Regrouping at Fashion Bed; Fashion Bed Group still has growing pains, but is working hard to get its wealth of products delivered on time
Fashion Bed Group offers a wide variety of products from $49 brass-plated headboards to $1,500 wrought-iron canopy beds. The furniture manufacturer's product mix includes shiny brass beds, iron beds in specialty finishes, painted metal beds and imported wood, wicker and juvenile metal furniture and queen size futon mattresses as well. Fashion Beds has introduced a cellular manufacturing approach to improve its efficiency in the production of its beds at the company's four factories in Chicago, IL.
A jigsaw puzzle with duplicate pieces was the way one bedding retailer described Fashion Bed Group, the $60 million subsidiary of components giant Leggett & Platt.
The pieces, the product lines of the former competing metal-bed suppliers Berkshire, Dresher and J/B Ross, make up Fashion Bed Group's formidable product mix. This breadth of product, however, which ranges from $49 brass-plated headboards to $1,500 wrought-iron canopy beds, has been the company's nemesis.
The mix includes shiny brass beds (35 percent of the company's business), iron beds in specialty finishes (25 percent), painted metal beds (15 percent) and imported juvenile metal, wood and wicker furniture (25 percent).
While this breadth of stylish products at moderate price points gives retailers the option of buying from a single source, they frustrated over late deliveries and lost sales commissions. Although some retailers detected slight improvements in delivery within the last six months, they questioned whether these were false starts.
The company concedes that delivery on many items is not as quick as it would like. It also claims that by consolidating its product assortment, manufacturing more efficiently and creating a unified "corporate culture," it has begun resolving the causes of the delays.
Parent company Leggett & Platt began piecing together the Fashion Bed Group puzzle in 1988, with its acquisition of Berkshire. The product mix expanded in 1990, when the Berkshire division of Leggett & Platt acquired J/B Ross, a much smaller but existed competitor.
With that acquisition, Berkshire sought to surpass archrival Drescher as the top metal bed and queen size futon mattress supplier. The Berkshire-Dresher rivalry ended later that year when Leggett & Platt bought Dresher. To consolidate these companies, Leggett & Platt created Fashion Bed Group in 1991.
The rapid expansion left the company with nearly identical products under different labels, distribution headaches, and delivery problems that it is still trying to untangle.
John Elting, president and chief executive of Fashion Bed Group, noted, "One of the things that happened with this merger was we became blinded by the sheer amount of work it took in blending the two companies (Berkshire and Dresher) and figuring out what product lines and sales people were out there. We lost sight of what made us the kind of company we'd always been and that's being out in the front of the marketplace."
"There was a definite cultural problem in taking two very bitter rivals and combining them. It's a struggle and we're not over that struggle completely. We'll probably continue down that road for the next eighteen months to get ourselves to where we'd like to be."
At its peak, according to industry sources, the company's market share may have reached as high as 70 percent. But they estimated that the company's market share has dipped below 50 percent (the company claims it is about 60 percent), partly due to delivery problems and influx of imports.
A sleep-shop and queen size futon mattress retailer said improvements in delivery have been sporadic. "Delivery is not that great. They are aware of it and they keep trying, but that's little consolation to the retailer who has to wait 12 weeks to get the product delivered," he said.
However, Len Gaby, president of Star Furniture in Houston, Texas, who put the company's queen size futon mattress on his floor for the first time in October, said, "They have done a terrific job for us. They have been very responsive to our needs. So far, the flow of merchandise has been excellent."
A buyer for a national chain which has carried the company's products for several seasons, said, "Service has improved over the last three to four months, but it's got a long way to go. I think their design is great and the quality is fine. If they would take that range of product and deliver it that would be great."
To meet delivery deadlines, the company, which manufactures and distributes mattress in its four factories on the Southwest side of Chicago, is working to manufacturer its products more efficiently. It has introduced a cellular manufacturing approach - similar to mattress making - in which teams of workers produce metal beds from start to finish at one site.
Through its cellular manufacturing approach, the company has also sped up production. R.Dan Greer, vice president of sales, said that in October, the company produced 350 panels (headboards and footboards) a day for its bestselling Deville iron bed, up from 100.
