In its 120 year history, Kiel’s A. A. Laun Furniture Company has seen the ups and downs of economic swings.
The furniture manufacturer has remained resilient by adapting to market needs, and keeping an eye on diversification in order to survive.
That determination has the company looking at new ways to compete in a marketplace that has gone soft due to a sagging home building economy.
About 4-5 years ago, the Kiel furniture manufacturer returned to a commitment to make all its products locally. The Made-in America theme was going to be the next successful trend for A. A. Laun Furniture—until the bottom dropped out of the economy.
A large contract customer was sold to a new parent company, who made a decision to pull away from a manufacturing agreement with Laun Furniture.
Then, the housing markets went into a free fall, that had negative repercussions for furniture dealers. “The economy really hit us hard about this time last year,” said company president Jonathan Laun. “Once again, we were faced with the need to diversity, because we couldn’t see a lot of growth in home building in the near future.”
Venturing into new lines
The result has been a diversification into three new product directions for Laun Furniture.
Back in 2010, the company began manufacturing doll storage cabinets for the American Girl line, a Wisconsin company owned by Mattel. “When we first got involved with them, they were looking for a quality supplier. Things were working well, yet their business also went flat this past year,” Laun noted.
On the positive side, the American Girl line seems to be picking up, and orders are flowing once again.
The second tier of diversity comes from Laun Furniture’s venture into child crib manufacturing.
Working with Bunkie Cribs, Laun Furniture has come up with designs for manufacturing baby cribs that will serve the needs for day care and church facilities. New laws mandate that all such facilities must replace existing crib models by December of this year in order to meet safety standards.
“For the first time in my career, we appear to have a product here that no one else has,” Laun said. “We aren’t sure how big this could be, and we don’t know where it’s going to take us.”
The stackable, space-saving cribs conform to the new safety standards and come in a variety of finishes.
The wholesaler has connections with churches and day care facilities throughout the country for this potential product line. “It’s the kind of growth opportunity we haven’t experienced, and it’s something totally different for us,” Laun said.
High end crib line
Additionally, Laun Furniture has started manufacturing a high-end crib line for online retailer MUU Kids. The line can also be found at retailers such as Bye Bye Baby, a division of Bed, Bath & Beyond.
“The line stresses perfection in both manufacturing and finishing,” Laun said.
MUUKids is a company that brings several key focal points to bear in its product line, including the American made label, ecologically friendly products and sustainable materials.
A visit to the muukids.comwill show
examples of kids room and nursery furniture being sold in both the Sam and Ray lines. Those who linger on the home page can actually get a glimpse of the craftsmen and women at Laun Furniture putting their skills to play in making the cribs and storage units.
Getting to the point of manufacturing process on these new items has required a “good faith” measure on the part of Laun Furniture.
As with any new product, design time and sampling are needed to move the company toward the final product.
In these cases, since the market is a consumer market that is heavily government regulated, additional testing is required.
“All of these things had to go through stringent testing,” Laun noted. While the testing is required in the consumer’s best interests, sometimes the inconsistency of the government’s mandates and regulations can add costly steps and time for the manufacturer trying to meet the market demands.
Taking some of the new products to market also brings additional challenges, the likes of which can include compiling a 14-page, 57-step instruction manual for
The need for diversification has prompted A. A. Laun Furniture to seek new niches in furniture manufacturing. The company has partnered with other firms like American Girl, MUU Kids, and Bunkie Crib to enter some key premium juvenile furniture markets, producing products like those seen above on a contract basis.
assembly or figuring out ways to design a complex baby crib for efficient customer shipping.
In addition, regulations call for the need to add appropriate warning and approval stickers.
“No one has worked any harder than we have to make these things work for our customers,” Laun said.
Optimism for growth
of the three ventures has spelled optimism for a company that has struggled through this economy.
“Furthermore, sales of our core furniture line have also started to improve,” Laun noted.
“We have been running overtime since the first of the year. We have hired a few more new employees and there are opportinities
now for more......and that’s
good news for our employees and the community,” he said.