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Romweber Co.: maker of the "Cadillac of bar stools" is saved.

Once the maker of what was considered "the Cadillac of bar stools," Romweber Furniture Co. looked as if it would close out 1992 on the hot seat of bankruptcy liquidation, with the company dissolved and employees jobless.

Instead, it started out 1993 very likely in the catbird seat, clean and clear of $1 million of debt, with a shorter name and a new major product line, and once again under single-family ownership.

The company, now known simply as Romweber Co., had been owned by about 20 shareholders including the Rippe family of Cincinnati. It filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code on Sept. 11.

The Rippe family made an offer to the bankruptcy court to buy out the other shareholders--including the Romwebers--for $3.06 million, to cover the bank debt. It also agreed to pay off a $200,000 loan received from the City of Batesville.

That gave the city reason to breathe a sigh of relief, says Vicki Kellerman, manager of the Batesville Economic Development Office. "We're very hopeful now with the new company and assistance from the city, they will be able to turn around and expand."

The company's sale was approved Dec. 16 and became final Dec. 31. The following Monday, 125 workers that had been let go with the transition were rehired at their regular wage rates.

Plans now are under way to expand production of entertainment centers and continue the handcrafted Viking oak furniture line the company was famous for, on a custom-order basis only. Says Kellerman, "They've become leaner, meaner and more efficient--like many companies in today's world have realized is necessary to survive and prosper."

Established by John Hillenbrand as the American Furniture Co. in 1879, the company was acquired by the Romweber family during the Great Depression. The Hillenbrands--better known, perhaps, as founders of what is now Batesville-based Hillenbrand Industries--and the Romwebers are cousins.

The Rippes became shareholders in the company in 1981. That's when Bruce Rippe, president of the new company, took over the helm of Romweber Furniture.

"My family is involved in real estate in Cincinnati," he says. "My father, Joseph Rippe, was the former chairman of Provident Bank there. And we're also in the restaurant business in Cincinnati with the Celestial."

Rippe says his family saw a lot of promise in Romweber and still does. "We felt the company has a future and was worth saving. We felt the dealer base this company has developed over the past several years has put it in a very good position."

Since alcohol consumption is down, bars and bar stools are not in the new company's plans. Instead, people are putting entertainment centers in their dens and living rooms. When Romweber moved into the entertainment-center market, sales immediately flourished. There's a big surge in anything that will hold TVs, VCRs or other electronics that entertain. Meanwhile, the costs of production were miniscule compared to a full line of products.

The new products, which also include computer desks, are styled to appeal to an upper-middle-class customer. Prices were reduced and the showrooms eliminated.

Relationships were nurtured with major furniture stores in places like Phoenix and New Orleans. Clients now include Macy's in New York and California, Dillards, Dayton-Hudson and Bloomingdale's.

Rippe sees the company's prognosis as bright. "We are projecting that in 1993 our business will grow by 20 percent," he says. "We should continue hiring throughout the year."
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Title Annotation:Regional Report: Southeast; Romweber Furniture Co.
Author:Mogollon, Carlos David
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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