127-year-old furniture maker needs lifeline
karges furniture
Joan Karges Rogier (left) with cabinetmaker Tony Gieselman, daughter Gretchen Rogier Keith and craftsman Mike James (right).
Based in: Evansville, IN.
# of employees: 30

Karges Furniture Co. considers itself a true all-American small business that's beaten the odds and survived even after most of its peers have gone out of business or outsourced to China.

But now, the 127-year-old handcarved furniture maker is desperate to stay alive. "The recession hurt us badly and we're barely hanging on," said Joan Karges Rogier, owner and president. In fact, Rogier is banking on Chinese consumers to become the lifeline her family business badly needs.

Last year, for the first time, the company shipped a container of American furniture to China for a trade show. "We took five months to get the products ready," she said. Her hope is that Chinese consumers fall in love with her furniture and orders start rolling in soon.

The irony of the situation isn't lost on Rogier, whose great-grandfather founded the company in 1886 in a river port town of Evansville, Ind. Once a thriving region for furniture makers, Evansville lost almost all of that industry as cheaper furniture from China and elsewhere started to flood the U.S. market.

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Still, Karges hung on, hitting peak sales of $10 million in 2000 and boasting celebrity clients like Carol Burnett, Elizabeth Dole and Aretha Franklin. The MIddle East was a big market for its furniture, but sales dropped after 9/11. By 2008, Karges had 30 employees, down from 130, and sales had shrunk to under $4 million.

"We're doing everything we can," said Rogier. "Maybe we won't make it and it will be the saddest thing after all these years."


Do you have a business that makes its products in the USA? Is it thriving? What are the challenges? Email Parija Kavilanz and you could be included in an upcoming story.
- Last updated January 25 2013 12:55 PM ET
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