Ashley Furniture deal could have 'positive impact'

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

ECRU – Ashley Furniture Industries, which employs some 3,000 workers at its facilities in Ecru and Ripley, could be adding more in the future.
The Arcadia, Wis.-based furniture company recently acquired the intellectual properties of Berkline/BenchCraft, once a major player in the industry.
According to Furniture Today, Ashley paid more than $6 million in a bankruptcy court bidding process. Berkline/BenchCraft filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May, laying off its last 600 workers at its Morristown, Tenn., facility.
Ashley, the nation’s largest furniture retailer and supplier, said it would reintroduce the Berkline and BenchCraft furniture line and sell it through its previous channels of distribution.
“Our intention is to really enhance both those brands over time and make those brands what they once were – which was distinctive brands in the furniture industry,” Ashley President and CEO Todd Wanek told Furniture Today.
The company, he said, will not open new plants to manufacture and build Berkline- and BenchCraft-branded furniture, but produce them in current Asian and U.S. plants.
The Ecru plant is the world’s largest upholstered furniture manufacturing plant in the world and could fit into those plans.
Brent Koslov, Ashley’s executive vice president of upholstery, said the company is working on plans to integrate Berkline/BenchCraft and that no decision had been made yet on how the Mississippi plants might fit in.
“Obviously we want to grow our business, and we’re hoping for a positive impact to Mississippi,” he said.
Berkline/BenchCraft at one time employed about 2,500 at its Mississippi plants.
In 2004, Berkline closed its Baldwyn plant, laying off 400 workers. In 2008, BenchCraft laid off its last 400 workers in Blue Mountain.
The company first opened in Ripley in 1976. The company was acquired by Berkline in 2002.

Click video to hear audio