MADE IN CHICKASAW COUNTY: Collums Furniture
HOULKA – Kenneth Collums started Collums Furniture in a building behind his dad’s house near the school in New Houlka.
“He put together that first piece of furniture with a Stanley hand stapler,” said Scott Collums. “My mother sewed the pieces. That’s the true story of how this business got started.”
Collums Furniture has been stapling and stuffing and sewing and selling furniture since 1982.
The company has operated out of a number of locations – including a stint in Houston – and Office Manager Judy Collums said they once joked they moved every holiday season.
“We would move into a place and the business would get bigger or Kenneth would find a cheaper place,” said Collums. “It was easier to move during the holiday’s because we could shutdown the plant and not really affect our production or our customers.”
The last move came in 1987 when they built at their current location at 120 East Street in Houlka.
“I remember moving in this building and then six months later we had a fire that destroyed everything,” said Judy. “I remember Ken on the telephone calling customers and looking for another place while we sifted through the ashes.”
That new location would be the current Chickasaw County Administration Building fondly known as the Old Houlka School House.
“It’s a two story building and I can’t tell you how many times I went up and down those stairs,” said Scott. “We lost two days of work and I’m proud to say we kept up with production and never lost a customer.”
Both Judy and Scott grew quiet when they mention the death of Kenneth a few short years ago.
“He was my brother and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him,” said Scott.
“He was one of the smartest men I ever knew,” said Judy. “He knew all about cattle, timber and furniture – mostly furniture.”
Collums Furniture currently employs about 40 and has employed up to 120.
“Upholstered furniture is an up and down industry,” said Scott. “I will say things have sort of leveled out.
“A lot of these jobs left for China years ago, but the quality went down and there have been other factors, too,” said Scott. “A lot of those companies are coming back. Everything I see shows a demand for American-made products and it’s a global demand. There is more value in an American-made product.”
And Collums said quality has always been a hallmark for their company.
“This is a family business and we are still very hands-on,” said Judy. “We’ve got second generation family working here today.”
Scott said Collums Furniture has found its niche producing mid-range, ship-to-order, custom upholstered couches and love-seats.
And Scott said the success of Collums Furniture rests in the hand of its employees.
“We’ve got a very experienced workforce and most have 10-plus years with us,” said Scott. “That’s unusual for a small plant.
“I think a lot of it has to do with our work environment. We work four days a week and on Friday if we have to,” he added. “People learn to do a lot of things and we treat them like we want to be treated. We’re usually right out there on the line with them and if they have a problem, we talk about it.”
Scott spoke with pride of a seamstress that has been with them 18 year and can be counted on to be at work every day. He talked of two framers who stapled 100-frames a day all summer long. He also talked of his son who trundled couches from the production line to the warehouse this summer, too.
“People come in and do the job that needs to be done,” said Scott. “It’s line work and the line has to keep moving.”
Scott said where a larger company might have 8 to 10 people working a line, Collums has about four. When work gets slow they move to another part of the plant.
“We used to say we had two shifts – a day shift and a night shift,” said Collums with a slight grin. “And the night shift was the same group of people as the day shift.”
And Scott said most of Collums’ workers are local folks
“We grew up with these people and know their parents and their children,” said Scott. “They may not have our last name, but they are family, too.”
But both Collums said there have been days when they were ready to quit. They pointed to the headaches of production and the fact that a 10 to 12-hour day is just an average day.
“We’ve all said ‘That’s it! I’m through! I’m going home,’” said Scott. “But there is something about manufacturing and line work that is different.
“At the end of the day you can look at a wall of furniture waiting to be shipped and know you have done something,” he explained. “There is a lot of satisfaction in knowing your hands helped make each piece. It’s a good feeling and that’s what gets me up every morning.”
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