A Factory Years In The Couch-Making
A few weeks from now, someone will pause outside our Butner facility and scan a fob by the door. They’ll come inside, sanitize their hands, be provided a mask, and sign in for the day. It will all be very high-tech, professional, and orderly.
And yet, we remember a not-too-distant Nugget, when opening the building for the day looked like lifting one of the flaps of a rusty electrical box, reaching inside, and flipping the breaker for the one outlet inside the building. It meant undoing a combination lock, pulling open the wobbly sliding garage door, and voila. Nugget factory open for business.
There weren’t many amenities to speak of — no heat, no air conditioning, no fans, no plumbing. But for all its limitations, it was also a historical gem, a relic from a bygone architectural era. Instead of the aluminum or steel that just about any industrial structure is built from today, it was built out of wood… lots and lots of wood. Wooden slats running the entirety of the ceiling, and huge wooden pillars, some of them sporting a noticeable bend after decades of lifting the ceiling off the cement floor.
And then there was everything we built out of wood: our first Nugget stuffing and QA station, our Nugget compression tool (a bamboo encasing held 2,000 pounds of cinder blocks in place), our storage racks and storage bins. The place probably looked like a treehouse, or at least like some weird kind of brightly-colored woodshop.
The Durham Nugget “factory” circa 2017 wasn’t really a factory — it was more like a big storage shed on a hard slab of concrete. And Nugget itself wasn’t really a business — it was more like a collaborative project amongst friends. The inevitable challenges that arose from launching an online-only furniture company provided us the perfect lab to tinker and experiment, approaching questions that no one (or no one we knew, at least) had the answers for.
How, for example, do you ship a four-piece couch at a size that doesn’t push the shipping cost through the roof? With a straddle stacker, a vacuum sealer, and 2,000 pounds of cinder blocks, we made it work.
How do you receive foam from one truck and load couches into a FedEx truck, out of a single, tiny garage door? To give two trucks the ability to back up to our door at the same time, we needed a loading dock. So we built our own. (Out of wood, of course.)
We're proud of the adventurous spirit that sits at the core of Nugget, even from our earliest days. In our case, adventure may have looked more like plastic folding tables (on which we made all Nuggets through mid-2018) and vacuum sealers than swords, light sabers and quicksand, but they were adventures nonetheless.
Eventually we outgrew the wooden confines of our Durham warehouse, heading 25 minutes west to open up a true factory, with an actual production line, in Hillsborough, NC. Over the past two years, our little project has grown up into a real company, with employees, policies, and a whole lot more equipment — almost none of it made out of wood.
Over in Durham, the tired, bending beams of the old tobacco warehouse aren’t holding up that ceiling anymore. Shortly after its (mostly) trusty career as our lab for tinkering, experimentation and imagination, the building where an upstart local manufacturing company was born was razed for the construction of a new — no joke — Amazon processing facility.
We have indoor heating now, and we don’t compress Nuggets with cinder blocks. But as we prepare to open the doors of our new factory, the creativity, the humility, and the sense of enormous possibility from our Durham warehouse more than three years ago is still alive at Nugget. The tools are nicer, the lighting is much better, and the ceiling is a lot taller, but the attitude is the same: we’re making furniture for growing imaginations.
David, Hannah, Ryan