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Church Chair President Dean Sammons, son of founder John Sammons, said Monday the company’s difficulties began in 2007.
“I would talk to our suppliers — wood, steel, foam, fabric and paint products, just about everything that would be used in construction,” Sammons said. “They all started talking about how their business was dropping off.
“I’m not blaming this on the suppliers, but that’s part of the problem,” said Sammons. “It’s a combination of cash flow, and many suppliers not keeping a large amount of stock on their shelves. Companies don’t want to give terms anymore. They want cash on the barrel head.”
Sammons said the family could have been a little more financially savvy, adding that companies that are making it through this recession are those with strong financials.
“We’ve never had a line of credit. If we had a half a million or million dollar line of credit, we could have coasted through this thing and not fallen behind like we have,” Sammons said.
Before the economy fell off, Sammons said, it typically took between two and six weeks to ship the metal and wood upholstered chairs made in the Shannon plant on New Calhoun Highway.
Today, it takes between 12 and 16 weeks, he said.
Complaints posted at various websites indicate some orders are taking much longer than that. “A lot of them do have valid complaints,” Sammons admitted.
Tony Snyder, minister of youth and education at Belvedere First Baptist Church in North Augusta, S.C., said his church waited seven months to get its chairs.
“Every time we called, we got a different story,” Snyder said. “If they had just been honest with us, that’s what we needed.”
Snyder said his church received delivery shortly after filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
Sammons said the problems today involve a combination of getting raw goods from his suppliers, and cash flow problems.
“We’re behind on a bunch of them,” Sammons said. “We know we’re eliminating business, but we’re trying to be honest with people.”
Sammons said the company had built a good reputation over 25 years. His father, “Big John” Sammons, was a pioneer in the business. When the company was founded, churches were having a difficult time getting construction loans, hence the multi-purpose facility concept was born.
“That’s where flexible seating was born,” Sammons said. “When people found out that they were affordable and had superior comfort, a worldwide industry was born. If we weren’t the first, we were right there at it.”
However, companies are no longer keeping items in stock like they used to, he said.
“You have to order it and it has to be made. It’s very hard to get things you need when you need it,” Sammons said.
He said one of his primary suppliers, a company that made the thread used in the fabric used on chairs, actually went out of business. He said companies are scrambling to be able to match fabrics as a result.
In addition to filling and delivering back orders, Church Chair also owes Floyd County $27,464.98 for 2009 property taxes, in addition to the $22,249.05 bill for 2010. Tax Commission Kevin Payne said that if no payments were received by Nov. 15, the company would be close to $50,000 in arrears to the county.
Federal tax liens of nearly $219,000 have been filed against the company. Sammons said it’s not uncommon to make payments on taxes.
It wasn’t too many years ago that Church Chair employed close to 250 people. Now that number is close to 100.
“My goal is to have every person who’s been laid off, to have them back here working again and more,” Sammons said.
He also wants to get all the outstanding orders filled.
“We feel it’s very important for these people to get their chairs,” Sammons said. “We want to do churches right. We don’t want anybody to have to wait. This is killing us.”
Sammons said the company is seeking investors and is leaving no stone unturned in an effort to get problems straightened out.
“If some of the things we’re working on happen, we could start looking to bring people back real quick,” Sammons said. “It wouldn’t take much to get us going.”