Thursday, August 11, 2011

What about chairs

For my money chairs offer the best seating option for most churches. There are several options. The least expensive option is typically a folding chair. These fold up and are easily moved, but sometimes they have bad interlocks or no interlocks at all. Without interlocks the rows become jumbled and your maintenance crew and or ushers are constantly adjusting the row alignment, which is a pain, but required as otherwise the worship space looks messy and cluttered. They tend to be narrow and uncomfortable too, but for an hour or two a week most churches can make due. They range from $15 on up if you look at stores like Costco.

The best option from most churches is the metal frame, stackable chair with interlocks. There are too many manufacturers to bring them up, but Chancellor is a great company out of Gainesville, TX. I sell these chairs in Illinois and sometimes in Wisconsin. Their website is in case you don't click on the link above. Chancellor's standard chairs are wide enough at 20" to work will for most churches in terms of comfort and seating capacity. Chancellor will make wider chairs, but keep in mind you lose seats with every inch you add. One competitor advertise his 22" chair. With this chair seating capacity is reduced by 10%. A 200 seat space suddenly is 180. That can be a big issue for many churches as they struggle to balance capacity, comfort and budget.

There are then laminated or stick-built wood chairs, which can run as much as pews in some cases, but offer flexibility.  These are popular for multipurpose spaces that want to have a higher-end look during worship.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Most manufacturers buy from the same mills so there really isn’t a need to get into fabric discussions until you have settled on a supplier. As I said earlier check out the double rub ratings. Most fabric for pews will “dirty out” before it wears out and it will last a long time. Pick something you really like as a committee and stay away from the hot colors on the market. That typically means a red or blue or neutral color. Below are some good sites for looking at colors and patterns. You’ll need both to order a swatch. 

Websites for fabrics
Click on the pattern name to see all of the colors available.  If you double click on the color within the pattern you will see an enlarged picture.  The specs for the fabric are to the side of the color chart.
Click on products - Then go to Decorative Fabrics -  On the lower right there is a fabric gallery (in blue) - Select the worship market and then double click browse with filter below.
Each swatch that you see on the left side represents a pattern with the color shown. When you click on it you see an enlargement on the right.  Underneath that enlargement is a box that says "See Pattern Details and Colors"  Double click on that box.  You then see an even larger version of that swatch with the fabric specs underneath.  To the right of the large swatch are the other colors within that pattern. Click on the other colors to see the swatch.  Depending on the speed of your connection this can be slower, but once you've selected a color you'll see all swatches with similar colors from the worship market.
Other fabric manufacturers have websites too that you might want to check out. The web is always changing so you should definitely check out Interface Fabrics - - very nice search, but you do have to register to use it. There are others too, so check with your supplier. All of the fabrics from suppliers is rated for church use and often has a backing material. The only time I have seen churches get in trouble with fabric is with COM (their own material). Typically these are cases where the church is working with a decorator and the decorator pushes for a fabric mill with whom he has a relationship. Many of the suppliers recommended by decorators have proprietary patterns that they have created, which they have the sole rights too and are produced for them by a large mill. Order some extra fabric if the church has additional expansion plans.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Questions to ask

