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Vaughan-Bassett Furniture has begun work at the former Webb plant — now Vaughan-Bassett #2 — and has added 37 workers since announcing in January that it would undergo an expansion.
The company is making an $8 million investment in Galax that will include the hiring of 115 workers over the next three years. Chief Operating Officer Doug Bassett said the factory had to expand to keep up with demand.
Vaughan-Bassett bought the vacant Webb Furniture #1 plant on Railroad Avenue, next to its main plant, at the beginning of this year. It had been vacant since closing in January 2006 and laying off 300 workers.
Soon after, Vaughan-Bassett announced to workers its plans to expand after receiving incentives from the state and the city.
The company will receive approximately $56,250 in incentives from the City of Galax, $200,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund and $75,000 from the Virginia Jobs Investment Program for adding the new jobs.
Several workers that were recently hired at Vaughan-Bassett had been out of work for months.
Kern Gravely, who worked at Webb Furniture until it closed its doors, lost his job as a construction worker a few months ago when the business slowed down.
“I had been out of a job for six months, so I decided to come back to the factory,” said Gravely. “I lost my wife to cancer in ‘08 and was on the verge of losing my house.”
Regina Vass had also been unable to find employment for several months after moving back to the area from Florida.
“I was living off of unemployment,” said Vass. “I’m glad to be working again.”
John Davis said that he’s saving $55 a week on gas after changing from his Mount Airy, N.C., job to work at Vaughan-Bassett.
“I was spending $65 a week on gas,” said Davis. “Now I only spend $10 a week. I needed to come closer to home.”
The company, Bassett said, is hoping to have enough increased sales to hire workers quicker than the three-year deadline.
Vaughan-Bassett’s sales increased by 23 percent for the first quarter of 2011, and the company’s sales are up 21 percent so far this year.
“We believe the industry is only seeing increased sales of about 5 percent,” said Bassett, noting that the company is growing four to five times faster than the industry average. “Vaughan-Bassett is picking up market share from its competitors, including our foreign competition. These increases have made our expansion possible.”
If gas prices stay below $4, the furniture industry will continue to recover, said Bassett. If not, then the furniture industry will go the other way.
“We had an excellent market in April,” said Bassett, referring to the High Point [N.C.] Market furniture trade show. “The attendance was the best we’ve seen it in five years.” Bassett noted that April 2007 was right before the country headed into a recession.
At the market, Vaughan-Bassett representatives saw more than 800 companies that were interested in the company’s product.
“We’re very proud of that,” said Bassett. “In the five years, 20 percent of furniture stores have gone out of business. We had to replace our customers, and we did that.”
Vaughan-Bassett began assembling and finishing mirrors in Vaughan-Bassett #2 the week of March 19. This, Bassett said, represents Phase 1 of the company’s project. Throughout this year, the company will continue adding people and increasing production.
As part of Phase 2 of the expansion at Vaughan-Bassett #2, 25 machines — some new, some from the main plant and some from the Elkin, N.C., plant — will be added. Once an air duct system is installed at the plant, these machines will be installed by June.
This means 25 to 30 more new hires by July, said Bassett.
The machinery that is moving from the main plant to Vaughan-Bassett #2 is creating room for the factory’s rough end system, which will be installed over the July 4 vacation week, when production takes a break, said Bassett. When installed, Vaughan-Bassett will have increased its rough end capacity by 50 percent.
Making these changes, Bassett said, will allow the company to increase its production by up to $30,000 a day, which will help meet the needs of its customers.
At end of 2011, Vaughan-Bassett — the largest wooden bedroom manufacturer in the U.S. — employed 675. Today, it has 734 workers.