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At a glance
Smith Brothers of Berne makes residential furniture – including sofas and chairs – upholstered in one of 1,000 fabrics or 100 leathers on one of 500 frame designs.
Headquarters: 356 Monroe St., Berne
Founded: 1926
Employees: About 325
Retailers: About 350
Ownership: Privately held by Steve Lehman and three investors who are not part of daily operations
2012 revenue: Not disclosed

Furniture maker growing

Smith Brothers in Berne already filling positions

Smith Brothers of Berne has been bucking the trends for years.

When its competitors were moving production to China, the custom furniture maker kept building one upholstered sofa at a time in Adams County.

When others cut quality to lower prices, Smith Brothers didn’t apologize for being the most expensive option in some showrooms.

And when furniture makers were watching sales slide, Smith Brothers was recording record sales every year for the past 20 years. OK, every year except 2001, which included months of national unease following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Now, Smith Brothers is investing an estimated $3 million to $5 million on a 100,000-square-foot expansion to its production floor, President and CEO Steve Lehman said Thursday.

The expansion will create space for about 20 new production workers and a couple of supervisors. Hiring has already started.

“We had wonderful growth right through this last recession,” Lehman said.

Lehman is still finalizing details on the project. He expects to break ground in early summer on an addition to the west side of the company’s primary building. Smith Brothers now has a little less than 300,000 square feet in two plants.

The company has specialized in offering broad selection, high-quality products, fast delivery and excellent customer service, Lehman said.

The company has a backlog of more than 6,000 orders – the most in its history.

Wolf Furniture is Smith Brothers’ largest account. The 111-year-old Pennsylvania-based retailer operates 12 stores on the East Coast.

Thad Julian, Wolf’s upholstery buyer, said Smith Brothers-made furniture is the best and most expensive the stores sell. Julian, who buys from 10 vendors, praised the Berne furniture maker for building one sofa at a time rather than relying on an assembly line.

Lehman’s choice to keep production in America has attracted the attention of a TV production company. He originally worried that being featured on the Discovery Channel might generate more orders than his staff can handle.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted all this exposure,” Lehman said. “We are so busy.”

“In View” with Larry King, including a segment on Smith Brothers of Berne, is scheduled to air at 7 a.m. Monday on the Discovery Channel. The 8-minute piece is already available on YouTube.

sslater@jg.net

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