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Bushline gears up for furniture season

Bushline owner Jerry Sexton is gearing up for the spring furniture season with his eyes toward a slow expansion of the plant employee pool, possibly by nearly double its current 60 workers, by the end of the year.

The hiring process will begin in March, if all goes as planned.

“Our product has been well-received, in the different markets. So, we expect a lot of growth this year,” said Sexton.

He spoke of earlier days, when NAFTA became law.

“This area, North Carolina and Mississippi used to dominate the furniture industry. But, when most ‘upholsteries’ went overseas I thought, ‘I’m probably going to be out of business in five years.’ And, then I’d find little niche markets here and there, and we’d grow a little bit.

“Over the years, we found the home-healthcare industry – like power lift chairs – and the OEM market to add to our existing retail trade,” said Sexton.

The OEM (original equipment manufacturer) market consists of those retail stores like Sears, who carries a product label, like Kenmore. Sears does not build the product line. Instead, it contracts with a manufacturer to produce the appliance.

The same is true across the industry board, including furniture, he said.

Sexton started some 35 years ago with a furniture store and plant in Bean Station. The company grew to incorporate a second retail store, located in Morristown. He bought the former Plant 1 of Berkline and relocated it to his store in Morristown.

The business expanded over the years as Sexton delved into other markets, picking up the hospitality and medical trades. The company also grew into the college trade, outfitting dorm rooms and lobbies.

When Hollis Bush retired early last year, Sexton purchased Bushline as an expansion project. The company was doing a swift bit of business in the retail and rent-to-own markets, under the Bush family name, he said.

“I thought it would be a good fit, with their good history, their good name and the good work ethic of the workforce who live in Claiborne and the surrounding counties,” said Sexton.

As a business owner and as a state representative, Sexton said his main focus is to grow the local job market.

“If we don’t take the risk — and, I saw this as a good risk — all that work will be done by somebody. It will go somewhere. So, we try to bring it to our home, where we live — to bring those jobs and those skills here.

“Vendors will come to us and that reaches out to the other businesses around you — hotels and restaurants. It stays in the area where you live.

“It sustains the local economy. The more jobs, the more spending is done where the employees live. Without jobs, where would our community be? An increase in jobs means better roads, better schools. And, people move to the area, or won’t move out of the area, when there’s growth in the job market,” said Sexton.

He says the worst thing to have happened is the ‘devaluing’ of skilled labor, in recent years.

“I want to continue the tradition of good, lasting contributions to Claiborne County and to live up to the Bushline legacy,” said Sexton.

Since the purchase, Sexton has hired 20 additional employees and revamped the production facility. He invested in a $200,000 computerized fabric cutter and a CNC wood cutting machine. New sewing machines have also been installed.

He says he is ‘making an investment in the people.’

Bushline and Sexton Furniture Company offer a quicker lead time and a smaller inventory for those who purchase domestically, he said. Whenever possible, Sexton said he purchases goods ‘made in America.’

He estimated that, during its peak seasons, the combined company manufactures approximately 6,000 to 8,000 pieces of furniture per month.