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Elite Family Frames employees pause from their jobs for a group photo. Owner Deanna Brower is in the center of the front row. ‘I like the feel of family here like Klaussner had,’ Brower said.     Larry Penkava/Randolph Hub

Weathering the furniture dropoff

ASHEBORO — Deanna Brower once sold sofa and chair frames to United Furniture. Now she’s selling finished products from the now-defunct manufacturer.


Brower is the owner of Elite Family Frames located at the former Stedman/Sara Lee factory on Dorsett Avenue.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, “We couldn’t build enough frames. Then, it was like somebody turned the water off.”


Foremost among her problems were the closures, just months apart, of her largest frame customers — United and Klaussner.


“United and Klaussner were our two biggest customers by a long shot,” Brower said from her office. “We’re getting back step by step.


“Two years ago, I would never have believed Klaussner and United would be out of business,” she said. “Things change fast.


“Klaussner had more of an impact. I had 45 employees (before Klaussner closed) and they’re down to 18. I’ve done as much as I can to help (those laid off) find jobs. Some have gone to other furniture companies, one went to a vendor. It’s sad. It’s been tough — not an easy two years.”


Brower spent some 25 years working for Klaussner in a number of positions, starting with sewing then supervising several departments, helping design frames, doing special projects and finally as production manager of the frame shop.


Meanwhile, Matthew Lambeth began his own frame business. In 2018, he brought Brower on as a partner. By 2021, Lambeth decided to concentrate on other businesses he owned and sold his share to Brower.


Elite Family Frames was building frames for a number of furniture manufacturers, with United and Klaussner using most of the products. “With United and then Klaussner closing, we were left in a bind,” Brower said.


Hoping to recover some of the lost income, about eight months after United closed, she bought quite a bit of the company’s works in progress. That was what was left on the production floor unfinished when the doors closed.


Brower bought parts for up to some 2,500 units. The problem was matching frame parts with corresponding fabric, cushions, cardboard and other items without production lists. She likened it to trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together without a picture to go by.


Even more problematic, the various parts had been on the United floor for eight months after the closing, leaving some components damaged.


“If it had been Klaussner stuff, it would have been easier for me,” said Brower. “But my employees did a great job.”


Those United products, much of them Lane chairs and recliners, are now being sold at Elite on Fridays and Saturdays every other week. Brower said they’re considering being open every weekend.


Being a frame builder, Brower had to hire a few upholsterers to cover the United frames with cloth. The upholsterers are upstairs but can come downstairs to help with frame building.


The finished products are downstairs, where customers can browse through to find quality furniture at extra-low prices. Adding to the selection are truckloads of finished furniture that a vendor of United bought when that company liquidated. He rents space from Elite to display his pieces.


“When I’m finished with Lane, I don’t know if I will continue upholstering,” Brower said. “I’m happy doing frames.” 


Of the 2,500 units from United, Brower estimated that about 2,200 remain to be sold. That doesn’t include the furniture brought in by the former United vendor. He also has Klaussner finished products in storage.


Brower is quick to credit the knowledge about furniture she gained during her years at Klaussner. She had followed her father, Steve Brower, to the company. He retired after serving as vice president of sales.


“I learned a lot at Klaussner,” she said. “I couldn’t put into words how much I learned. I was fortunate to have good teachers.”


And she’s trying to keep the Klaussner family atmosphere at Elite Family Frames. “I like the feel of family here like Klaussner had,” Brower said. “I am nothing without my employees.”


Reflecting on the hard times in the furniture industry, she said, “It’s not good for the community. Furniture (making) is tough for everybody right now. Hopefully, it will bounce back. It always does.”


Elite Family Frames, 136 E Dorsett Ave, Asheboro, is open to customers every other weekend, until further notice, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.