Hunt Country Components' furniture production facility
By Bob Grant | September 05, 2023

“This Has Been a Dream Come True”: Hunt Country Components CEO Howard Hellwinkel Finally Found a Way to Use RFID “Like the Big Companies” in His Upholstered Furniture Manufacturing Operation

With the help of his daughter and a trusted advisor at ValuTrack, Howard implemented an RFID system that reports work in process to customers in real time, eliminates under/over/mis ships, and simplifies payroll.

Misplacing a piece of furniture might sound difficult, but it’s easier than you think when dealing with thousands of items per day. Just ask the team at Hunt Country Components

Though they have more than two decades of experience manufacturing upholstered furniture, and a well-oiled production process, CEO Howard Hellwinkel and his daughter, Vice President Heather Hellwinkel Sutermaster, told us that keeping track of pieces at this family-owned business over the years has been much like assembling an office chair without instructions. Since many of the company’s products are packaged in identical cartons, shipping mix-ups have been costing the company time and money for a long time. Too long, really.  

But this wasn’t the only pain point starting to nag Howard. 

In the last 10 years or so, he started to notice lots of small inefficiencies suddenly causing bigger problems for customers and employees day to day. His team couldn’t provide accurate ship dates to customers, which had become table stakes in the on-demand economy, because no one quite knew the status of work in process across the 110,000 sq. ft. distribution center and factory in Thomasville, NC.  

It was also taking way too much effort to pay employees, whose income was determined by how many pieces they sewed, assembled or otherwise contributed to each week. Having to reconcile parts completion records for dozens of employees using hundreds of pieces of paper is tedious and far from perfect. 

That’s why Howard started researching RFID.  

He knew RFID was helping larger companies track everything from raw materials to work in process and ship orders quite effectively. He wondered if using the technology in this same way made sense for his growing operation, too. He was also curious if it could make payroll easier, perhaps by automatically tracking and reporting completed work into the payroll team. 

However, as a smaller business, he didn’t think RFID was financially feasible. He assumed the upfront costs would put it out of reach. So, he continued his research but ultimately relegated RFID to a pipe dream for many years until, one day, he decided to share his vision with his daughter Heather. 

Heather had just finished graduate school and decided she wanted to come home to help run the company. When her dad told her about some of the challenges cropping up from production to payroll and how he believed RFID could help quash some of them, she called Kirk Steinhoff, President of ValuTrack Corporation, a Zebra Solutions Partner and trusted technology consultant, to see if he agreed. (She also wanted to know how much it might cost to make her dad’s dream come true.) 

As Heather and Howard explained to me in a recent “Story Behind the Success Story” podcast episode, Kirk wasn’t willing to give them advice right away. There were lots of questions the Hunt Country Components team needed to answer before he could answer theirs. It’s never as simple as “RFID solves XYZ problem.” Plus, the “cost” of RFID has too many variables, and it isn’t just about the sticker price. You must consider the total cost of ownership (TCO) alongside the anticipated return on investment (ROI) when deciding what makes sense.  

I highly encourage you to hit the play button below and spend 15 minutes listening to what Howard, Heather and Kirk shared with me in that conversation. They explained… 

  • What the solution discovery, design and testing experience was really like (from Howard and Heather’s perspective). [2:12] 

  • Why all parties ultimately agreed RFID was the right technology to help Howard realize his dream (versus a barcode or other automation system). [4:19] 

  • The specific roles that Hunt Country Components employees and outside (ValuTrack and Hal Systems) consultants played in the extensive, weeks-long problem scoping and problem-solving process that played out in the factory and back office (where payroll is processed). [5:45] 

  • How *very* happy customers, employees and the executive team were as soon as the RFID systems came online. (We’re talking within hours on day one!) [10:46] 

  • Some of the creative new ways Hunt Country Components is going to start using its deployed RFID system now that its work in process and payroll functions are automated and working optimally. (And how Howard and team even thought to use RFID in these additional ways to monitor, manage and measure different operational facets.) [14:15] 

I’m confident their incredible story will have you wondering what RFID can do for your business – or maybe what more it can do that you have yet to consider. Check it out: 

Hunt Country Components: The Story Behind the Success Story

Oh, and it helps if you also watch this 5-minute video showing the RFID system in action in the Hunt Country Components factory and back office:

Success Story, Best Practices, Transportation and Logistics, Manufacturing, Podcast, Innovative Ideas, Warehouse and Distribution, Automation,
Bob Grant
Bob Grant

Bob is currently the Sr. Director of Advanced Location Technology (ALT) Product Management where he is responsible for the product life cycle of ALT RFID products. 

Bob has more than 30 of experience within the AIDC industry and has held many positions from quality to manufacturing and project management in addition to over 15 years in product management. 

Previously, he worked in the Print Circuit Board industry as a Chemical Engineer developing high-end resin systems. Bob holds a BE in Chemical Engineering and a Masters in Business, both from Stony Brook University in NY. 

Zebra Developer Blog
Zebra Developer Blog

Are you a Zebra Developer? Find more technical discussions on our Developer Portal blog.

Zebra Story Hub
Zebra Story Hub

Looking for more expert insights? Visit the Zebra Story Hub for more interviews, news, and industry trend analysis.

Search the Blog
Search the Blog

Use the below link to search all of our blog posts.