This is a section that I have been wondering about.  I don't want to bias you with my thoughts so I am going to start with a free form questionnaire, post it and then go back and edit it later.  I am going to start from ground up, but before I do learn about the company.  How long they've been in business, are they the actual manufacturer, what is their credit rating (tell them you're going to check the finalists with Dun and Bradstreet.  When your church puts a deposit down it almost always will not get it back if the company folds.  I have seldom heard of it happening.  So if you've put half down on a $50,000 project the church is out $25,000.  Be careful about the company.
  1. How do you anchor your pews to a concrete floor (use a wood floor if that is appropriate)?
  2. How do you conceal the anchor holes?
  3. Do you anchor the intermediate supports or just the end supports?  Most just anchor ends, but can anchor intermediate supports.
  4. What is the shape of your end supports the base?  Most have a slight curve so the outside edges are the primary contact with the floor.  Flat pews might rock if the floor is not level.
  5. Do you scribe or use feet on your intermediate supports?
  6. How are your intermediate supports constructed - solid oak or veneer over what? How is the oak glued together - face-to-face, edge-to-edge.  How many plies is it?  You can tell this from the samples, if that is what the company is quoting. 
  7. If they answer engineered wood ask about the specs on it.  If they answer solid wood ask what exactly is it?  If they answer solid oak ask what species and how is it glued.  A side note here - I have seen companies call particle board solid oak because they said that the particle board they used was only from oak trees.  I have seen companies substitute ash for oak, so make sure the wood is specified in the contract.  
  8. How thick are your intermediate support and your ends?
  9. How is the seat attached to the ends?  How deep is the routing?  
  10. How are the ends constructed.  Is there veneer?  How are the solid pieces of oak in the end glued together?  
  11. How is your seat pan constructed?  
  12. Is there a rounded front edge in the seat pan?
  13. How is the seat pan attached to the ends and intermediate supports
  14. How is the seat pan attached to the seat back
  15. What kind of foam are you using in the seat pan and the seat back?  Here is a link to the Polyurethane Foam Association with key definitions.  Make sure to check out the terms density and Indentation Force Deflection (IFD).  How does the foam feel to you?
  16. How is the fabric stretched over the foam?  Check the samples for seams.  Some manufacturers have seams and some don't.
  17. How is the back attached to the seat seat and the ends?
  18. How is the cap rail attached to the seat back?
  19. What type of wood goes into the seat back?  Particle board and plywood are common materials in fabric covered pews.  When there is wood on the back side of the pew back then manufacturers will vary.  Some will use veneer over their standard material and others will utilize solid oak.
  20. What kind of foam is used in terms of density and IFD and how is the foam shaped.  Most companies offer contoured foam as an option and it does affect how the pew sits.
  21. How high is the seat back?  Make sure the sample they're showing actually is identical in terms of the dimensions.
  22. If the cap rail has splices what kind of joint do they use?  Most manufacturers work hard to avoid this, but sometimes on long pews they do have to join cap rails.
  23. Ask about fabric options, but most companies use the same suppliers.  Most fabric is polyolefin or a blend, which had a lot of issues when it first came on the market.  Today, it is very good and relatively inexpensive per yard.  Some companies really like to promote nylon fabrics or nylon blends.  Is there a backing material on the fabric?  Most fabric companies have stain resistance built-in, but ask about it anyway.
  24. Ask the double rub characteristics and learn about the warranty on the fabric.  Fabric warranty is often outside the pew contract.  If there is an issue with a fabric the pew manufacturer will refer you to the fabric mill.
  25. Ask about the warranty?  Make sure someone on your committee reads the various warranties.  If someone is offering a lifetime warranty ask them to define lifetime.  If the foam fails, if the seat back pulls away from the seat, if the cap rail comes off, if the spring breaks (in a spring seat pew), if the fabric fades within a year, if the anchors come out of the floor, etc will it be covered?  Some will and some won't.
  26. Are there any requirements on the church to maintain the warranty?
  27. What are the recommended maintenance procedures for the pews?  Are they required for the warranty.
  28. Do the pews have any labels that identify the manufacturer anywhere on them?  Most companies don't and after several generations, no one knows who made them or the fabric or the finish.  If is a good idea to put something on the underside of one of the back pews to have there or to have a permanent file on record at the church office
  29. Who does the install.  Factory trained installers are not necessarily employees of the company.  Are they company employees?  If they are not company employees, read the fine print of the warranty to make sure the pew company is providing the warranty for the installation workmanship.  Who provides the fabric warranty?  That is typically from the mill, but good to clarify.
  30. If you're planning to add more pews later, it is good to buy extra fabric in the same mill run for the additional footage.  Ask for pricing on that.  Most manufacturers leave extra stain for touch-up should ends or supports get scratched up.  Confirm that.
  31. Confirm the delivery dates and check on the storage costs if your project is delayed.  Some manufacturers are very particular when a project is delayed.  Pews take up a lot of space and if several projects are delayed at one time it can be a real problem for the company, so they charge churches for storage after a certain point. See what their policy is on this.
  32. Make sure you are in constant contact with the sales person if your church is delayed and the pew delivery has to be pushed back.
  33. Make sure your check is ready when the delivery truck arrives.  Most companies will not unload the pews unless there is a check in the drivers hand.  
  34. Have members there during installation.  People who understand construction are best. 

