Many furniture jobs need to be filled by skilled, tech-savvy workers, said Alex Shuford, CEO of Century Furniture.
“We are looking for people who have a combination of craft and technological knowledge,” he said. “There are more expensive and more complicated machines today that did not exist in the late 90s and early 2000s.… Software has become essential to the running of businesses. They created jobs that did not exist until the late 1990s, such as software programmers and systems analysts. We have brought a whole new type of person to the industry.
In the factory, high-tech machines cut fabric or wood, requiring workers with the know-how to operate the machines.
Outside the factory, management software was a game-changer, Shuford said. These systems, used by many furniture companies, link accounting departments to the factory through sales and marketing, Shuford said. The systems allow the company to work together more fluidly and offer more personalized products, he said.
“This has allowed businesses to handle more complexity,” said Shuford. “The industry used to be simpler: you would do a lot of things. The industry that is still there, the domestic industry, does a little of a lot of different things that have a lot more options than before.”
The bespoke furniture business is part of what keeps furniture making alive in the Catawba Valley. Low-end furniture that can’t be customized is made overseas more often, Shuford said, but custom furniture is made here – and new software and technology are making it fast and in large quantities.