakenly disqualified his Archipelago Collection because they could not believe the collection was truly designed to withstand the elements of nature.

In addition to the recent Pinnacle Award for Frinier's collection and another ASFD Pinnacle Major Collections Award for Bill Faber's New Traditional indoor line, Century became the first furniture company to be honored with the N.C. Governor's Award for Excellence in Workforce Development in October.

That honor, awarded to two companies each year for workforce development, was meaningful to Century's approximately 1,100 employees, whose average length of service is 18 years.

"When I became president of Century, I inherited a legacy of 50-plus years of social responsibility established by the Shuford family," President and CEO Robert J. Maricich said. "True employee commitment doesn't just happen. You have to build it into your brand and live it every day."

Unlike the majority of its competitors, Century has kept about 90% of its manufacturing domestic. Inventory is kept in an unfinished state so it can be made to order in the style and finish created by the professional interior designer. Within the last two years, it reorganized its plants to use a lean manufacturing process. An approximately 100,000-sq.-ft. sample production facility was added to allow product development without disrupting ongoing production.

"It's really like a family company," said Shelton Hammond, who has worked there nearly 21 years. "Best place I've ever worked. We've got good benefits, good bonuses."

David Drum, who began working in furniture in the late 1960s, joined Century in late 2002 and now oversees the upholstery and cut-and-sew process for the leisure division. "When we first started, it was a very small part of our business," he said. "It's been a good fill-in for our upholstery business and it generates a lot of volume for us."

Graham, who has been involved with selling the leisure division since its start, credits Century's family roots with its commitment to a longer vision for "staying true to who we are and trying to turn out a premium product. There's no question there's an overall objective."

Ronald Moore sprays finish on chair

Tony Winkler gives final inspection

Inside new sanding booth

Shelton Hammond clips stray threads

Stephen Wilson applies nailhead trim

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