Magnolia Upholstery designer: From modeling to manufacturing

Welcome to Take 60, quick one-minute stories about new faces in our industry that might help you move the needle toward future success. Retailers, designers, manufacturers and more — Take 60 covers them all, so check back each week for a new addition to the mix.

Debra Lee Venti, vice president of merchandising and product development, Magnolia Upholstery Designs

FT: How long have you been with Magnolia?

Venti: I started consulting with them in June of 2021 and came on board full time in December in this position.

FT: Tell me about your background.

Venti: I started my career as a young model in the fashion industry, and after college went into Interior Design/Buying for a few small furniture stores in Northern Indiana. When I moved to South Carolina, I started working for Park Place Corp. before I was hired at Broyhill as the merchandise manager for upholstery. Since then, I worked with Lazar Inds. for nine years, and I also consulted and worked with companies like Berkline, Johnston Casuals, Powell Furniture and Elite Fabrics.

FT: Recently, you mentioned as being a key part of the company’s growth through your “reinvention” of the product line. How did you develop your strategy?

Venti: I have a great background in working overseas — China, Vietnam, Malaysia, South America — along with working all over this great country of ours. Our little company can turn on a dime and beat a slow boat from China, and as I kept watching the container prices rise, I knew we needed to go after the OEM side of the business.

I love manufacturing, and know the competition, and while I was driving to the factory, I thought, “We can be creating any product we want; we don’t have a lot of limitations. Let’s build a company that has several avenues of distribution!” I’m even talking to a shoe company that’s coming back to America about cutting and sewing!

Hector is bilingual and able to work with everyone in the plant to be concise on what we are trying to achieve. We do not have any problem getting labor, even the better labor that is in our area, and teaching them what our standards are and what our customers are expecting to receive. Starting any business is hard — the first couple of years especially — but we are moving the needle in the right direction.

FT: What consumer trends does Magnolia hit at retail?

Venti: Our regular line consists of 10 frames, with several SKUs within those categories and anywhere between four to six combinations of covers per frame. We will continue to grow this line slowly as we develop product for others, and it is priced right and can ship in a four-week time frame. The covers are fresh, and there are several accent pieces to go with the core line up.

FT: Magnolia seems well-positioned to meet increased production demand with the growth of the physical facilities. What will the added capacity mean for retailers?

Venti: Hector owns four buildings which consist of a 55,000-square-foot warehouse, and two buildings at 40,000 square feet — one of which is our plant currently — and then a smaller building at about 15,000 that we currently rent out. We have the potential to grow to six lines quickly in the two 40K buildings, and this will help us stay at a four-to-six-week ship time.

Our current line does have a “better/best” approach, as our best is a solid hardwood frame that we have manufactured from an Amish family that lives in Pontotoc, Miss. We use hardwood legs and a step-up seat cushion. On our OEM, we are using the Amish frames also depending on price points and the look the customer is requesting.

FT: What are your own personal favorite upholstery “trends” right now?

Venti: I love all the texture and boucles, but then I always have. I have put quite a few textures and fun colors in the line since I joined and plan on building on that. I see the warmer tones coming in since the floors have gotten so “grayed” out.

FT: It is wonderful to see design/merchandising called out as a crucial component to a company’s growth/success. How did you balance cost, function, and aesthetic in your design strategy for the upholstery line?

Venti: We are trying to keep our overhead very low along with watching the increases in supplies daily. We also aim to hit price points before we develop a product, “working backwards” basically. Hector and I both have retail experience and talk about where we want to be in the industry. I know how to up cover and give a higher end look to a simple frame, and I want to give our customers a better perceived value.

We all know we buy furniture on how it looks first. The OEM product line is what is specified from our customers, so we try and be very clear and up front before we start developing anything for them. We are looking for partners to grow together and help each other in the process.

FT: Lastly, what is inspiring you right now and how will it influence Magnolia introductions this fall?

Venti: We pulled out of High Point this past spring, but we did show at the Tupelo show where we will keep a permanent showroom. It’s in our backyard, and we can bring our customers there to work with a full presentation of our line along and show them the product we have developed for them. Our factory is only 30 minutes away, and I love walking people through and introducing them to our team.

We will show an array of fabric applications in the showroom with layers of textures, interesting patterns and colors.

Inspiration is part of my daily lifestyle, and I see things that inspire me to move in one direction or another to create. Nature of course is my favorite, but when I see great fabrics, I just know. It’s instinctual, you either know a good pattern or you don’t, and after so many years, I can put a great collection together in a short amount of time.

See also:

Magnolia Upholstery designer: From modeling to manufacturing

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