How Torrance-based school furniture maker Virco got a head start on pandemic sales – Daily Breeze

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Manufacturing companies have faced many challenges due to supply chain safeguards, labor shortages, competition from China, and COVID-19 mandates, but Virco Manufacturing Corp. running at full speed.

As the nation’s largest manufacturer of school furniture, the Torrance-based company has rushed to keep pace with demand when schools reopen. This may seem counterintuitive, as most classrooms are already equipped with desks, chairs, filing cabinets, and other necessary equipment. But another factor comes into the equation.

“There is a huge backlog of deferred maintenance on buildings and with furniture,” said Virco president Doug Virtue. “They have to replace things and many school districts use stimulus money to get there. There is also a lot of construction of new schools going on.

These factors have combined to give Virco a strong increase in sales.

  • A worker appears Monday, December 13, 2021 within the plant Virco in Torrance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • A worker appears Monday, December 13, 2021 within the plant Virco in Torrance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Virco Chairman Doug Virtue appears on Monday, December 13, 2021 inside the company’s head office in Torrance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Virco President Doug Virtue is featured on Monday, December 13, 2021 inside the factory at the company’s headquarters in Torrance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Virco President Doug Virtue is featured on Monday, December 13, 2021 inside the factory at the company’s headquarters in Torrance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Virco President Doug Virtue is featured on Monday, December 13, 2021 inside the factory at the company’s headquarters in Torrance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Left to right, Doug and Bob Virtue inside the company’s head office in Torrance on Monday, December 13, 2021 (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Virco CEO Bob Virtue sits next to a photo of his father, Julian Virtue, on Monday, December 13, 2021 at the company’s head office in Torrance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Virco Chairman Doug Virtue appears on Monday, December 13, 2021 inside the company’s head office in Torrance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Virco Chairman Doug Virtue appears on Monday, December 13, 2021 inside the company’s head office in Torrance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

“We had a nice increase in sales this year compared to last year when we were down 20% due to COVID-19,” Virtue said. “We made it all up and we are now slightly ahead of 2019.”

Virco ships around 3 million products per year, including desks, chairs, filing cabinets, bookcases and tables, among others. During his more than 70 years of activity, Virco has shipped over 60 million chairs.

Made in the USA

The company’s products are 100% designed, manufactured and assembled in the USA. Virco operates a 550,000 square foot plant in Torrance which includes 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space, a 200,000 square foot warehouse and 50,000 square feet of office space.

The company employs approximately 800 workers, including 250 in Torrance and 550 in Conway, Arkansas, where additional manufacturing and distribution operations take place at a 1.7 million square foot facility.

“This facility manages the other two-thirds of the country, and everything west of the Rockies is served by Torrance,” Virtue said.

A worker appears Monday, December 13, 2021 within the plant Virco in Torrance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

Virco’s domestic business model gives the company a head start over other manufacturers who depend on overseas shipments of merchandise, said Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor, a retail consultancy firm. based in New York.

“We’re going to see more companies returning to the United States for this very reason,” he said. “It gives you a lot more transparency in the supply chain, so you have more control. You know with more certainty where and how long products may be delays are.

Labor shortages and shipping delays have prompted retailers like Walmart and Amazon to charter their own freighters in hopes of gaining more control over the process, Phibbs said.

And Virco?

“Supply chain safeguards affect us a lot, but we’re doing a lot better on inbound orders than in 2020,” Virtue said. “The production at our factory has actually doubled, which is a testament to the competence of our employees. “

A worker appears Monday, December 13, 2021 within the plant Virco in Torrance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

A family business

Virco has been run by three generations of the Virtue family, starting with grandfather Julian Virtue who founded the company in 1950. Doug’s father, Robert Virco, is the current CEO and his sister Kathy Young is director. Sales.

Virtue Andrew’s brother Doug, is not an official employee of the company. But he was a design consultant, pushing Virco to offer a more diverse color palette to American schools, starting with the release of the ZUMA product line in 2004.

“When I think of the visual impacts our business has had on the classroom environment, color is among the most important and it deserves credit for it,” Virtue said.

The ZUMA line includes a rocking chair designed to provide ergonomic support while providing flexibility of movement.

“We found it to help students with autism and attention deficit disorder,” Virtue said. “We work with occupational therapists and apparently there is a healthy connection between gentle movement and engagement in the mental process.”

COVID-related school closures haven’t stopped orders from coming in as Virco has expanded its advisory arm to provide expertise on safe classroom layout and design options that meet to COVID-19 security protocols. The company says it is on track for significant growth in 2022.

Virco CEO Bob Virtue sits next to a photo of his father, Julian Virtue, on Monday, December 13, 2021 at the company’s head office in Torrance. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

Virco’s primary customer base is education, including K-12 schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities, as well as business and technical schools. It also supplies furniture and equipment to convention centers and arenas, meeting rooms, government offices and places of worship.

Virco chose to maintain its operations in the United States for two reasons: worker loyalty and the costs associated with shipping furniture from overseas. Nearly 40% of the company’s employees are in Virco for over 20 years.

“We’re a family,” Virtue said.

When it comes to shipping, Virco’s products aren’t necessarily suitable, the company said.

“Our furniture is large, bulky and very seasonal,” said Virtue. “This is a very bad profile for importing ocean freight because of the relationship between the cost of its ocean transportation and the selling price of the products. “

Phibbs said the country’s supply chain would likely return to normal by mid-2022, although there are no guarantees.

“People who left the workforce have left,” he said. “It’s going to impact the supply chain for a while. It is not a temporary thing.


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