VINTON–The employees at the Frank Chervan, Inc. furniture plant in southeast Roanoke were honored on October 5, National Manufacturing Day, by Kellex Corporation.
Chris Rice, Charles Rice, and Doug Fawcett, the founding owners of Kellex, treated the entire Chervan staff to lunch.
They called the event “Chervan Appreciation Day” in honor of Chervan’s production team, spotlighting their longtime manufacturing and marketing partnership with what they describe as “the most advanced maker of wood seating in America.” Kellex is a leading upholstered furniture supplier to the hospitality and healthcare industries.
This was the first annual National Manufacturing Day across the United States, co-sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute.
The purpose of the inaugural event was to “highlight the importance of manufacturing in the US economy and showcase the highly skilled jobs available in manufacturing fields by opening up shop floors around the country.”
In the economic downturn of the past several years, one of the hardest hit industries has been furniture manufacturing. During any recession, people tend to put off making major purchases and furniture usually falls into that category. With the current housing crisis, fewer houses are being sold and furnished.
Additionally, the globalization of the American furniture business has had a severe impact on the industry. In the past decade, many companies have moved their manufacturing facilities abroad.
However, now the tide is beginning to turn and these off-shore manufacturers are struggling with numerous issues increasing their cost of production abroad. Foreign monetary policies, transportation costs, risky suppliers, substandard quality, slow deliveries, and product safety issues have arisen at the same time that the American public has become more mindful of “buying American” to help revive our own economy.
Meanwhile, Chervan and Kellex are celebrating the results of “never leaving America.” They toughed it out here and provided hundreds of manufacturing jobs for families in Virginia, Ohio, Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina. The two companies made the decision to “Make it Here/Make it Happen.”
“We stayed the course,” said Greg Terrill, president of Chervan. “Manufacturing is physically hard. It’s mentally hard. It’s not an easy business. Some manufacturers walked away. We stuck it out, and Kellex stuck it out.”
“The next chapter is a bright future for all of us,” said Terrill.
The Chervan plant is located on Greenbrier Avenue in southeast Roanoke City, near Vinton and the Tinker Creek Greenway Connection. They occupy 350,000 square feet in the former Hooker Furniture facility, which closed in 2006.
Chervan was founded in 1932 by a dedicated designer and craftsman, Frank Chervan. The company has evolved into one of only a few wood seating operations that carry the entire process from green lumber to finished chairs, all in one plant.
Kellex became Chervan’s customer when the company started having problems with their wood chair supply. Their former supplier imported frames and was experiencing supply and quality problems. That’s when Kellex turned to Chervan for an all-domestic solution.
Both companies originated in Ohio and moved manufacturing South to take advantage of what they identify as the best furniture craftsmen and the most plentiful sustainable Appalachian hardwood. Kellex Corporation is still based in Ohio with manufacturing in North Carolina.
Today, under the leadership of Terrill, who is Chervan’s grandson, the company continues to use advanced technology to produce high quality, durable, customized furniture enabling them to produce up to 1,000 quality wood chairs per day.
Kellex Corporation continues to be the largest buyer of Chervan’s seating for its high-end upholstered and wood furniture collections. Together they have furnished scores of well-known hotels such as Hiltons, Marriotts, and Wyndhams, upscale time share properties, major banks and financial institutions, resorts, and hundreds of senior living centers across America.
Terrill credits the success of the company to the dedication of his employees. At the luncheon ceremony, he not only praised his gathered workers but predicted a strong comeback for U.S. manufacturing in the coming years.
He thanked the company’s workforce of over 165 employees who have 2,280 collective years of experience. He also thanked locally owned Valley Bank for their support of the business.
Terrill used the occasion to honor several retiring workers, like Jimmy St. Clair who has been on the job for 56 years, beginning when the minimum wage was $1.00 per hour.
Terrill grew up in Bedford when the furniture plant was still located there. He also literally grew up in the plant, and eventually learned to do every task involved in the manufacture of their products.
He graduated from Roanoke College, where he met his wife, Nicole, and then received his MBA from Seton Hall. In 1999 they returned to the Roanoke Valley to start a family and for Terrill to take over the Bedford-based family business.
One of his first acts was to steer the furniture frame manufacturer away from residential and into high-end office and health care furniture. In 2009, the struggling economy forced him to make the decision to close the plant in Bedford and move all of the operations under one roof in Roanoke.
“This was one of the toughest decisions we have had to make,” said Terrill. “Rising costs of employment and particularly extreme health care costs forced us to refocus and rescale the business.”
Fortunately, most economists now agree that the worst part of the recession is over, although the economy remains sluggish.
“The furniture industry is making a recovery but it is not as noticeable yet because we still have got to get the rank-and-file American worker back to work,” said one economist. “They buy the furniture.”
Not only are Terrill and Chervan leaders in furniture manufacturing, they are also good neighbors in the local community.
“Frank Chervan, Inc., donated, without cost, a portion of the land needed for the Tinker Creek
Greenway connection,” said Phil Schirmer, City Engineer for the City of Roanoke. “Greg also offered part of their property to support a future greenway trail connection into the neighborhood surrounding the plant location.”
“Greg walked in with a can-do attitude,” said Fawcett at the luncheon. “His employees describe him as a leader, humble, a motivator, a man of integrity, generous, a friend, and ultimately as a true “American entrepreneur”.