Fairfield Chair changes with the times

Jun. 23, 2013 @ 07:40 AM

The unchanging brick façade of Fairfield Chair Co., which has been run by the founding Beall family for 92 years, can give passersby the impression that nothing much about the company has changed over the decades.

But inside you would find computers integrated into design and production, more air-conditioned work areas, and processes geared toward filling custom orders under modern customer expectations.

“We’re growing and anticipate we’ll continue to do so,” vice president Alvin Daughtridge said.

“We’re a company with a long history and a bright future.”

Fairfield has fared better than you might think because the company specializes in custom-ordered upholstery.

“That’s not something they can do overseas,” Daughtridge said.

The company keeps thousands of frames in stock so orders can be filled quickly. Furthermore, if customers want to use fabric bought from somewhere other than Fairfield, Fairfield will use it.

“If this were being done overseas, the logistics of that would make it almost impossible,” he said.

The part of the domestic furniture industry that was hardest hit in the wave of outsourcing was case goods, the making of all-wood products such as tables and cabinets. And that change actually made Fairfield more competitive, Daughtridge said: Fairfield never made case goods, so if a customer wants to buy tables to go with the chairs Fairfield makes, the company can import them as inexpensively and efficiently as anyone else now.

“That became an opportunity for us, not a threat,” he said.

Fairfield actually expanded its Plant 2, on Norwood Street near Southwest Boulevard, in 2007. But locally the company does have to push back a bit against perceptions that all of the furniture industry is suffering. Fairfield tries to bring educators into its plants so they can see the kinds of job opportunities and working conditions that are there for their students.

And Daughtridge emphasizes that even in the segments of the industry that had been hurt, the companies and retailers that made it through the changes in the economy now are doing well.

“Furniture didn’t die, it changed,” he said.

You just can’t tell by looking at the building.