Now you're ready to discuss pews with companies

Ask a few of the companies that sound good to you and have them explain their pews and options for your church.  They'll typically ask questions before they come in like what is your time frame, what is your budget, how many feet or how many people are going to be seated, is it part of a remodel or a new building, are you working with an architect or a decorator, etc.  There are lots of questions that will help the sales person hone in on the solution that is best for your church prior to coming out.

You'll have to decide as a committee if the group, a sub-group or just one or two members will meet with the representatives and if you'll do it on different days, consecutively on one day or in some other fashion.  I have seen it done all different ways, but my recommendation would be to meet with manufacturers on different days and take careful notes so you can review them later as a group.  When a committee meets with multiple manufacturers on the same day there is a tendency to confuse them and the probability of this increases with the numbers of manufacturers who present.
You'll have a lot on your plate as a building committee without even considering your family life, so scheduling is hard and sometimes you're almost always facing a deadline.  So do what works best for your situation, but whatever it is take good notes and ask lots of questions.  If you don't know or if you think there is any vagueness in a response, seek clarification and take notes on that reply.  You'll go back to your notes again and again.  If you have notes you want to share on your experiences, add them to this blog.
Pew reps sell what they have and do that well or are force out of the business because they can't survive.  A person with particle board pews will talk about the advantages of engineered wood and someone with solid oak will stress that.  You'll hear lots about foam density, seat curvature, back height, anchoring systems, cap rails, seat pan construction and just about every other item that could be considered on a pew.  It's up to you as a committee to sort through it all and determine what is best for your style of worship and fits your budget.  Some companies will talk about a lifetime warranty and others a 25 year warranty.  These warranties only cover material and workmanship and don't mean a thing if the company is no longer around.  Warranties won't cover abuse, normal wear and tear and acts of God, so most companies can get out of any claim they don't want to honor.  Don't get hung up on warranty.
Some manufacturers try to get away from construction and move to the aesthetics of finish and fabric as soon as possible.  Be careful to get back to construction.  Most manufacturers have the same fabrics or similar fabrics available, so learn as much as you can about the pew construction and later move to finish and fabrics.
The next post will deal with questions for the pew companies.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Prior to looking at pews - things to discuss

