Operations suspended at Harden; decision expected Monday

Published Feb 1, 2018 at 4:10pm

McCONNELLSVILLE — Operations at Harden Furniture are suspended today and it is unclear whether the manufacturer of high-end solid wood and upholstery furnishings will restart production.

Harden’s employment is in the range of 175. The company has been in business since 1844.

The furniture maker’s future rests in the hands of specialty lender Big Shoulders Capital, which submitted the winning bid for Harden’s assets. The deadline for bids was Wednesday.

As of today, it is not known whether Big Shoulders will sell Harden’s equipment, machinery and inventory or back a resumption of production, according to the furniture company’s CEO, Gregory Harden. Unfilled orders are on hold, even those that are finished and awaiting shipment.

Representatives of Big Shoulders are expected on-site Monday although Harden is already in regular contact with the Illinois-based company.

“They have advised us they will make a final decision on Monday,” said Harden in an email Thursday.

“Potentially this could be the end for the oldest manufacturer of residential and commercial furnishings in North America,” he said in an earlier news release, on Wednesday.

Big Shoulders submitted the only offer in response to an auction forced by GemCap Solutions, the lender for Harden Furniture. The company had defaulted on an asset-backed loan and GemCap exercised its option to put Harden up for sale if loan terms were not met.

“The commitment and talent of our employees is truly exceptional, ironically that comes at a time when consumers see less value in hand-craftsmanship and superior quality,” said Harden in yesterday’s statement.

“As the economy has improved so have our results and our commercial business in particular has been growing well above plan. January orders will be nearly double our 2017 result.”

He said there’s a healthy backlog of orders for production if operations are resumed.

According to Harden, several potential local investors expressed interest in acquiring or in other manners of participating in a bid to acquire the furniture maker. However, he said a tight auction deadline precluded any competing bids ahead of yesterday’s cutoff for offers. Efforts to organize a local bid continued up to the deadline. An attempt to obtain an extension was unsuccessful.

Notice of the shutdown was circulated to employees and the state Department of Labor. The state agency by law has to be notified when businesses close plants.

Miramar Capital Partners has held a majority ownership stake in Harden Furniture since 2016. GemCap financed the transaction through an asset-backed loan. CEO Harden maintained a minority stake in the company.

It was not the popularity of the brand or a shortfall in sales that triggered the auction, according to Harden. He said the operation was hobbled by an unsustainable capital structure that followed the June 2016 acquisition of the company by Miramar Capital Partners. Funding for that acquisition had been provided by GemCap and eventually the “onerous terms” of the loan, combined with a lack of investment on the part of Miramar Capital Partners, resulted in a default. 

“Harden Furniture produces quality products utilizing a non-replicable workforce,” said Mohawk Valley EDGE President Steven DiMeo. “But more than that they are a lynchpin in their community and to the manufacturing heritage of this region. Manufacturing is the backbone of our local economy and we hope for the continuation of Harden Furniture production in McConnellsville.”

County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. laments the possible loss of a longtime fixture in western Oneida County. Harden’s peak employment was in the neighborhood of 500.

“It’s been one of our signature companies,” he said. “It’s a big blow in that regard.”

He said the county and EDGE are looking at possible assistance that might be available if the company stays in business.

Harden maintains ownership of the company’s property and buildings. All other components of the operation, including its name, belong to Big Shoulders. CEO Harden is the fifth generation in a long line of Hardens who have been at the head of the company. He has been the sole family owner since 2011, following a restructuring of the company.

According to Big Shoulders’ website, the company is a “leading source of quick and creative financing solutions for small and middle-market companies. Our loans, structured to help our clients, are based on commercial and industrial assets pledged as collateral. We will also buy and lease back machinery and equipment – another effective way to generate the liquidity to keep you operating.”

Messages left for Big Shoulders seeking comment were not returned.