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PeopLoungers: A company in swift motion

Essential Business

NETTLETON — A description of both the products and people of PeopLoungers can best be summed up in one word — motion. After all, the company was the pioneer in the field of upholstered motion furniture — recliners, rockers, sectionals, sofas and other pieces with moving parts — the first to make motion furniture its primary focus. (The company does produce a few specialty static pieces.) But the people are also in motion, utilizing an incentive plan which rewards its workers for efficiency and productivity that has allowed PeopLoungers to move with its people to rebound from some shaky times and reassert itself in the marketplace.

“Our aim is to produce a quality product that is priced right and that will last a lifetime,” said James C. Green Jr., president and chairman of the board of PeopLoungers. “To do that, you have to have quality people. I think our people are the real success. Furniture is really a by-product.”

PeopLoungers was founded in Tupelo in May 1979 with a mere 22 employees. The following year the company moved its operations to Nettleton, where the company’s headquarters remains today, in a plant of 88,500 square feet.

From these beginnings the operation grew, eventually expanding to its current 450,000 square feet of manufacturing and office space in Nettleton, as well as showrooms in Tupelo and High Point, N.C., where the company displays its products twice annually. As the company grew, so did its product lines. Through its research and development efforts using state-of-the-art hardware and software, PeopLoungers developed products for the “new” consumer, adding such amenities as built-in drop-tables, speaker phones, inner spring sleepers and dual massaging units.

However, the company began experiencing some tough times, watching revenues fall and employee turnover rise. Green, a Tupelo native and Ole Miss graduate who had spent two decades in the banking industry, had come to PeopLoungers in the 1980s as secretary/treasurer. Seeing unrealized potential for the company, Green bought the company in June 1997.

Green came in and concentrated on the people of the company. He brought in a whole new management team. And the company also instituted a creative production bonus system that rewards workers for both quality and quantity, as well as other measures aimed at employee retention in an industry that is very competitive for workers.

“Jimmy (Green) and his team have come in and totally revamped the benefits and insurance packages,” said Keith Blaylock, human resource manager. “As far as pay, it used to be that our workers had to rely on overtime for any extra cash. No matter how hard they worked, they were going to get paid the same. Now, our workers can earn $5 or $6 an hour more with our incentive system. And we’re having a company picnic soon and doing other things to show that we care about our workers as people, not employees. The other day I went and bought 500 ice cream sandwiches and gave them out. That’s a small thing, but we think small things count.”

These measures are showing fruits. Green said when he bought PeopLoungers, it was doing about $15 million in revenue and the payroll had shrunk to about 200 employees. Today the manufacturer is a $50-million company, with 450 employees and growing, and has captured one-half of the top retailers in the U.S.

PeopLoungers has no warehouse space. Every piece that is assembled is tagged and earmarked for the customer and shipped immediately. One advantage the company enjoys is ease of transport. Because its products have removable backs, the furniture is more easily handled, cutting down on handling and delivery costs.

All of these factors, plus the utilization of computer-controlled equipment and old-fashioned hand craftsmanship, the steam-lining of product offerings and using R&D to pinpoint the needs of today’s customers, has the company excited about the future. Green said he sees PeopLoungers as a $100-million company in five years and perhaps $200 million in a decade.

“After that, who knows where we could be,” Green said. “I don’t believe bigger is always better. The PeopLounger mission statement, simply put, is quality, excellence and service in a creative atmosphere, with people, through people and for people. Our name says it all. If we do that, we will always be successful.”


About Wally Northway

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