NETTLETON – When HomeStretch opened a decade ago, its 35 employees made three reclining chair styles and three motion group styles. Now, its approximately 460 workers manufacture 20 styles of recliners and 15 motion groups, with multiple cover options.
Three weeks ago, the furniture manufacturer’s employees were treated to a meal and chances to win trips and furniture as part of the company’s 10th anniversary of production. Even though it was a milestone event, it piggybacks off a milestone expansion completed in December, which added 100,000 square feet to help provide mostly warehouse space and new equipment.
“We’ve always tried to grow brick by brick, slow and steady. We avoided growing too fast because we never want to be in a situation where we oversold our capacity and we disappointed the customers we have,” said HomeStretch President Skipper Holliman, who co-founded the company with vice president Gentry Long. “When Gentry and I sat down and put our original plans together, we really only forecasted out to the first four or five years. It has exceeded certainly what our original plan was.”
HomeStretch sells to customers in all states, including Hawaii and Alaska, but it doesn’t ship internationally.
Slow and steady
A little more than a year ago, the expansion, which will add 71 new jobs through four years, was announced by then Gov. Phil Bryant. However, the original work towards it began in January 2016.
“We started the company in 2010 and we gradually grew each year. We expanded the building one time and grew 62,000 square feet and we did that in 2014. We got into 2015 and had begun to occupy some outside warehouses. We were having to make the product, put it on trucks, shuttle it over and unload it, then the next day an order comes in, so you load it back on the trucks. It was just a lot of handing. We just saw over time that we were going to have to utilize more outside warehouses and we just didn’t like that model,” Holliman said.
Adjoining land was identified with the goal of keeping the expansion under one roof of the plant. The red tape process of acquiring the land took two and a half years. After legal work and environmental studies, the city ultimately purchased the property and deeded it over to HomeStretch.
“We worked with [former Monroe County Chamber of Commerce Director] Skip Scaggs, then [chamber director] Chelsea Baulch, the City of Nettleton, the mayor, [Nettleton city attorney] Gary Carnathan, the board of supervisors, MDA [Mississippi Development Authority], Three Rivers. We had them all up here helping us,” Holliman said.
Baulch said the project entailed several behind the scenes aspects, including daily and weekly communication with the parties involved, attending city and county board meetings and interacting with landowners.
“That’s just what we do. That’s the day-to-day part that’s not seen. You hear, ‘When are we going to get some jobs? When are we going to get an industry?’ The heartbeat for Monroe County, and what makes my heart grow the most is those expansions,” she said. “I think if there ever was an example of team work, if there was a case study on existing industry expansions, what to do and what not to do and who are all of the players, this would be the textbook.”
An MDA grant, which was based on the job commitments, secured infrastructure work for the expansion. Last February, the contractor began work for the site, which took until May, and then JESCO began construction on the building.
“Fast forward to the next six months, and we began occupying the building by the first of December of this past year. Since then, we’ve been able to exit two of the outside warehouses we were in. It’s given us more room for trucking, for parking, it’s less handling of product, we’re not as congested inside,” he said.
As far as the next 10 years of growth, Holliman said time will tell.
“Some companies get on the run, and it’s like a rocket ship and they have a hard time keeping up with the growth. They don’t do a very good job taking care of the people who were buying furniture for the past years. We just never want to do that. We want to do a good job for our existing customers,” he said.
“I’m really excited for their 10 years and really hopeful for the next 10 years how they’ll truly grow,” Baulch said.
Through its 10 years, HomeStretch has made more of a local impact than just providing jobs.
“We have a pretty high percentage of employees from Amory and Nettleton. It provides a lot of good, steady-paying jobs for those families,” he said. “A lot of businesses around, particularly the restaurants, benefit. The local floral shop down here on Valentine’s Day, they were bringing loads of flowers and stuff all day.”
Its employees also volunteer each year with a Habitat for Humanity build in Nettleton and at the town’s F.A.I.T.H. Food Pantry. Last year, the third home was completed, and there’s a lot next door to it that will be the site for the fourth Habitat build.
As far as the food pantry, 35 employees volunteer each month for its distribution day.
“When Nettleton has home football games, Skipper lines up things with the maintenance crew and will send people to help clean up. When we were working on the walking track at Veterans Park, he sent two guys out one Saturday to help run equipment. Skipper calls me to say, ‘If there’s anything you need from us to do and we’re not working on a Saturday or are behind, just just us know,’” said Mayor Mem Riley. “HomeStretch is a great asset for Nettleton.”
“From the very beginning, Gentry and I said if we’re successful and we’re able to get the business going and grow, we want to give back and help others in our area who need help,” he said. “It’s just what we’re called to do, and that’s help other people. It does a lot individually for those who take a part in it because it’s really eye opening. Particularly the food pantry, to be able to see the needs of some folks, and it gives you a good feeling giving your time to help someone else out.”