If you've read the first posts on the blog and looked at some pew company sites that are listed there you probably want to narrow down your list of possible companies prior to making direct contact with them, so you don't wind up getting calls everyday from another pew company following-up on your inquiry.  So, first look at company websites, discuss options with your architect or builder and talk with churches in your area or within your faith who've gone through the process in the last few years. Try to get it down to 5 or fewer companies before making any contact.  If you're building a new building, it will probably be listed with F.W. Dodge or some other service so you'll get the calls anyway, but if you're just replacing existing pews or doing a small renovation you may fall below the pew manufacturers' radar. Prior to your discussion with the companies meet with your committee to discuss pew preferences. What is the ballpark budget?  Do you know how many pews and how many lineal feet of pews are in the building, how many people you want to seat and when do you want the pews delivered.  Don't necessarily believe the capacity that is on a plan.  I have seen drawings with people spaced every 18 inches, which is the fire code requirement.  I always recommend 20 inches for actual capacity.  Do the math yourself to verify.  Also confirm the row spacing on the drawings or in actuality.  Measure from a point on the pew in front to the same point on the pew directly behind and record the results.  Do this in three or four places in different rows to verify that it is consistent.  There is often variation in row spacing that is good to know about up front.  Typical pew spacing today is 36 inches, but it used to be a lot less.
It is also good to discuss your wants in terms of the pews.  Do you have a preference for all wood or upholstered pews.  Generally, the more fabric, the less expensive the total cost to the church, unless you have selected a fabric that is extremely expensive.  The typical pew construction options are bulleted below.  There are other options too, but you don't really have to know or discuss them prior to the initial contacts.
General pew options
  • all wood pew
  • a cushioned seat with a wood back
  • a cushioned seat with a cushion back with wood on the back side - either veneer of solid wood depending upon the company
  • a cushioned seat with a cushioned back with fabric on the back side of the pew back.
It is also a good idea to discuss pew construction materials prior to initial contact with manufacturers.  Solid wood is a term you'll hear during your conversations.  What is it?  Some manufactures describe particle board as solid wood.  Some consider plywood solid wood.  What does the committee prefer?  Solid oak or veneer.  Is oak veneer over particle board acceptable?  Veneer pews are typically less expensive.  How does your committee describe solid wood?  
Look at wikipedia for particle board, MDF (medium density fiberboard),OSB (oriented strand board), engineered wood, plywood and any other terms that a pew salesperson might throw out there.  Clarify this prior to any discussion with pew manufacturers and you'll same time.  Also know that solid wood can vary widely too.  There are solid pine pews and solid red oak pews and solid northern red oak pews and others too numerous to mention.  Discuss this with your committee members.
One other thing - the typical lead time on pews is between 90 and 120 days, so don't delay if you have a deadline approaching and want to occupy your building at a certain date.
With these general preferences outlined now you're ready to have some discussions with manufactures.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pew sales

Pew sales people are generally commissioned.  For committee members not in the sales world that means sales people receive a payment only when they sell something. They are not reimbursed for expenses, travel and incur all costs associated with presenting the products other than literature and samples, which are provided by the company.  There are also no benefits. These expenses are out of the reps pocket regardless of whether the committee selects his pew or not. For that reason a high percentage of sales people leave the business within a short time of starting. Unless they have a spouse with a good job and benefits, a generous supply of cash on hand, a great severance package from a former employer or are willing to live small for about a year or longer, the start-up time is simply too great when there are family obligations and needs. Even if the company provides leads from Reed, Dodge or others there is still a high turnover in the sales force.  If the sales person is lucky enough to get a premium line, the start-up time will be less, but even then there is still some lag between the calls and commission generation.  I have worked with church committees for years, while they tried to decide what to do, how to fund it and called me in to discuss these thoughts along the way.

As a sales person the only time you can be sure that something is going to happen is when there is new construction underway and a deadline for project completion. Since many sales people don't make it companies don't want to spend a lot on training so the newer reps may not have a lot of training. When I started with L.L. Sams I had a three day class at the headquarters in Texas. They turned me loose, wished me well and didn't give me a lead for quite a while.  Since L.L. Sams didn't subscribe to a lead service when I was hired and didn't have a list of architects, who were doing a lot of church business, I had to find my way online and through other means. It was very scary. Sams couldn't even give me a list of installations in the Chicago area for a long time because these had all been stored manually and there was no easy way to do it. Committee members do not fret if the rep is newer. New reps may be selling a wonderful pew for your church. It will just take them a little longer to answer questions and get references to you. Another piece of good news for committees is that reps, who have been doing this awhile tend to stay because it is a great way to make a living. Reps have lots of flexibility in terms of their time and where they live geographically in the territory, so it is a great lifestyle once you start generating income. More seasoned reps have developed standard lines for objections, which can be good and bad. Obviously, they want you to buy their pew, so they want to alert you to potential issues with competitive products while pointing out the superiority of their own. The very best reps simply educate, inform and consult and try to help the committee with the complexities of the purchase and know that they often get the project, but even when they don't, these reps know that committee members will refer other churches to them.

