Made in America: CarolinaChair.com, a New Business Model for an Old Craft

PHOTO Brother and sister, Hubert Dan Fry III and Cathy Fry own CarolinaChair.com.
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Manufacturing furniture is in Cathy and Hubert Fry's blood. The brother-sister team worked in their father's plant growing up, and their grandfather began manufacturing furniture more than 100 years ago.

"We have a rich, rich history in manufacturing furniture," Cathy Fry, 54, said. "My grandfather built his furniture using the eight-way, hand-tied seating system and we carried that history on from 100 years ago. It was the best way to build furniture back then and we are still doing it."

The Frys have watched over the years as many manufacturers moved their shops out of Hickory, N.C., and the United States entirely in order to lower costs and be more competitive.

"It's definitely changed from most of the furniture being made in the Hickory and High Point areas, so many companies have moved out and gone overseas and to Mexico," Hubert Fry, 41, said. "It gets harder and harder to manufacture in the United States. We are one of the few that have hung in there."

Their father sold the family company to retire in 1984 and Hubert Fry decided in 1999 that he wanted to get back into the business, but realized he would have to distribute furniture differently in order to compete.

"We had spent years and years with the retailer communicating with the consumer." he said. "We never got to talk to the end consumer. Everything we heard was through the retailer.

"It had always been done a certain way and with the Internet coming of age, that's the perfect communication tool between a manufacturer and consumer."

Hubert Fry started CarolinaChair.com, a direct-to-consumer custom furniture manufacturer. The company takes orders online and by phone. It prides itself on producing first-rate products and providing excellent customer service.

"We produce high-quality furniture, unique for you and we get it to you quickly," Fry said.

Cathy Fry, who joined her brother's business in 2004 and is now co-owner, said, "Our customers love it when they find us. The big thing is we're made in America and we respond to them 24/7."

CarolinaChair.com Survives in Global Economy

Hubert Fry says it is unlikely his company would have been able to survive if it had followed a traditional business model. The company's success, he said, stems from being able to educate the consumer about the differences in furniture.

"The pressure of all the manufacturers going overseas and not having that quality, you have the consumers go to the store and see a product, but they don't know what's in it," he said. "We can explain that we are creating a high-end product."

For CarolinaChair.com, more than a decade of U.S.-made success has resulted from American ingenuity, transforming an antiquated business model into one that is sustainable in today's economy.

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