by Jeff Sandgren
The Piedmont Triad of North Carolina was once the dominant hub of furniture manufacturing in the US. High Point still tags itself as the “Furniture Capital of the World,” boasting some of the largest showrooms in the country; but the manufacturing core that fills them has moved offshore to lower cost facilities in Asia. Much of the area now has a ghost town feel, with shuttered factories – and shuttered local businesses that once thrived when furniture-making drove a vibrant local economy.
In the middle of this arid business landscape is a bright, thriving oasis of success: Simplicity Sofas. Starting with a small factory in High Point in 2007, they’ve already had to relocate to a bigger facility to keep up with the demand for their specialized product, shipping more than $4 million of furniture to thousands of customers … without a single negative review. Along the way they’ve been a finalist for the Customer Experience Innovation Awards, received two “Best of Market” awards at the International Home Furnishings Market, and been recognized with a $20,000 Grand Prize as Small Business Innovator of the Year. All without moving out of town.
How have they pulled off this commercial miracle?
The answer is twofold: niche and innovation. Back in 2003 designer/inventor/master craftsman Glenn Laughlin and furniture industry veteran Jeff Frank teamed up to create a line of high quality, quick-assembly upholstered furniture that fits into small rooms and tight entranceways where normal furniture cannot go. Glenn and Jeff spent four years perfecting the revolutionary technology and building the first prototypes. Locating in High Point has allowed them to tap into a deep local talent pool. They custom build one piece at a time using solid oak frames, and back their product with a lifetime warranty.
A whole shipment of a full-sized couch, oversized chair and storage ottoman can fit in the back of a cargo van, with room to spare. For those who are local, a company employee can deliver and then assemble the furniture, with assembly taking just about 15 minutes. For those outside of the Piedmont Triad, they offer free catalogs and fabric swatches, and shipping across the US.
Last fall, the company innovated into another ‘tight spot’: the RV (recreational vehicle) market. Simplicity began to hear of customers who were installing their furniture in RVs, easily navigating the extremely narrow door width and avoiding the headaches and cost of the previous solution. The old way? Remove the windshield. No wonder they love Simplicity Sofas. But what the RV enthusiasts said they really wanted was a convertible sofa bed that could fit into the same tight spot.
So Simplicity Sofas innovated for this new niche, designed one, perfected it and launched it last September at the largest RV show in the country, the Annual Pennsylvania RV & Camping Show in Hershey, PA, drawing more than 40,000 attendees. It takes a little longer to assemble, and probably isn’t a project to delegate to the children, but it’s still …simplicity.
“Everything we develop is designed to meet an existing need,” said President Jeff Frank. “Our sectional sofa is another example. We had a customer whose family room was at the end of a particularly difficult staircase, so even our sofa couldn’t navigate the turn. We went back to the drawing board and developed an easy-to-assemble sectional that solved their problem. Today they’re another happy customer, and we’ve got another successful product line.”
Therein lays perhaps the simple key to Simplicity Sofa’s success: fanatical devotion to understanding and satisfying their customers. They listen to customers, innovate designs to solve problems no one else addresses, and then delight buyers every time – all right here in the former heartland of American furniture making.
As William Shatner (yes that William Shatner) recently observed, “Simplicity Sofas furniture boldly goes where no furniture has gone before.”
Jeff Sandgren covers business and technology for CCD. For more from Jeff, visit his site Brand Tech News which focuses on the intersection of branding and technology, and is where this article originated.