'Perfect storm' of pandemic, supply chain disruptions dooms Winnipeg's DeFehr Furniture

The owner of DeFehr Furniture is putting the final nails in the coffin of his once-thriving Winnipeg business.

Family business closing Winnipeg operations, putting more than 200 out of work

DeFehr Furniture is shutting down in August after more than 75 years in business. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The owner of DeFehr Furniture is putting the final nails in the coffin of his once-thriving Winnipeg business.

A pillar of the city's furniture sector for more than 75 years, DeFehr Furniture will close its production facility this August, leaving 224 employees without a job.

Owner Andrew DeFehr said the pandemic wiped out his business and supply chain issues made parts hard to come by.

"It's kind of that perfect storm, where you have just too many things close together that led up to this happening," DeFehr said in an interview Thursday inside his company's boardroom. 

The day before, he broke the news of the business's demise to his employees. 

"It's not easy as an owner having to tell 200-some people that the business is shutting down," he said.

Building all existing orders

The company plans to offer support programs for those workers and will honour all existing obligations to its suppliers and customers, according to a company statement.

DeFehr Furniture was in the casegoods business, which refers to furniture built with interior compartments for storage, such as cabinets, bookshelves and dressers. 

Over the years, the business occasionally struggled with slim profit margins, but it started seeing success when it started serving the hospitality industry a decade ago.

That work evaporated once the pandemic hit. While business started to rebound, DeFehr Furniture was hit by supply chain disruptions. There were shortages of the raw materials the company required, and the competition for those products was fierce.

In the last month, DeFehr shut down its plant for four days because it did not have handles.

"At some point, you just say, I don't know if I have enough gas in the tank to try one more time," Andrew DeFehr said.

"It's been an emotional kind of roller-coaster ride for the last, probably, six months to 12 months."

DeFehr Furniture was once a division of Palliser Furniture, until it was split off 18 years ago into a separate entity focused on casegoods.

In 2008, DeFehr Furniture closed down its plants in Morden, Man., and on Pandora Avenue in Winnipeg, to consolidate its manufacturing operations at its current location in northeast Winnipeg.

A replica of the chicken coop that was effectively the first factory in the history of DeFehr Furniture is situated along Furniture Park in Winnipeg. (Ian Froese/CBC)

DeFehr expects five to six different tenants to take over his manufacturing facility at 125 Furniture Park.

Outside the boardroom window, DeFehr pointed out a replica of a chicken coop, which his grandfather treated as his first factory. 

The furniture business runs in the family — and it's been a constant in his life.

"I've been in the family business ever since I was seven years old, making corner pads for my dad in the basement," he said.

DeFehr Furniture shutting down Winnipeg production facility

1 year ago
Duration 1:24
DeFehr Furniture is shutting down its Winnipeg production facility throwing hundreds of people out of work. A notice on the company's website says it will close the plant in Winnipeg on August 10th.

With files from Stephen Ripley