Soft-Tex plumps up business at new quarters

Even as sales fall flat at some home furnishings retailers amid the economic downturn, pillow and co

Even as sales fall flat at some home furnishings retailers amid the economic downturn, pillow and comforter manufacturer Soft-Tex is wielding more fluffing power at its new headquarters on Route 32.

Almost four months have passed since the first pillows rolled off the production line at Soft-Tex’s new 120,000-square-foot factory. The Halfmoon facility is 20,000 square feet larger than the space the manufacturer leased on multiple floors at the mammoth Harmony Mills complex Cohoes.

But while Soft-Tex is ready to produce more, retailers in the bedding industry are slumping. Linens n’ Things, for example, has filed for Chapter 11 reorganization and started to shutter 120 stores, or a fifth of its nationwide total. Among the locations the Clifton, N.J.-based chain is closing are Clifton Park and Colonie.

During the first quarter alone, home furniture, furnishings and entertainment retailers closed 709 stores, about 0.5 percent of the industry’s total. Since 2006, year-over-year sales growth in the furniture and furnishings industry has sunk to 1 percent from 10 percent, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York-based trade organization.

But in Halfmoon, Soft-Tex continues to pump out a variety of home furnishing products, slowly but surely building toward its capacity of 20,000 pillows a day, a big jump over the maximum 12,000 a day it could produce in Cohoes.

Surprise benefits

The improved production capacity, along with other operational enhancements, are some of the unexpected perks that grew out of a lease termination notice Soft-Tex received in September 2006.

“At the time, it was pretty devastating that we had to move, but now it was a blessing,” Soft-Tex President Arthur Perry said Tuesday, at Soft-Tex’s first open house for its new headquarters.

Soft-Tex, with 90 employees, makes pillows, mattress pads, feather beds, comforters and memory foam products. Its customers include Bed Bath & Beyond, Sears and Boscov’s, where its products are sold under various brand names.

Soft-Tex is now able to ship items to those retailers more efficiently, as the Halfmoon facility features a dozen loading docks, compared with three at Harmony Mills.

Bed Bath & Beyond recently launched a nationwide marketing campaign for its Royal Velvet line of towels, pillows and mattress covers, most of which is made by Soft-Tex. The Royal Velvet brand’s spokeswoman is actress Brooke Shields.

Soft-Tex has sold home furnishings to the Union, N.J.-based Bed Bath & Beyond since 2002. Soft-Tex supplied furnishings to Linens n’ Things briefly during the 1990s but stopped, limiting the impact on it from the retailer’s recent financial woes.

“The economy is down. We sell to major retailers, and they’re tightening their belts,” said Perry.

Soft-Tex is currently making more than 12,000 pillows daily during a single shift. Perry wouldn’t give exact production figures, but said the company could reach its 20,000-pillow daily capacity by fall 2009 if it is successful in efforts to increase its market share.

“It’s hard to turn the switch from 12,000 to 20,000 overnight,” Perry said.

The transformation of Harmony Mills into a massive upscale apartment complex provided the impetus for Soft-Tex’s relocation to a former American Tissue warehouse in Halfmoon.

Exit begins

In March 2005, construction crews began the first phase of the mill’s renovations, which included the development of 96 apartment units. The start of the 141-unit second phase was what forced Soft-Tex to leave Cohoes.

“No one likes to lose a business. On the other hand, we couldn’t make it fit [in Cohoes]. And we all realized that,” Cohoes Mayor John McDonald III said.

Perry looked as far as Schenectady, Gloversville, Green Island and Amsterdam for Soft-Tex’s new home. But he wanted to maintain his work force and decided against moving too far away from Cohoes, where he could not find suitable land.

Perry ended up moving the business five miles away to his native Halfmoon. He purchased the Halfmoon building last July. The Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency approved up to $3.4 million in financing for the move and renovations.

But Soft-Tex did not completely abandon Cohoes, as Perry moved its retail outlet from Harmony Mills to Remsen Street. The company has another retail shop in South Glens Falls.

Perry and his brother, Harold, acquired the manufacturer about 20 years ago.

“We bought the business on the potential that everyone needs a place to sleep on,” Perry said.

Looking ahead, Perry said he sees growth potential with a host of new products, including organic cotton and anti-allergy surface bedding.

Categories: Business

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