Under the radar no more

PONTOTOC – With some reluctance, Guy Lipscomb and Roger Bland agreed to talk about their company, Southern Motion.
While the reclining furniture company is nearly 14 years old, it has not – by design – tooted its horn very loudly.
“We’ve been trying to say under the radar,” said Lipscomb, the chairman and CEO who co-founded the company with Larry Todd in 1996.
But Southern Motion has been hard to ignore.
Last week, it broke ground on a $7 million expansion that will add 200 jobs within two years, and possibly as many as 400 jobs in five years. That’s on top of the 700 employees it has now.
The privately held company won’t reveal its annual revenue, but industry experts estimate that Southern Motion is among the top motion furniture suppliers in North America, competing against the likes of Ashley, Franklin, Lane and La-Z-Boy.
But competing on price isn’t necessarily where Southern Motion excels.
“It’s about executing the fundamentals,” said Bland, who joined the company as president in 2008.
The company’s mission statement is a “promise of excellence” based on original styling, superior quality and shipping integrity.
In other words, giving customers well-designed, well-built furniture that’s delivered on time.
And for Southern Motion, that means running its business at home.
While it must source most of its fabric overseas like other furniture manufacturers, Southern Motion proudly notes that it has maintained its own cut-and-sew workers and that its own employees design and build the recliners, sofas, love seats, sectionals and home theater furniture sold across the country.
“Anybody can import,” Bland said. “But you don’t have control of your destiny. You have multiple worries in costs, logistics, currency exchange rates, etc. We don’t think it’s worth it.”
Having to rely on overseas container shipments can be a double-edged sword. While the strategy may cut costs in some areas, delays can work against a company. Backed-up orders and deliveries can lead to unhappy customers, which can be bad for business.
Many furniture companies try to find the right mix of overseas and domestic sourcing, with some faring better than others. But in Southern Motion’s case, sticking to “made in Mississippi” and “made in America” has worked quite well.

Doing what you say you’ll do
Another trademark of the company’s success is its integrity, Lipscomb said.
“Our definition of integrity is doing what you say you’re going to do when you said you would do it,” he said, “and communicating if something happens to change the agreed-upon outcome.”
The furniture industry, he continued, “is a relationship business and always has been. I’ve been in it since 1967, Roger’s been in it since 1979. It doesn’t matter when you got into it. It has been and always will be a cottage industry.”
While the industry has big players like Ashley and Furniture Brands International (which owns Lane, Broyhill, Thomasville, Maitland-Smith, Drexel Heritage and others) are at the top of the food chain, they have only a fraction of the overall market.
So there’s plenty of room for smaller players like Southern Motion to grab a piece of the $80 billion U.S. furniture industry. And for reclining furniture manufacturers like Southern Motion, the news is even better. That segment of the industry is expected to grow to about $4 billion within the next five years, according to Furniture Today.
When Bland, the son of Action Industries co-founder Bo Bland, joined Southern Motion two years ago, he joined an executive team that included vice president of sales G Lipscomb – one of Guy’s sons – and vice president of merchandising Davy Crockett. Rounding out the team are Pat Patterson, senior vice president of finance; Wayne Patterson, CFO and Danny McClellan, vice president of operations.
Together, the team decided to take a deliberate path to grow Southern Motion’s market share.
They worked with key customers, reached out to others and went about sharing what the company could do for them.
“We’re not going to add any additional products that we’re not making now; we’re going to make reclining furniture and make it well,” Bland said.
“We’re in business to make money,” Lipscomb said. “And we want you to make money, too. It’s not in our interest for you not to make money. It doesn’t do us any good if you’re not in business next year after you’ve bought from us. But you’re going to be selling quality furniture that’s going to last because it has our name on it.”
Apparently that message has been getting through.
Few furniture manufacturers have expanded and added hundreds of employees during the past few years, especially during the recession.
Mississippi, in particular, has taken its share of hits, with closings and layoffs taking their toll.
But Southern Motion has been able to weather the storm, not only surviving, but thriving.
How far can the company grow?
“If we keep doing what we’re doing, that will take care of itself,” Lipscomb said.

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

Dennis Seid / NEMS Daily Journal