Lloyd/Flanders adapts to market changes
Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, July 1, 2008
Heirloom quality loom wicker furniture remains its core, but there’s a new emphasis on speed and efficiency as Lloyd/Flanders adapts to stay competitive as one of the few casual furniture manufacturers still weaving product in the United States.
Its 230 employees are working hard to adjust to lean manufacturing practices within the 550,000-sq.-ft. Menominee, Mich., facility, where the company has made woven furniture for more than 100 years.
“I don’t think anybody takes that lightly,” President Dudley Flanders said. “We had 103 different challenges during those 103 years.”
Since its centennial celebration in 2005, Lloyd/Flanders has gone through substantial changes, including its move into the imported vinyl wicker category, out of aluminum and consolidating into a single U.S. production facility. Sewing is its biggest department now as cushions are made for domestic and imported products, as well as to fill replacement cushion orders.
Classic wicker looks with deep comfortable seats are a big part of what Lloyd/Flanders will offer for the 2009 season.
A new cut yardage fabric program with Sunbrella, brighter finishes and colorful outdoor-oriented fabrics will enhance selections for both retail buyers and consumers who shop specialty stores. Grand Traverse, its best-selling vinyl woven collection, will be offered in a new bisque color. Calypso and Nantucket loom collections will debut this month along with three vinyl woven groups in Lloyd/Flanders’ Chicago showroom
“I’m hopeful, as they bring nicer casual showrooms into the Merchandise Mart, it continues to attract the upper-end design trade,” Flanders said. “Some people on the 15th floor are spending a lot of money on their displays, which we have said for years is a great help to educate the retailer about how tasteful displays help increase the desire for that furniture.”
Demonstrating its commitment to working with designers and high-end furniture stores, Lloyd/Flanders returned two years ago to the High Point Market after a six-year absence. At the next High Point Market in October, Lloyd/Flanders will exhibit in a high profile spot on the first floor of Market Square, across from Capel Rugs’ showroom. Lloyd Loom is what designers and high-end retailers ask for most often in High Point.
“Loom is such a unique product, and it’s the product we can offer the most variety in – with 17 different frame colors. They can basically design their own looks,” said Warren Juliano, national sales manager. “Vinyl wicker sales have grown, but we need to remind our customers we’ve been behind loom from the beginning. With that, high-end specialty retailers can eliminate 65% of the competition.”
Flanders said stocking products are most affected by weather, but he agreed the company’s special order and COM customers continue to make investments in furnishing their outdoor areas. “Loom is primarily a special order product, and our special order business has been very stable and it may even be growing,” Flanders said.
Lou Rosebrock, who rejoined Lloyd/Flanders early this year as senior vice president of sales and marketing, was struck by how consistent orders have been despite ongoing economic challenges. “Through that latter portion of the winter, they were consistent and then we got a spring bump,” he said. “We’ve been able to maintain a core level of business and I think our shipping has something to do with that because we’re able to ship so effectively.”
The nation’s movement toward casual lifestyles and expanded living areas outside walls of the house are making a positive difference, but not without challenges.
“We as an industry still have not scratched the surface in educating people about what is available, whether they are a consumer or a designer,” Flanders said.
Price increases present another challenge for the industry as a whole.
“The high-end consumer has money more or less regardless of the economy and will stay healthier than the low end, but when you have price increases across the board, price is all relative to what else you can buy,” Flanders said. He mentioned skyrocketing fuel and food prices.
“We know everything is going up in the furniture business, not only because of the China factor but the petroleum factor, acrylics are going up, foam is going up, fill is going up, aluminum is going up in the worldwide market. We have fought price increases for so many years, we may have artificially kept those prices down. So when your costs do escalate at this rate, you’re forced to bite the bullet and just do it.”
Recognizing price increases will be widespread at this month’s premarket and the September market, Flanders said. “I still consider furniture a value when you look at how long it lasts for what you spend. If consumers take the price of a vacation and put it into a set of patio furniture, it will last significantly longer than that vacation.”
Manufacturers and retailers should invest time and energy into telling their value story to consumers, Juliano said.
“Because of across-the-board price increases, customers may be willing to spend more at specialty stores to get full service, fabric selection, frame color selection, COM availability, special order availability — all of the things the big boxes cannot offer even though they are moving up in price points similar to the specialty retailer,” Juliano said.
Last year, Lloyd/Flanders was dealing with its consolidation of two factories but those efforts have paid off by making production faster. “If we can turn and ship in three weeks or less, it’s not about competing on price, it’s about quality and value,” Juliano said. “Quicker turns help specialty retailers with cash flow.”
Lloyd/Flanders began implementing a lean manufacturing philosophy with the help of outside consultants even before Scott Lindsley, vice president of manufacturing, joined the company in February 2006. Lindsley found the company’s four buildings with three floors each similar “to 14 different manufacturing facilities in 3-D,” he said. The flow of materials and information-tracking on tasks performed has changed radically to make tasks visually controlled.
“He made sure we did, in fact, continue that cultural change, stayed that path and followed through,” Flanders said. “We would not have been able to pull production into one facility without consolidating departments.”
The changes reduce the amount of time and effort spent moving materials between floors or buildings within the facility.
“We keep enhancing the process to be more efficient and cost effective,” Lindsley said. “It’s all about speed.” Four words sum up his direction and philosophy, he said. “Make money, change culture.”
Employees are encouraged to provide feedback about whether the ongoing changes are real improvements. “We will not let the system drive production; we let people drive production,” Lindsley said. “We went to daily schedules, from a push system to a pull system. We only produce what your customer wants. Inventory turns are a big measurement. We had to not only fix the information system, but reduce inventory.”
Lloyd/Flanders’ employees came up with new processes and developed machinery that allowed innovative open weave looks, automatic wraps on exposed chair legs and eliminated a hand-dipping process to improve speed.
“As we perform better with lead time, it gives us another advantage and gets those turns in season,” Lindsley said.
Lead times were reduced from 28-30 days to 12 days from the time the order is received until delivered to customers.
“We use this lead time to leverage with retailers as suppliers who can perform in season,” he said. “We provide substantial product diversity while still performing, about 400 cushions and about 400 models delivering in 12 days.”
Spools of kraft paper now are separated into conveyor belts for high volume runs while short-run orders are located on smaller carts. Employees who cut fiber sheets are located within sight of the looms weaving those sheets. Bar coding and scans make products “trackable from cradle to grave,” Lindsley said.
Those improvements in efficiency and speed should comfort Lloyd/Flanders’ retail and designer customers.