A self-described Union County boy is coming back home and bringing a thriving furniture manufacturing company and 150 or more jobs with him.
This past week Fusion Furniture Inc. began formally recruiting employees for its new New Albany facility in the former Emerald Mississippi complex on Denmill Road.
President and minority owner – and also Myrtle native – Bo Robbins said the various legalities with funding and leasing for the building probably won’t be done until at least the end of the month but business is so good they have taken a one-month lease in order to move ahead with production immediately.
“We want to get bids (on some needed building work) and then close,” he said. “But business is so good we can’t afford to wait.”
He’s looking for about 150 employees but said 200 would be welcome.
He attributes the high number of orders somewhat paradoxically to the pandemic. “I think people were just sitting at home,” he said, and receiving government stimulus checks may have helped spur them to buy furniture.
Robbins’ family and business roots are connected to furniture, especially Hillcraft Furniture where he got his start.
The Myrtle graduate attended Ole Miss and later began working at Hillcraft. “We (he and wife Alison) began talking about our own company in 2009,” he said. They found a 40,000 square foot building in Ecru and forged ahead.
“I really had no idea about how to run a business,” he said. After looking at some existing products, which may have appeared somewhat monochromatic and dull, they chose the motto, “Where Style Meets Value.”
They wanted to create furniture that looks good for a reasonable price and have a good customer relationship.
The company had grown from 12 to 45 percent every year since then, he said.
He and his wife have since sold a majority of their ownership but he remains president of the company as well as minority owner.
Even as Fusion is rushing to fill orders, materials shortages that have hurt the construction industry generally have had some effect on furniture manufacturing as well. “Plywood is extremely high,” he said, and some foam components have been difficult to obtain, partly due to hurricane interference as well as pandemic shutdowns.
Even cardboard accessibility is something of a problem, he said, with the reason given that “Christmas is coming.”
But the holiday season is not a negative.
“I think we will have bigger Christmas shopping than ever before,” he said.
Like many companies, they did interrupt production because of the pandemic.
“When COVID hit we had 16 lines, 500 or so people,” he said. After about six weeks off they started back up.
“We had warehouses full and didn’t know if people would buy,” he said. “We confirmed orders by phone and everybody still wanted them. We did not lose one.”
The company brought back 50 percent of the workforce and then 75 percent.
“We started getting called orders and customers sent the business over the top,” he said.
“Now we have 12 lines but two of them are training lines,” he said. “We particularly need upholsterers and frame builders, but, really, everybody.”
He said management is trying to look at their manufacturing process creatively and looking for what he referred to as a purposeful life-work balance.
“We always worked a lot of overtime, 54-56 hours,” he said, “but we realized it’s not all about the money.”
“We decided to pull the schedule back,” he continued, reducing operating hours and weekend work. “People were working so much they weren’t having time for family and attending children’s events.”
Like many companies, they are having some trouble hiring skilled workers. Some, such as sewers, retired when manufacturing jobs went to China and some just got older. Vice-President of Operations for Fusion and Southern Motion Dave Hodorff said they are working to establish some training programs with area schools.
In lieu of paying thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for a four-year academic degree, a young person can be trained and quickly be making $60,000 per year, he said.
“We guarantee $21 per hour and you can make more than that on average,” Robbins said. “Most departments make $20-$30 per hour.”
“Our goal is to get six lines going right now, 150 employees,” he said. “But I would take 200 if they walked in the door. We could basically double our capacity with the orders we have now.”
The facility actually includes a large separate building and Hodorff said they plan to have it in full use within the year.
Fusion is an independent sister company to Southern Motion with Hodorff serving both. Robbins said there is the same overall management umbrella, Southern Furniture Industries, but Southern Motion, as the name indicates, specializes in motion furniture. Fusion does not make motion furniture but rather individual pieces and collections.
Southern Motion was founded in 1996 in Pontotoc and that company now has five facilities in Mississippi. Hodorff said the companies have about 2,500 employees altogether.
Fusion products are sold in many stores as well as online vendors such as Wayfair.
Job applications are being accepted at the Ecru and Pontotoc plants as well as in New Albany. Hodorff said they prefer that applicants come in person, and they will get an interview immediately. In trying to think outside the box, Robbins said they are considering options for allowing people such as older skilled workers to work limited hours, such as from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., for instance, although that has not been implemented yet.
Robbins noted that furniture has served as a key part of North Mississippi for years and before much of its manufacture going to China. He is proud to help reverse that here.
“I really wanted to get back here,” he said, “a home town boy coming home.”
Fusion Furniture is at 1101 Denmill Road, off East Bankhead Street.
Bo Robbins, Emerald Mississippi, Fusion Furniture, Hilldale, industry