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Joining, Not Fighting Offshoring Trend Contributed to Furniture Company’s Success

06_04CEO6565of126_000.jpgBOONE—Alex Bernhardt, president and chief executive officer of Bernhardt Furniture Company, has some business axioms that help guide his decision making.

One is to never underestimate the competition. The other is more of a mountain saying: The best way to ride a horse is the way it is going.

Bernhardt shared his company’s case history and its strategies for success during the Harlan E. Boyles Distinguished CEO Lecture Series held April 6 at Appalachian State University.

When Bernhardt saw his business declining because of cheap, offshore products, he looked to Asia to maintain the family furniture business.

When Bernhardt entered the family business when almost all home furniture products were made within 100 miles of Caldwell County. But by the 1980s, Asia was becoming a key player in hardwood furniture industry.

After a trip to Taiwan in 1983, Bernhardt partnered with the company that almost put his company out of business. “I could see that the furniture industry, like textiles, was headed to Asia. So, rather than fight the trend, I embraced it,” he said.

The company began to reinvent itself, focusing on style, brand and marketing. It also embarked on a national advertising program, focusing solely on the Bernhardt brand name.

“Today, we employ about 1,500 associates, 50 of them in four Asian countries,” he said. “And while this total number is about half of the employees we had in 1980, our sales volume is four times larger.”

Approximately half of the company’s products are manufactured in other countries. The other half, including special order upholstery items and office furniture, is made in western North Carolina.

“Our decision to invest more in marketing, selling and sourcing as opposed to hard assets for manufacturing has been the correct strategy for our company,” he said. “At 117 years of age this year, Bernhardt is simultaneously one of the oldest furniture suppliers, yet one of the most progressive and aggressive in our industry.”

The Distinguished CEO Lecture Series was dedicated in 1991 to former state treasurer Boyles in honor of his service to the State of North Carolina. It is provides business students the opportunity to learn firsthand from, and interact with, chief executive officers of successful business both in North Carolina and the southeast.

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