Real Estate

Meganne Wecker On The Evolution Of Skyline Furniture And Cloth & Company

Meganne Wecker is truly one of a kind. In the grand scheme of the furniture industry, there are very few brands that manufacture in the United States, particularly outside of North Carolina. There are even fewer that are run by female executives. But that’s what makes Meganne Wecker a true unicorn. She is the president and chief creative officer of Skyline Furniture Manufacturing, which is a brand founded by her grandfather, as well as Cloth and Company, which is a separate business she created.

Skyline is sold by a range of retailers from Target to Lulu and Georgia and Crate & Barrel. On the other hand, Cloth and Company is known for textile design and has collaborated with brands such as John Robshaw, Red From Scalamandré, Rifle Paper Company, and Gray Malin.

I recently spoke with Wecker about her career, how she helped both brands to evolve, the biggest challenges in the furniture industry right now, and the benefits of domestic manufacturing among other things.

Amanda Lauren: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career?

Meganne Wecker: I think early on in my career, people underestimated that I could be doing anything that would be meaningful in the furniture space. We were a Chicago manufacturer and very focused on dropshipped made-to-order upholstery via the catalog industry which wasn’t seen as disruptive. The industry didn’t look to me as a competitor or someone that they needed to watch, because what we were doing was so foreign to them. I was also a young female that couldn’t possibly do anything that would be disruptive. While my Dad has always been in my corner, I have had to come up against the old boys club that ran that have been running the furniture manufacturing business.

I was in my 20’s coming out of college. My dad told me to design whatever I wanted. So I designed the furniture I wanted to put in my first apartment in Chicago. Those were the pictures that we put up on Target’s website. A younger generation was shopping that at the time, so it was sort of a little bit of serendipity in terms of being in the right place at the right time. That really grew our business and we grew in and out of five factories over seven years.

A few years after I entered the business, we noticed a shift in consumer spending as people started to shop online. Our supply chain and manufacturing style was easily transferable to e-commerce since we were already a made-to-order manufacturer. We were really early adopters of e-commerce and in the early 2000s were selling a brand new channel that the industry didn’t understand.

Fast forward to today, and e-commerce is such an important channel. We’ve had the past twelve years to grow and learn and grow with it. Banking all of this knowledge has given us a competitive edge in today’s manufacturing game.

Lauren: How did Skyline Furniture come to be?

Wecker: My Grandfather launched Skyline in 1946 in Chicago. There was a furniture manufacturing presence here [at the time]. And then the industry moved to North Carolina and he did not want to move. Around that time, the direct mail catalog business was also centrally located to Chicago. Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Spiegel were all big catalog companies that were based here. So we pivoted and looked to manufacture for that channel.

Then as e-commerce started to come on the scene, a lot of those catalog direct mail businesses were the first to go into e-commerce.

It was a new platform, but it was the same business model. Now customers were ordering it via the computer versus calling in. We would take the order and make it and ship it directly to the consumer.

Lauren: How has the advent of digital printing changed the business?

Wecker: Six or seven years ago, we learned of digital printing technology that was made available that would uphold home furnishing standards. And it’s the same digital technology that Zara and H&M built their businesses off of for fast fashion.

Cloth and Company became similar to a design house where we do all of our textile design. We house all of our collaborations there. Cloth and Company has a very strong design point of view. Our website sells direct to the trade and we have brand pages through certain retailers.

Lauren: How would you describe the aesthetic of the brand?

Wecker: We are very focused on where the market is looking and where sales are happening. I think the pendulum swings on that a little bit. You know, when I first came into the business, it was very traditional florals, skirts on furniture, and fringe. And then it all sort of went to a little more mid century modern. And so you sort of just watch it cycle over the years.

It’s also what’s happening in the industry right now. There’s a lack of print and pattern, which is another reason why we’re so excited about the Rifle Paper Company’s launch with Birch Lane and Red From Scalamandre. We did these collaborations because they were so vibrant and so colorful.

Lauren: What do predict will be the biggest design trends in 2023?

Wecker: I think after periods of recession and depression in our country, people are looking for more optimistic colors and patterns. So I think those will really start to surge.

Lauren: While a lot of the major supply chain issues that occurred during the height of the pandemic have dissipated and digital printing has helped some businesses get around that—there are still some issues. For example, while lead times aren’t excessively long and there’s a good inventory to choose from, that doesn’t necessarily every customer will get their first choice of a product whether they’re buying a sofa, chair, or bed. Where are Skyline and Cloth and Company in terms of supply chain challenges?

Wecker: We are in an excellent position because digital printing allows us to print all of our materials on demand. We have also moved as many of our raw materials back to the United States as possible over the past three years. We moved all of our metal out of China to Michigan. Now, we’re working to get all our fabric to the United States.

But the fact that we moved so much from China, back onshore, really helped us stay in the supply of everything that we needed throughout the past year.

Lauren: How has sourcing domestically as much as possible impacted your numbers?

Wecker: We are still seeing really big growth. We were up 30 percent year over year—2020 to 2021. And then we’ll close 2022 up 25 percent.

Lauren: What is it like being a leader in a price point that’s attainable yet has a high-end aesthetic?

Wecker: We’re a step up from the mass world, but we’re an opening price point in a specialty world. It’s very strategic on our part because it reaches a broad range of customers. It reaches younger customers just coming out of school and ranges to a more affluent customer who maybe is looking for excellent furniture that hits on a trend that they’re interested in for right now or for anything a second home or a guest bedroom. And so they don’t want to make a huge commitment, but are looking for something with quality and style. And it also gives us the ability to play with a lot of different retailers in the space.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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