One other piece of good news for committees is that most manufacturers make pews that look good for years, so by the time there are issues the committee members will long be forgotten and there will not be accountability. Whether the committee bought the best pew for the church is always something that can be debated, but the debate will generally not occur until long after the purchase is made. I have been told that this makes an argument for buying the least expensive pew, but I disagree. Pews are part of a church and will be there for decades. They will speak to future generations and future potential new members for decades about the church and much of the impression of any place is formed very quickly and largely based on appearance. Therefore, it is always in the committee's best interest to buy the best possible pew with the most durable construction. It is my job to educate the committee about these differences with the understanding that while my pew isn't always the best choice for them in their particular circumstance, more often than not it is.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Buying pews

Lots of churches are still buying pews and lots of companies are still making them.  The purpose of this site is to let you know some ins and out of the process since most building committee members will only do this once in a lifetime and the learning curve is very condensed once the process of pew selection begins.
In the interest of full disclosure I sell pews and other church products through my company, Church Pews and Seating in Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, so I do have some bias.  But the cool thing about blogs is that other people can support, comment and offer counter-points to my thoughts.  One thing about the comments.  If you're posting about a supplier, make sure that you have the company name correct and that they were in fact the maker of your product.  I have visited a lot of churches over the years and even when the pews are relatively new, most people in the church office or on the committee cannot remember which company actually supplied them.
Below is a listing of pew companies that I am aware of as of this posting  Note that I have included some that are definitely not in production and some that may have stopped.  I have verified the links.  You have to contact them if you're interested in learning more.  If you find a dead link, let me know so I can try to reconnect.  If you're a manufacturer and don't want to be listed, let me know that too.  I will try never to make a comment on a given manufacturer either pro or con because that isn't the purpose of the blog, but will comment on various construction techniques that are used and discuss the pros and cons.  I have tried to keep non-manufacturers off of the list.  Good luck with the contacts.
Pew Companies that I know of as of 2008
Web Address
City State
Abraham Mfg
Port Arthur, TX
Allencia Furnishings
Dundas, Ontario, Canada
Atlantic Institutional Furniture and Pews
New Brunswick, Canada
Canada Pew Company
Winkler, Manitoba
CCS of Virginia
Pembroke, VA
Church Interiors
Union City, OH
Church Outlet
High Point, NC
Church Plaza
Sarasota, FL
Covenant Church Furniture
Ozark, MO
Dakota Church Furniture
Dickinson, ND
Davis Church Furniture
Melrose, WI
Dumas Church
Grove Hill, AL
E. Hackner Co.
No longer in production
LaCrosse, WI
Endicott Company
No longer in production
Gunder Church Furniture
Humboldt, IA
Hall Manufacturing
Heavenly Wood Church Furniture
Kaysville, UT
Imperial Woodworks, Inc.
Waco, TX
King Church Furniture

Dothan, AL
Kivett's Inc
Clinton, NC
L. L Sams
No longer in production
Cameron, TX
London Church Furniture
London, KY
Marshall Company
Payette, ID
New Holland Custom Wood Work
New Holland, PA
Northland Church Furniture
Luck, WI
O'Neill Church Furnishings

No longer in production
Overholtzer Church Furniture
Modesto, CA
Rainsville Church Pew Co
Rainsville, AL
Ratigan-Schottler Manufacturing
Beatrice, NE
Rugel Church Furnishings
Jefferson City, TN
Sauder Manufacturing
Archbold, OH
Scott Manufacturing
Ada, OK
Valley City Manufacturing
Dundas, Ontario, Canada
Virginia Church Furniture, Inc
Pulaski, VA
Walter Jacobi & Sons Inc
No longer in production
Belmont, CA
Ward Manufacturing
Greenville, TX
Winebarger Church Furniture Company
No longer in production
Lynchburg, VA