We all did our part to supportfrontlineworkers in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, from staying socially distanced to applauding from our windows every night.
Culp Inc., a textile manufacturer headquartered in High Point, North Carolina, took their gratitude to the next level.
The publicly held company, which makes upholstery and mattress fabrics for the home furnishing and hospitality markets, pivoted their production line in late March to produce personal protective equipment, including masks and hospital bed coverings.
They did it for the health care heroes who serve those in need. They did it for their associates, both at home and abroad, many of whom depend on their paychecks to keep their families fed. And they did it because “taking care of each other” has defined Culp’s culture from day one.
“It was quite an amazing thing to be part of this endeavor,” said Teresa Huffman, Culp’s senior vice president of human resources, who has been with the company for 34 years. “Over the course of what seemed like a long weekend, we repurposed some of our cut-and- sew operations to making masks and hospital bed coverings. We were, first and foremost, responding to the need of the nation and our entire executive team really felt like this was what we needed to do.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic dug in its heels, CEO Iv Culp, grandson of Robert Culp, who founded the company in 1972, led the leadership team through the process of establishing Culp Inc. as an essential business. That enabled the company to stay open in the U.S. during lockdowns and minimize furloughs, while many other employers were forced to shutter.
Product engineers and research and development staff then collaborated in record time to reposition their business, as Culp’s 1,450 employees worldwide rallied behind the cause.
With manufacturing and sourcing facilities in the U.S., Canada, Haiti, Asia, and Turkey, the company did have to comply with temporary closures abroad, but their facilities were soon back online, with rigorous new cleaning protocols and safety measures in place to protect the health of their associates.
“Today, the company is fully staffed (and looking to hire), is refocusing on traditional operations, and remains committed to serving its associates across the globe,” said Huffman.
Teresa Huffman on the Culp floor
“Culp associates worldwide, including those who work in our U.S. facilities, are a highly diverse population who contribute significantly to the company’s rich and vibrant culture,” said Huffman.
“We work with various agencies and our associates come from all over the world, including Nepal, Africa, and Bhutan,” she said. “They become part of our work family and we honor all of their backgrounds and customs. It just works beautifully. Many who have come on board have been able to buy their first home or have a car — all of the things that are part of the American dream.”
The inclusive work environment that sets Culp apart, said Huffman, would make their founder proud. “I was fortunate enough to work with our founder when I first started with the company, and he firmly believed that it didn’t matter whether you worked on the manufacturing floor or in the sales department or anywhere else,” said Huffman. “Everyone contributes to our success. Everyone is respected and treated fairly.”
As head of human resources, Huffman said she is personally invested in the financial wellness of Culp’s associates and their families. “It’s very important to me and to the company that we are able to provide our associates with the opportunity to earn a living and help them achieve their goals,” she said. “That’s always been a part of our culture. It’s something that we value.”
According to Ann Kutrow, senior relationship manager for MassMutual’s retirement services division, who works closely with Huffman in administering Culp’s retirement plan, a robust benefits package has been central to that goal.
“Working with MassMutual, Culp implemented a retirement plan that empowered participants to save for retirement, setting their employees on a path to be able to take control of their financial future and eventually be able to retire on their own terms,” she said.
Like her leadership team, Huffman said she is proud that Culp has been able to assist the frontline workers as they continue their fight against COVID-19.
“This topic is personal for me, not only because of my role with Culp’s response, but because my daughter is an ICU nurse who cares for COVID patients at a large medical center,” she said. “I have a special place in my heart for frontline workers. I know these people are risking their health and well-being to take care of the people who need it most. For me, that’s what America is all about — standing together to help each other.”