Expansion signals continued success for Smith Brothers
Smith Brothers of Berne president Steve Lehman gives a smile of satisfaction when he notes that a plant expansion that was laid out two or three years ago has already worked its way through two phases.
The plant expansion program, which includes four phases, saw two of the phases completed this past year with the investment of $3 million in two additions that added over 60,000 square feet that brought the firm to 300,000 square feet of operating capacity. The total program will ultimately add over 200,000, which will be incorporated in the recent acquisition of the former Berne Furniture facility.
"This was a 15-year plan that was laid out two or three years ago. It will continue a few years down the road when phases three or four will utilize the former Berne Furniture facility," said Lehman.
Lehman said that the company now owns 60 acres upon which to expand its business. In addition to the original ground, Smith Brothers now owns 20 acres on County Road 000, ground containing a second plant on property originally owned by the old Berne tubing factory off of Parr Road and ground associated with the purchase of Berne Furniture.
In addition, Smith Brothers just purchased the ground where the old Berne water tower stood. That land, Lehman said, will be used for the expansion of parking space.
Lehman noted that in the past 10 years, sales have more than doubled, production output has increased faster than the operating costs at a rate of over 3.2, manufacturing time is now 10 percent less than what it was and available square footage has more than doubled.
In addition, the number of employees has increased from 175 10 years ago to the present number of 285 employees.
When asked what he attributes to the reason for company success, he replied, "lots of wonderful people, very dedicated, very loyal workers."
Lehman emphasized that another leading factor in company success has been the strategic decision to stay domestic and not find Chinese partners to unite with. In addition, the embracing of computer technology has added greatly to the diminishing of the production cycle in constructing furniture.
The president noted that the entire production cycle for furniture ordered in China is three to four months while domestic manufactured Smith Brothers furniture can be turned around in three to four weeks.
"We had a record year this past year; it was the best year in the history of the company," Lehman said. "Our broad selection, quick delivery and ability to do
custom ordering have all contributed to our success."
Lehman said that an important contribution to the market has been the decision to make recliners, a piece of furniture he refers to as the company's best selling item currently.
"We make a very solid, heavy duty recliner," Lehman said. "We haven't compromised our quality. It's a challenge; our material costs more and insurance costs have gone up."
Lehman stressed that company officials try the best they can to take care of employees and their family. Last year, Smith Brothers paid out $2 million for employee insurance, including claims. In addition, the company offers employees a 401K investment plan.
"We try to do a few things for enjoyment," Lehman said. "We have an Easter egg hunt and our 'spring thing.' We do eight to 10 fundraising events a year. When an employee has hardship and there is a fundraiser on their behalf, we always try to contribute to their needs out of that fund.
"Our company was founded in 1926 on the principle of honesty, integrity and hard work," added Lehman. "These are values we do not take lightly. We do not cut corners in our process or misrepresent our product. We believe that the quality of our furniture and our reliability as a manufacturer speak much louder than anything we can say about them.
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