By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
MANTACHIE – The unmistakable sounds of furniture manufacturing could be heard drifting out of the blue metal-siding building that was once a PeopLoungers plant.
Air guns hammering nails into wooden frames that will be transformed into sofas and chairs; sewing machines stitching covers on cushions; the steady thrum of moving forklifts and machinery – all were clear indications of furniture being made once again.
But PeopLoungers is long gone. In its place are some 125 Townhouse Home Furnishings employees who have picked up their stakes and moved from their destroyed facility in Smithville some 35 miles away.
Townhouse was among the 14 businesses destroyed by the April 27 tornado. The town had 16 before that devastating EF-5 twister robbed it of businesses, homes and precious lives.
As the town’s largest employer, Townhouse promised to return. But for now, to keep its workers’ paychecks coming and to fill orders placed before – and even after – the storm, the company is up and running again.
“Right now we’re running six lines and adding one Monday, then two more the next week,” said Eddie Lafayette, the acting plant manager.
Lafayette also is the father of company president and founder Jeremy Lafayette. Eddie came out of retirement to do what he could.
“I worked here before I retired, and these people are very special to me,” he said.
Workers moved what was left at the old plant, including surviving inventory, raw materials and equipment and shifted them as quickly as possible to Mantachie.
On Thursday, workers started building frames; on Friday, they started cranking out furniture again. They even worked Saturday.
Eddie Lafayette said Townhouse is now capable of churning out about 600 pieces of furniture a day, but needs to boost production to 900 to 1,000 pieces a day to catch up with demand.
He said the company also needs to hire several more workers to prepare for an expected ramp-up in production.
“We can accommodate up to 12 lines, and we’ll need those new workers in the next 30 days,” he said.
Jeremy Lafayette told workers a few days after the tornado that the company would reopen in Smithville within a year.
“The move to Mantachie is a permanent move, but we’re going to have 120 to 150 people at Madison House, 150 in Mantachie – and 150 in Smithville,” he said.
The company’s Madison House division is in Amory and was not damaged by the tornado.
“You are who we’re all about,” he said. “We’ve got to get you back to work.”
And back to work they are.
“We’re going to be busy working six days a week, 11 hours a day,” the senior Lafayette said. “Our customers have been really understanding.”
Among those who gladly followed the company to Mantachie was Richard Caradine, who admits he was unsure about his future.
After the tornado hit, “It made me depressed and feel really down,” he said. “But I felt better knowing we had a place to go to and I’m feeling really good now that we’re here. This is a good company. No, it’s a great company.”
Delois Turner, on the other hand, had no worries about the future of the company
“I already knew,” she said with a smile. “I live in Mantachie. I helped them unload the trucks.”
An exuberant Teresa Talley said Townhouse showed the kind of company it was by putting them back to work as quickly as possible.
“Jeremy told us the plan and we were thrilled,” she said. “We knew we’d follow him.”
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or firstname.lastname@example.org.