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Super Sagless stays in motion with innovations to stay competitive in market

Tupelo — Many manufacturers have come and gone across the state since Super Sagless Corp. opened its doors in Tupelo in 1956. The company that produces mechanisms for motion furniture like recliners and rockers hasn’t been immune to the influences that have sent so many manufacturing jobs offshore. But it has managed to compete by doing all it can to make a better product at a lower cost.

“We are constantly automating, moving more into robotics, and using cost-savings tools like Kaizen Events, which is a lean manufacturing teamwork management tool,” said Leonard Shane, division president of Super Sagless. “We’re doing everything we can to reduce our processing costs, and also looking at alterative materials to reduce materials costs. We are also doing redesigns to save money.”

Super Sagless is the largest of several furniture manufacturing subsidiaries of Leggett & Platt Inc. that are located in Northeast Mississippi. Super Sagless currently employs 700 people, including 55 tool and dye makers.

Longevity critical

Shane said that the products will outlast the upholstery part of the product.

“It isn’t a decorative piece,” he said. “It is something someone might sit in eight hours a day or more, during football season. Longevity is important. We work on continuous innovations of our products. We also make constant attempts to replace wooden components in furniture with steel components to improve longevity and the quality of the product.”

The company has worked in partnership with Mississippi State University on innovations such as developing more exotic chemistries of steel that could allow the company to use lighter gauge steel with the same strength and durability. That could reduce costs by reducing the pounds of steel that must be purchased.

It is no secret that the manufacturing industry is under intense competition in the world economy. Many jobs in the U.S. have been lost to cheaper foreign locations.

“Case goods have seen a major exodus to offshore, and there is a growth in offshore manufacturing in upholstery,” Shane said. “That is the battle. My ability to export, which I do presently quite a bit, is probably going to decline because as manufacturing capacity continues to be built in China, I won’t be exporting to China anymore. But Leggett & Platt is building factories there, so it will just leave here and go there.”

Shane describes current business as “okay,” but says he sees a definite fight to protect the 700 jobs at the plant.

“We aren’t ready to throw the towel in,” Shane said. “We’re going to continue to try to improve the price structure to remain competitive with offshore competition. We, of course, are looking in other areas and directions. We are a metal-making plant doing stamping, assembly, welding and powder coat painting. So we are looking at doing work for other companies that are outsourcing but want to stay domestic.

“The biggest problem in the past 15 months has been the escalation of steel pricing in the U.S. When our steel was competitive with China, our pricing was even or a little lower, and we were very competitive with offshore. Now our steel costs are higher — and labor and benefits are higher — it has made the job much tougher.”

The weak U.S. dollars has a big impact. It makes it harder for U.S. manufacturers to import the steel they need. And that means the steel is cheaper for foreign manufacturers.

“Foreign steel is not attracted to the U.S. because the dollar is so weak, plus China is consuming so much steel that a lot of world’s steel is going to China, which is also buying a lot of scrap metal,” Shane said.

Reducing costs, improving product

Super Sagless works to remain competitive by spending several hundred thousand dollars each year for retooling to reduce costs and improve product. Shane said the company has one of the largest and best equipped tool and dye shops in Mississippi. It builds its own tooling, tooling for other Leggett & Platt subsidiaries and tooling for other companies in Mississippi.

The company has ISO 9000 certification, and considers auto industry work a possibility.

“We are definitely going to take a look at that at least at a tier-two level,” Shane said.

Like most other companies, Super Sagless is concerned about tort liability. Shane said they feel fortunate to have not experienced any really bad problems. He said that may be because they do things right to avoid creating a problem in the first place. But tort liability is still a consideration.
Workforce training is also important.

“Itawamba Community College (ICC) is very, very helpful in training,” Shane said. “Most of our tool and dye makers have gone through their machining school. We also utilize other types of training such as computer classes at ICC. They are an excellent asset to Northeast Mississippi.”

The company’s name came from its first product manufactured in 1936, a webbing for upholstered furniture. The company moved to Tupelo from New Jersey nearly 50 years ago because of the growth in the upholstery furniture market in the region. In 1965 the company was purchased by publicly owned Mohasco Corp., which was the largest furniture conglomerate in the country at the time both in furniture and carpet.

Mohasco Corp. also owned Futorian Manufacturing, which was the largest upholstery manufacturer in Mississippi with plants located in New Albany and Okalona. Mohasco also owned several other furniture and carpet mills at the time. In 1988 Citicorp Venture Capital purchased Mohasco and, in 1994, Citicorp sold Super Sagless to Leggett & Platt, the present owner headquartered in Carthage, Mo.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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