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Couple spin two firms into a single success

Lorne and Sharron Abrams managed to join two seemingly disparate businesses into one thriving company.

By SHARON L. BOND
Published January 19, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - Lorne Abrams, a consulting engineer in manufacturing, got tired of being on the road five days a week, especially when he hit his 50s. So he and his wife, Sharron, bought a sewing factory and then a cushion company.

They merged the two and work out of an industrial area off 34th Street N at 38th Avenue as Designer Factory Showroom Inc.

One side of the company, Contract Quilting Service, makes draperies, bed coverings, headboards and wood framed mirrors.

The other side, Baycrest Industries, makes indoor and outdoor cushions for rattan, wicker and patio furniture.

They sell to designers, high-end furniture stores and the boating and recreational vehicle industries. They do not sell to the public.

"Quite a bit of efficiency was gained by merging the two operations," said Lorne Abrams, 56.

The companies were in separate locations. The Abramses bought Contract Quilting in 2002 and Baycrest Industries in 2003. In September of 2003, both companies were moved to 4033 35th St. N, where 12,000 square feet is used mostly by those doing the sewing.

When the Abramses started shopping for businesses to buy, they looked for a manufacturer with low volume, high margin, opportunity to meet customers and something in which they could take pride of workmanship. They said they also wanted a company with potential for growth.

They hired brokers to look for them and also used advertisements on the Internet.

Contract Quilting has been in business for 24 years and had seven employees when the Abramses bought it.

"It was an inefficient facility," Abrams said. "There were sewing machines in the office location. It was not a suitable manufacturing layout."

The company's product line was expanded to include more window treatments and draperies.

Baycrest Industries had two workers and did cushions only for indoor furniture. That has been broadened to include outdoor furniture.

The new company, Design Factory Showroom Inc., has 18 employees, 13 of whom do the sewing. The bulk of their business is in Florida although there are some customers in south Georgia and the Carolinas.

A designer might order bedspreads and draperies for a bedroom that eventually will cost the customer $18,000 to $20,000, excluding furniture, Abrams said. The factory does not keep an inventory of material, so designers provide their own.

"We just did one with fabric that was $250 per yard," Abrams said of a job. A king-size bedspread requires 10 to 12 yards of fabric.

For patio furniture, Designer Factory keeps fabrics on hand. Customers choose through the retailer where they are buying the furniture.

It takes about three weeks to get an order done. The bedspread process begins with an inspection of the material a decorator provides to make sure its measurements are correct.

Last week several bedspreads were going through the quilting process, moving from one table to another as Dacron was quilted onto the material and a back was installed. From there, the spreads went to the cutting table and then the pieces are seamed together.

"There's no such thing as a standard bed," Abrams said.

Finally the spreads are hemmed.

Having a relatively low volume allows frequent inspections of each piece, Abrams said.

In the cushion area, a seamstress was finishing multiple pieces in the same fabric but different sizes and shapes. Those pieces later would be fitted around foam cushions or taken to another table where foam would be blown into them.

Designer Factory recycles foam and has huge bags of foam scraps on hand.

The average worker's wage is $9 an hour. Abrams said that even if someone has been sewing for 20 years, it still would take them about two years of training to excel in making the products.

Designer Factory does not provide health care or retirement packages, Abrams said. It does give production bonuses.

If he can increase business by 50 percent, he said he thinks he can end up with an annual income of $100,000. The factory runs only one shift now, five days a week. Getting enough business for a second shift is a priority. Abrams said.

Abrams said he expects to draw more business from existing customers by offering other products.

He said he's asking customer what they need and what they want.