As a recognized leader in upscale home furnishings since the turn of the 20th century, Tomlinson/Erwin-Lambeth, Directional and Carter’s posh furniture has adorned the homes and yachts of European royalty, U.S. presidents and celebrities for generations. Thanks to its alignment with the industry’s top designers – including Barry Dixon, Larry Laslo, Michael Wolk, Vladimir Kagan, Rob Jones, Diane Grande, Denis McCullough and Nancy Barnett – its name is synonymous with comfort, quality and style.
The personality and detail Tomlinson/Erwin-Lambeth, Directional and Carter puts into each of its pieces – whether through the use of multiple high-end fabrics, cords, fringes and other decorative treatments – sets the company apart from other furniture manufacturers, according to President Rod Lambeth. Its stunning furniture frequents the showrooms of the High Point furniture market and the Chicago Merchandise Mart, and serves a variety of consumer tastes, whether contemporary, traditional or transitional.
A Passion for Design
The story of Tomlinson/Erwin-Lambeth, Directional and Carter began in 1901, when the Tomlinson family started the Tomlinson Chair Co. in High Point, N.C., the same year the Lambeth family established the Standard Chair Co. in Thomasville, N.C. Standard Chair eventually evolved into Erwin-Lambeth and was run by Rod Lambeth’s mother, Katharine Covington Lambeth, who graduated from the Parsons School of Design and had a passion for interior design.
After gaining experience with other companies in the furnishing industry, Rod Lambeth purchased Tomlinson Furniture Co. in 1987. Two years later, he purchased Erwin-Lambeth and merged the two companies. Lambeth acquired Directional Furniture Co. in 1999 and Carter Furniture in 2008. The timeless sophistication of Tomlinson and Erwin-Lambeth’s furniture and the sleek, contemporary style of Directional and Carter’s furniture enable the company to meet the style preferences of any furniture buyer.
As a member of the Sustainable Furniture council, all of Tomlinson/ Erwin-Lambeth, Directional and Carter’s furniture meets the industry’s most stringent standards for sustainability, and “we’re working towards being greener,” Lambeth says.
Just in Time
With the exception of a family owned company in the Philippines that performs some of the company’s custom carving, all of its pieces are created at the company’s Thomasville headquarters, where it operates a state-of-the-art, 127,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. “We are primarily a domestic company, but we provide hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of furniture for overseas clients,” Lambeth says.
“We continuously work to keep our manufacturing facility technologically up to snuff so we can produce more goods with fewer inventories,” he continues. “We’ve automated our facility a great deal, and over half of our merchandise now is produced on a CNC machine that produces furniture from plywood, which is actually a stronger product than hardwood.”
Continuous improvements to its production process have enabled Tomlinson/Erwin-Lambeth, Directional and Carter to reduce its factory delivery time from 10 weeks to four weeks. “We’d like to continue to refine our manufacturing process to get from concept to reality in a shorter amount of time,” Lambeth says. “We’d also like to broaden our market base.”
Process of Reinvention
Tomlinson/Erwin-Lambeth, Directional and Carter’s furniture caters to a relatively exclusive customer base. With the economy in the doldrums, its efforts to maintain a growth path have been challenged. Lambeth stresses the importance of maintaining the company’s reputation, so lowering the quality of its furniture is not an option. Rather, Tomlinson/Erwin-Lambeth, Directional and Carter must continue to appeal to the industry’s top interior designers and find reliable distribution partners if it intends to remain successful.
“When I was a kid, there were only two ways to sell furniture – through retailers or through interior designers who bought furniture from showrooms,” Lambeth says. “But many of our competitors today sell to independent designers directly.
“If somebody has all the answers to the things we need to know going forward with regard to distribution, I wish them the best of luck – I’m sure they’ll be very successful,” he adds. “I don’t have a five-year plan; I don’t even have a five-month plan – I have a five-minute plan. The furniture landscape is so different it’s as if a tornado went through. I think the only people who will survive are the ones with sawdust running through their blood.”