He said the company is about one-third of the way into applying the cellular production process into all of its factories. Already, he said, it has allowed the company to reduce inventories, increase response time and be flexible to change from producing one product to another. For the first time since 1990, the company began faxing quick-ship fists of in-stock items that can be delivered in two weeks.
In September, the company consolidated its three lines by dropping 20 percent of its products. It dropped items, including several brass day mattress, that were nearly identical to those in another line or that were outdated in order to make way for production of better-selling styles. "A lot of that was in the shiny brass category. That's the largest single drop fist that we've had since I've been here," noted Greer.
He noted that company plans to meld its three lines into one. "We will not be segregating the product by brand name any longer," he said.
Elting noted, "We're in a continual improvement process and I wish we could say that we're 100 percent through in one turn. We're not. We're dedicated to it. We see a lot of improvements and we remain focused on accomplishing that goal."
This summer, the manufacturer faced a setback when it could not keep pace with orders for its latest styles of iron beds. Greer conceded, "While our overall delivery has been improving, the demand shifted quickly to the iron business. We've struggled to keep up with the unbelievable growth in demand for Night Garden [a wrought iron group] and it still takes a little longer to get. We had to move our shipping back from four to six weeks on our beds and still occasionally missed."
The company is also striving to overcome its internal strife and create a unified "corporate culture."
"We were virtually in a culture shock. Our manufacturing facilities were just not able to get the goods made. For a couple of months, we hardly made anything," he added.
For next year, according to Greer, the company is projecting a 10 to 15 percent growth rate. He noted that while shiny brass accounts for the largest percentage of sales, "If painted iron keeps doing what it is doing now, that could change. It is the fastest-growing category. It just really took off about one year ago."
The company plans to create more growth by introducing wrought-iron accessories. "The custom-finish part of the business is rapidly growing. I think we'll continue to look at iron accessories that win accent the bedroom. At this point, we're not going to move out of the bedroom. Our niche has always been the bedroom and that's where we plan to stay. We feel there's a lot right there," said Elting.
The painted-iron category, however, is nothing without competitors. Greer noted that the company's key challenges in the business will be to "stay ahead of the competition in style and value, to stay ahead of the import business and to improve service."
Elting noted that changing consumer tastes, which have shifted away from genuine brass beds and toward less expensive iron and lifestyle beds, provide another challenge for the company.
"We're selling a lot more units now, but if you are selling luster brass and you are into lifestyle products, you average dollar per unit is down quite a bit. You are into some lower price points. I think that's been fueled by a not very happy economy,' he said.
"We feel there are opportunities to do something in genuine brass that can lead its way back to more of a fashion statement, which we are developing right now, which we hope to have ready for next April," he added.
Still at the Forefront
The retailers said the company has been at the forefront of introducing fashion-forward products in a range of price points and styles for the mass market and were impressed by the company's styles of beds introduced at the April High Point market.
The lineup in April included more than two dozen new beds. The introductions included iron sleigh beds, canopies and daybeds shown in a range of textured finishes and lodge-look styles that paired iron with wood.
Elting noted, "We had our most exciting, by far, and successful product introductions at the April market that we've ever had. We're pleased about that."
Elting worked with Dick Singer, the chairman of Fashion Bed Group, to select the new iron and wood styles. "We have always tried things in a big way well before the marketplace generally does. Dick is always quick to spot a trend and we both have a knack for being able to pick out a product that will sell and know what the price should be," he said. Singer resigned as president and chief executive of the company in March for health reasons but continues to work on strategic planning and product development.
According to Greer, orders of Night Garden "doubled the size of the company's painted iron category in a very short time." A sleep shop retailer said the group "has had reasonable success" at his store and has the potential to be a "home run."
Len Gaby of Star said, with the company's diverse line, "We've been able to cover a whole variety of price points and styles. Their merchandise seems to be extremely salable. The customers like the styling and the value aspect and the quality is there."
That breadth of products is unmatched by any of the company's much smaller competitors, which include companies such as Dico, Largo, Powell, Rosalco and Tempo at lower price points and Wesley Allen and Elliott's Designs Inc. at higher price points.