Beaufort News

Family pillow business a Beaufort County success story

Restoring pillows? This machine makes it easy!

John Harris, president and co-owner of Harris Pillow Supply, demonstrates how to restore pillows with the Pillow-Vac, a machine invented by his grandfather, on Thursday, August 25, 2016, in at their current store location in Beaufort.
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John Harris, president and co-owner of Harris Pillow Supply, demonstrates how to restore pillows with the Pillow-Vac, a machine invented by his grandfather, on Thursday, August 25, 2016, in at their current store location in Beaufort.

It’s quiet just inside the doors of Harris Pillow Supply, but the silence is misleading.

Summer, an 11-year-old black lab mix, greets you and wanders freely throughout the 22,000-square-foot space off Trask Parkway. Past the offices of president John Harris and his son, Patrick, green carpet extends the length of the warehouse, and all the equipment needed to make and ship pillows is within sight.

The family shop makes and sells pillows to hotels, private labels who sell the pillows online and for customer buyers like interior designers or walk-up business. And business has grown.

Harris Pillow plans to double its staff in the next five years and soon will begin renovating the building down the road on Parker Drive previously home to Beaufort Liquidation and 84 Lumber. The plan is to be moved in by November.

The company recently received a $225,000 grant from the county for the work on the new building, assuming Harris Pillow meets its goal of adding 25 jobs.

With the ability to go vertical with storage, the new space will double the size of the current building. Spray foam insulation, new heating and air, office space, lighting and a surveillance system will go into the work.

“Our feathers have to be climate-controlled,” John Harris explained.

Harris Pillow was started in 1956 by John’s father, William, who traveled to hospitals, hotels and nursing homes cleaning pillows in the Chicago area. The company began producing a machine to clean and renovate old pillows and has been making its own pillows the past 20 years.

The company has been in Beaufort in its same location since 1980. About eight years ago, the building grew by 10,000 square feet.

“We thought we’d died and gone to heaven — we’d never fill it up,” Patrick Harris said. “It quickly filled up.”

All sectors of the business have grown, except for sales of the pillow renovation machine the company still builds and markets.

Private label sales have been particularly lucrative in recent years.

Companies buy Harris pillows to custom specifications and add their own names to it. The products are then sold on sites like Amazon, Wayfair and Zulily.

Toddler pillows are among the hot items. The pillows are typically 13 inches by 18 inches, and the company produces about 1,000 to 1,200 daily.

UPS comes and goes about three times a day.

New equipment will help automate some of the processes.

Current machines weigh the pillow filling to  1/10 of an ounce, and someone holds the pillow cover while the machine blows in the filling. A new machine would weigh the filling and eliminate the need for the cover to be held.

Precise weighing is important.

The St. Regis Hotel in New York City once requested pillows filled with Hungarian goose down, John Harris said. The product costs $64 a pound — or $4 an ounce.

A new conveyor system is also planned and another machine to clean residue from the completed pillows.

New staff could include a maintenance person, someone to work on the website and more personnel to man sewing machines.

The expansion should solidify the company in the area it has operated more than three decades.

Daisy Smalls, one of the company’s 22 employees, started at Harris Pillow the Monday after she graduated from Battery Creek High School in 1980. She has sewn pillows — the best at it, according to John and Patrick — collaborated on ideas for products and worked in the office.

“I grew with it,” Smalls said. “It’s just like family, and I love it here.”

Patrick Harris plans to keep the business in the family. His son turns 2 next month.

Stephen Fastenau: 843-706-8182, @IPBG_Stephen

Current home of Harris Pillow Supply

Future home of Harris Pillow Supply (shown in 2008)

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