Handcrafted from start to future
Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, July 3, 2013
Woodard's acquisition of White craft blends two outdoor furniture manufacturers with historical roots and distinct product branches. The result will create more of a one-stop source for dealers and designers who are looking to mix outdoor furnishing materials for custom looks.
|Woodard’s Chair #1 (far right) showcased along with the 1950s Sculptura chair
and the whimsical Gelati chair, a more current throwback to the French garden era.|
|Woodard’s curved Maddox conversation group includes motion functions and
shows its Owosso, Mich., employees’ extraordinary ability to handcraft wrought iron.|
|Woodard’s Arkadia Cushion Collection is an example of its product development
team’s solid commitment to moving forward as an American manufacturer.|
The addition of the White craft brand to Woodard's 145-year history of making high-quality, hand crafted outdoor furniture will create opportunities for customers, according to Matt Weiss, Woodard's senior vice president. The company expanded its product category offerings so its dealers are able to come to Woodard and have a one-stop shop.
Bill Herren, now creative director of Woodard, agreed Woodard's acquisition essentially expands its production into the woven furnishings category at the same quality level as Woodard's other products without having to start from scratch. The hand-woven designs are still being produced in the Philippines, and the factories cranked up to make each of the items offered. "As soon as the actual papers were signed, Woodard invested over $1 million in inventory," Herren said.
Herren is learning more about aluminum and wrought iron furniture these days, but said he feels confident about "the acquisition of White craft by Woodard because both companies have strong design in furniture. The quality on both really can't be beat by anybody. Obviously, we're a little higher (priced) in almost all respects but we have the quality in the furniture to back it up."
The combined companies will meld the best of both and then expand on it.
Litex President John Mares said, "We're committing to making this a success and are doing whatever it takes to get it done." Mares' announcement at a company meeting last month reinforced the company's direction and cheered many of Woodard's 200 employees. Several workers at Woodard's Owosso plant and some Woodard sales representatives have been with the company more than 30 years.
One full-time Woodard employee works year-round in Chicago at the company's Merchandise Mart showroom, which is being revamped to show the expanded lines and handle not only the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market but also ongoing designer business.
Herren is looking ahead to next month's Preview Show there. "The Chicago market is our major focus right now," he said. "Specialty retail customers will benefit from the combined companies. I think they're going to see a wider selection they can choose from, and where they're going to get the service from one company."
The company supplies all the sales collateral customers need, fabric books, catalogs and finished samples. Woodard sales reps sometimes help with merchandising specific stores.
Hand-woven Sonoma deep seating group, made by Whitecraft
Robotic welding now plays a role in Woodard production
Woodard worker grinds seat frame in Owasso, Mich.
This month at the Dallas Total Home & Gift Market, Woodard and White craft furniture lines will be exhibited in the Rose Casual dealer showroom. Craft made also has a separate Dallas showroom.
At the summer Las Vegas Market, Woodard will add White craft furnishings to its existing showroom.
Woodard also is working toward getting a larger location at the High Point Market. White craft has shown in High Point since Dizon bought it in the 1980s and had its own permanent showroom at the International Home Furnishings Center until the October 2012 market. By the April market, Woodard was showing its expanded combination of products in Market Square and also in IHFC's Pavilions on Main 3.
"I'm very excited about the things I get to do that were not possible previously, especially in the Chicago showroom and with fabrics and finishes," Herren said. "Woodard has such a broader customer base than White craft did."
Last month, Woodard exhibited at the Hospitality Design Expo. Both Woodard and White craft have been plugged into the contract and hospitality part of the business for many years.
"Woodard has always been very big in contract because the wrought iron and cast aluminum furniture holds up well to that kind of setting," Herren said. "The same is true for White craft, which was very big in health care, senior citizens living and assisted living settings. We used to only do loom furniture for that, but that changed because of the way all-weather has evolved. It requires less maintenance."
Woodard develops furniture specifically for the contract market and has a separate sales rep force to handle that part of the business. Both manufacturers have supplied catalog companies.
For online retailers, both Woodard and White craft independently before and now combined as one have a MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing) policy.
It all started with wood, both the material and the name. The family name was originally Woodward until the second "w" was removed and the name changed to Woodard in 1866. Books and museum exhibits help tell the Woodard manufacturing story, which stretches back to 1868 and includes building homes and crafting wooden furniture and caskets in Owasso, Mich. The company was turning out 150 caskets a day when a flu epidemic hit in 1918. Woodard was known as the world's largest casket maker in 1920.
|Orleans dining group in Joe Woodard’s backyard, circa 1968. (above)
Vintage by Woodard featured the “button” foot design, circa 1939.
In the 1920s, Lee L. Woodard and his sons Joe, Russ and Lyman turned their focus to furniture design. In 1934, the Woodard brothers produced the company's first wrought iron chair, calling it simply Chair #1. The brothers had envisioned the hand crafted chair to fill a void in seating for the popular ice cream parlors of the time.
An early design element of Woodard furniture was the "button" foot. By the time the brothers crafted their third wrought iron chair, they gave it a name, Orleans. Following its debut in 1940, the Orleans Collection proved to be Woodard's bestseller for decades and ultimately found a place in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., as the longest-running Woodard design.
Lee L. Woodard and Sons produced equipment during World War II, rather than furniture, and resumed making metal furniture in 1946. In the 1950s, the Woodard brothers hand crafted the Sculptura chair, using a tooling process that was ahead of its time and that has been used throughout Woodard's history to produce its classic designs.
The company expanded in the 1960s, but with no apparent heirs, it went through a merger with Wickes Corporation in 1969.
Around 2004, Woodard began importing aluminum parts and woven products from northern China. The company still welds, assembles, finishes and produces cushions in the United States. All wrought iron, from start to finish, continues to be crafted in Owosso.
In 2008, Crown Leisure sold Woodard to Craft made International, a Coppell, Texas-based importer and manufacturer of a broad range of home décor products, including ceiling fans, lighting and outdoor furniture. Litex bought Craft made in December 2011.
White craft's wicker and rattan furniture production is believed to stretch back nearly 100 years in the Philippines, but its earliest records date to 1918 in Miami, Fla. Limited records are available through the 1950s as the company changed hands many times. The Lind heimer family owned it for a long time, sold it to another company that went bankrupt and bought it back. As owner of the factory where the furniture was made, Manny Dizon bought White craft in 1984 for distribution purposes.
Soon after Dizon bought White craft, he started Cebu Imports, another wicker furniture company headquartered in Charleston, S.C. White craft's product was always higher end rattan and wicker, while Cebu was priced lower. Bill Herren joined White craft in 1987, becoming known as its primary product designer and company spokesman.
All-weather wicker furniture was added in the early 1990s when loom started to overtake the indoor line. In 1995, Dizon opened a third plant in the Philippines in response to strong demand for loom furniture. By 2002, Dizon combined Cebu Imports into White craft and all three of his factories supplied White craft, based in Charleston. Only last year, the company stopped production of its indoor wicker and rattan because the all-weather woven had taken over production capability. Dizon sold the White craft assets and name to Woodard at the end of March.
Saddleback sectional, tables and armchairs were all hand-woven by Whitecraft artisans.