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Times Change At Sligh
Sligh, who is the fourth generation to lead the company, is discontinuing the production of grandfather clocks and closing the company’s
This is not the first evolution that Sligh Furniture has been through in its 125-year history. Though founded as a bedroom furniture manufacturer, the company has also produced desks, dormitory furniture, grandfather clocks, home office furniture and entertainment furniture. It has also changed locations and size. During the height of Grand Rapids’ furniture manufacturing from the 1880s to the 1920s, Sligh Furniture had a large plant in Grand Rapids that employed more than 1,000 workers. In the 1930s Charles R. Sligh Jr. moved the company to Holland and began producing desks. Though Sligh Furniture began manufacturing in North Carolina and Virginia, as well as other countries, until this point it had kept some production in West Michigan.
“I think the story of our company is one of adapting,” Sligh said. “The common thread in the history of Sligh Furniture is adapting to changes in the marketplace.”
The grandfather clocks, which had been made by Sligh since the company bought Trend Clock Co. in 1968, were once a popular home item, Sligh said. Now, he said, grandfather clocks are not a sought-after product.
“Consumers had really changed their outlook on clocks,” Sligh said. “The grandfather clocks aren’t the growth market they once were.”
Sligh said the decision to create a business plan that doesn’t include the Holland plant was a difficult one.
“A lot of the people that are working in this plant I’ve know all my life,” he said.
Supervisor Jim Koeman, who has worked at Sligh Furniture since his 18th birthday 32 years ago, said he realized about six months ago that he would not be retiring from the company where he has spent his career.
“I think it’s sad, and I’m not surprised based on what we’ve been seeing over the last five years,” he said. “I didn’t think it would happen this soon.”
Koeman said the employees at the Holland plant understand the situation and the company has been helpful in making the transition easier.
“The company has been really more than fair,” he said. “Over the last three years, we’ve had a number of small layoffs, one at a time, and I think that’s been handled really well.”
The most difficult part for Koeman is deciding what to do with the rest of his career.
“I’m not sure if manufacturing is where I want to go,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a time to look at a possible change.”
Koeman said he hopes the new plan works for the company, but he would like to see more manufacturing stay in the United States.
“I’m still hoping that we, as a nation, can turn some things around and revive some of the manufacturing that really built this country — and really built Holland, for sure,” he said.
Though he is unsure of where he will go in September when the plant closes, Koeman said he has hopes of finding another company that suits him as well as Sligh.
“It’s been great working here and I certainly hope I can find another place for the rest of my career that is as fair and comfortable as Sligh Furniture has been,” he said.
Sligh said the company is helping the approximately 75 workers who will lose their jobs to find new positions.
“We’ll be arranging to connect our people with appropriate jobs in August,” he said. “We also have some payments to people that help them after they leave here.”
Sligh said the employees at the plant have appreciated the advance notice of the company’s plans.
“It gives them time to think,” he said. “People are thinking through what’s the next phase for them and we’re helping with that.”
Though the decision to discontinue production of grandfather clocks was difficult, Sligh is optimistic about continuing with production of home office and entertainment furniture.
Sligh said that clock production has been an important part of the company. “There’s an emotional pull to clocks that we’ll miss,” he said.
But if no one is using the clocks, the product loses its meaning and satisfaction, Sligh added. “When that fades, we need to derive our satisfaction in business from finding a product that people really want.”